Having spent two of the best semesters of my life abroad, it can be easy to forget all the fear and questions I had before stepping foot on that first plane to Spain. Now that my baby sister is getting ready to head to England this semester, it felt like a good time to reflect on my experiences and help her bypass all the awkward, anxious moments. Here were my best answers to her questions:
Q: What kind of bag should I get?
A: To be honest, that’s a very personal and unique decision. I love my rolling Eddie Bauer bag, but I can’t tell you that bag will be perfect for you. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the bag, which we talk about HERE. The biggest tip is to make sure it can fit in the overhead compartment. That way you’ll never have to pay fees to check your bag. You can find that information online or ask whoever you’re buying your bag from to check that the dimensions hold up.
Q: How do you know if you’re making the right decisions about participating in new experiences?
A: When it’s your first time in a new country, it’s easy to feel like you need to participate in everything in order to make the most of your time abroad, but that’s not always the case. As we talked about in one of our last blog posts, there is no right or wrong way. Not wanting to go out and do something doesn’t make you a “weenie”. If what you need to make the most of your experience is downtime, then take it. But I do highly encourage you to step out of your comfort zone every now and then because that’s the best way to really grow through your experience and make new friends.
Q: How do you know if you’re packing right?
A: Biggest tip I can give you: remember that you’re the one who has to lug your suitcases through the airport, on the bus (if you’re lucky and don’t have to use public transport) and into your room. I don’t know that you can actually know if you’re packing right. I think no matter what you pack, you’re going to forget something, realize that there’s something you need that you never thought of, or just want something different that you’re going to feel like buying. Trust me, when you’ve been wearing the same 5 t-shirts for two months, you’re going to get a little tired of them. Also, remember that you will accumulate things, so account for that when packing and leave yourself a little extra room (aka don’t pack 10 pairs of shoes). Pack neutrals, pack light, lay your clothes out in advance and do a “practice pack” and know that you can pretty much buy anything you need when you get to your destination.
Q: How do I balance school and fun?
A: It can be really easy to go from one extreme or the other. I know people who skipped class all the time and never studied because they were always out late or traveling. While it’s important to experience things while abroad and get to know the local culture, it’s important to remember that you are there for school. On the other hand, don’t spend all of your time abroad in the library or shut up in your room studying. Make sure to take time to experience your new home. Just like when you’re home, make sure to spend a few hours a day reviewing your notes, studying for exams, etc., then make an effort to put the books down and spend a few hours getting lost, meeting new people, taking in the local culture (and cuisine...plus a beer never hurt anyone).
Study abroad in a new culture can be stressful, and it’s normal to have questions and doubts. Hopefully these answers will help you go into your semester with an open mind, ready to explore all this experience has to offer. Enjoy the little things and take it all in because you’ll be headed home in the blink of an eye.