If you’re considering studying abroad (or even moving abroad), check out my advice on the things I learned while living in Sevilla, Spain!
I’m going to start with packing, because it is really important when you are going away for a long period of time. Here is a list of some of the important things I packed (and forgot to pack, but regretted it) that will hopefully help you to prepare to move to a new country!
- Watch: I recommend bringing a watch with you. When you are home, if you don’t wear a watch frequently, you probably use your cell phone to check the time. While abroad (since pickpocketing and theft is so common) taking your phone out in public can be dangerous. A watch is an easy way to check the time and prevent your cell phone from being stolen. (If you are worried about a nice watch, find a cheaper one to bring so you are not concerned if anything happens to it.)
- Camera: Some people go abroad with the impression that they can take all their pictures on their iPhone. Although the iPhone takes nice pictures, I suggest bringing a camera. Usually a camera has better zoom, which will help you to capture all of the beautiful things you will find during your travels. Also, a camera usually can hang around your wrist, while your cell phone can easily be snatched out of your hand by a pick-pocketer.
- Rain Jacket: Even if you are going to a city famous for its sun (like Sevilla), pack a rain jacket!! Chances are, even if rain is uncommon in your city, you might be traveling to a city (like Paris or London) where rain is common! If you can manage, I suggest packing a small umbrella as well.
- Clothes for all types of weather: This might seem obvious, but don’t forget to pack a big sweater (in case you travel somewhere cold) or a bathing suit (in case you find yourself traveling to the beach). It’s best to have a variety on hand, even if the city you are traveling to has typically the same type of weather.
- Allergy medicine: This is something you don’t always think about, but allergies happen everywhere. Even if you don’t get Spring allergies at home, that doesn’t mean you won’t get them abroad. Since the medicine can be different in each country, I suggest packing a box of your favorite (non-drowsy) allergy medicine from home before you leave!
- Slippers: Carpeted homes is actually more of an American thing, believe it or not! Most homes in Europe have wood or tile floors. Depending on the season, these floors get very cold! Also, if you are living with a host family, it is usually uncommon (and sometimes considered rude) for a person to walk around in their socks or barefoot. I recommend finding a nice pair of slippers to pack towear around the house/hotel/apartment/hostel.
- Contact solution: This only applies if you wear contacts, duh! It was difficult for me to find contact solution while living in Spain and the solution was not the best for my eyes or contacts. My suggestion is to bring a larger bottle, as well as a small (carry-on sized) bottle of contact solution for your travels.
- Good headphones: I only brought one pair of headphones and they broke while I was abroad. To avoid spending money on a new pair, pack two, or a set that is really reliable! Being without headphones is not fun when you are traveling and want to listen to music or Skype your family!
- Neck Pillow: I left for Spain under the impression that I wouldn’t need one of these. I was wrong. Neck pillows are good for when you are trying to sleep on trains, planes, busses…and even at an airport. I suggest buying one that you can blow up and deflate, so it doesn’t take up too much space in your luggage when you are not using it!
- Motion Sickness Pills: This is a good idea to pack for long flights and bus rides.
- Good walking shoes: I cannot stress this enough: people walk everywhere in big cities!!! I brought a pair of comfortable boots and put those pads that make them even more comfy on the inside, and I managed to wear them both down in the course of one and half months! Be prepared and pack comfortable boots, Sperry’s, sandals and sneakers…whatever is going to be easiest for you to get around in! (I probably walked an average of 5-8 miles each day in Sevilla…crazy I know!)
- Band-Aids: Although you can pick these up at a local pharmacy while abroad, it’s good to have a starter pack on hand. Chances are, you will be very busy settling in during your first week abroad. Remember how I mentioned everyone walks in big cities? At first, your feet will probably blister (maybe even bleed) and its good to be have band aids to ease the pain the back of your ankles or bottom of your feet are feeling from all the walking!!
- Flip Flops: Plan on traveling and staying in a hostel??? Bring a pair of cheap flip flops for the shower!!!! This is very important.
Now for more of the fun stuff…
Living in a new country is a great time to take risks and explore! While living in Spain, I took a chance on a trip to Africa for the weekend! Although I was nervous, it turned into the greatest time!! Don’t be too quick to say “no” to a new place, event or type of food. It could turn into a great time!
Make friends with locals
The best way to improve your experience abroad is to make friends with the locals in your city. You will obviously make friends with other Americans who are in your study abroad program, but it is important to branch out. Don’t always travel in large groups of American students. It’s easier to meet locals with a smaller group of 3-4 people. Locals will be able to show you cool places in the city you might not have discovered without them, tell you what food to try and teach you about their culture. It’s nice to know you have friends all over the world!
Television shows, as well as the news, tells a lot about the country you are living in. It can help improve your understanding of the language and keep you informed about the problems going on there.
Go with the flow.
While abroad, you will learn that everything doesn’t go according to plan. For example, your flight might be delayed, you might misread the map, or maybe you are having trouble communicating with people at a restaurant. All of these things can set you back, but you have to learn to go with the flow! Take a deep breathe, let it go, and move on. Sometimes, you stumble upon some really great things when you don’t stick to your plan. These things always make a good story (down the road anyways).
Try not to worry as much about all the things you are eating while abroad because you are probably walking a lot of it off anyways. You’re in a new place, you have to indulge in the local delicacies! So enjoy desert every now and then.
Take the long way home.
You’ll discover new places and new sights. Don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path a little.
If Lost–Look Up!
Although this may seem strange, trust me when I say it works! If you ever find yourself lost in a city, take the time to look up and around (chances are you will see some tall building or monument in the distance that will point you in the right direction)! So many times Kayla and I were lost in new cities, but found our way by looking up!! We always joked about it while traveling but it’s the truth!! So before you panic, take the time to look up!!
Say yes to one more drink.
Unless you’ve already had too many, why not say yes to another round! You will never remember the nights you stayed in and went to bed early. Trust me when I say that I am the Queen of staying in and going to bed early. But being abroad, drinking is more relaxed. You have more time to enjoy yourself when studying abroad, so why not say yes to another drink?
Bring Toilet Paper…Everywhere
In the States, it’s rare when you come across a stall in a public restroom with no toilet paper. In Europe, it’s rare when you come across a stall in a public restroom WITH toilet paper. This advice is more for the ladies than the gents, but pack some tissues or pieces of toilet paper in your purse wherever you go (restaurant, bar, club, café, school, museum, etc). My friends and I had to learn this the hard way, but trust me–you’ll thank me later.
Practice the native language as often as you can.
This goes along with making local friends, but practice your languages skills as often as you can. The more you use it, the better at it you will be. Everyone starts out rough, but you will only get better as you practice with your host family, local friends and students at your school.
Try new food.
I was a very picky eater when I first left for study abroad. But I told myself that I would try it all, and I did! Take a risk, because you never know what you will end up liking!! It’s all part of the experience.
As you live in a foreign country, and travel around the world, you begin to realize there is so much out there. At home, it is easy for us to be wrapped up in so many little, day-to-day problems. But when you travel, you realize that those problems aren’t really problems at all. You learn to see things differently, and appreciate everything that you have. Few things have the ability to make you feel the way that travel does…It challenges you, humbles you, teaches you and strengthens you. Embrace all of these things that traveling makes you feel and I promise, when you lose yourself in it all, you’ll really be finding yourself. xoxo
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” -Neale Donald Walsch