Top 10 Things to Know About Studying Abroad from A London Alumni


With the fall school semester in full swing, many of you have already found your favorite place to study, figured out how much time you need to make from class to class, and what your weekly routine looks like. But some of you are about to board a plane and embark on an adventure in a new country, not knowing what to expect. Here are some tips I want to share from my experience studying abroad in the heart of London.

Packaging

The amount of YouTube videos I combed through before leaving is insane. From what to pack to how to pack, I felt like I knew everything. Instead, I arrived in London with two suitcases full of clothes I never wore and not enough socks. What I recommend is:

Pack. Nearly. Nothing. (Clothing Technical)

Instead of packing all twenty of your favorite sweaters, pack three. Bring one pair of boots instead of five. Think of clothes to layer and look at realistically every day. Before leaving, try to create as many combinations of outfits as possible, and even take reference photos for yourself in the future. By sticking to the essentials, you can explore your fashion tastes in a new country and have more space to bring essentials that the country you’ll be living in may not have.

Clothing aside, I would recommend thinking about your daily needs as well. Do you really need more than a handbag or backpack? Need all your electronics? Is it a good idea to bring every book you own? (The answer is no). As you pack, think about your daily routine and what it takes to limit packing. If you don’t use it on a daily basis here in the States, you probably won’t need it there either. When you think about hygiene, plan to buy most of what you need abroad. In many countries this is cheaper. Overall, the less you pack, the more space you need to bring with you for new things and the less you need to carry.

Solo travel and exploration is not to be scoffed at

My biggest fear before studying abroad was doing anything on my own. However, as soon as you venture into a new country without friends, you will quickly overcome this fear. Remember, this experience is for you! If there’s a place you’re dying to go or a site you’re dying to see, do it. Don’t limit yourself to not exploring for fear. This experience will bring you much more in tune with yourself and you will feel comfortable with your needs and desires. Book this solo day trip, sit and have coffee in the park and attend events that interest you. It’s inevitable that you’ll meet other people with common interests and they might even say yes to the trips you’d like to take, which is great! But if they say no or aren’t interested, don’t limit yourself.

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It’s time to leave your comfort zone

Your experience abroad depends on the choices you make! If you decide to sit inside and not go out or talk to new people, that’s your choice. But what I would recommend is not. Instead, try to put yourself in as many social situations as possible! Explore local bars and restaurants, talk to classmates and have group chats for possible school or extracurricular activities. Ask questions when visiting museums or galleries. If you overhear a conversation about public transport and feel free to comment, do it! Get out of your comfort zone when it comes to connecting with others. When my friends and I went to a bar near our school, we would play a game to meet other people. Here are the rules:

  1. Find at least two or three people (girls or boys) that you want to start a conversation with.
  2. You and your friends need to come up with a topic to guess about these people. For us, this was her major. They can also guess their favorite animal, food or colour.
  3. Play rock-paper-scissors with your friends. Whoever loses has to go to the people you guessed and give your guesses.

By the end of the game, you could not only meet new people, but also connect with your friends. And I definitely have to say it has worked for us every time. Everyone we did this with was very open and interested in getting to know us. Even if you’re not studying abroad, this is still a great game!

Money and how to make the most of it

Money is the hardest thing to keep in mind during your experience. Currency exchange can be a bit difficult to keep track of. THE MONEY YOU SPEND IS NOT THE SAME AMOUNT IN US DOLLARS. What helped me the most was documenting how much money I spent each month and on what. Before I left, my parents and I sat down and created a spending table based on the average amount of money I would spend in the States while I was in high school. We have allocated funds for different categories such as food, eating out, clothing and experience-based spending. From here I’ve been able to track my spending and stay within my budget for the most part. When budgeting, make sure you prioritize what you want to spend the most money on. When it comes to travel, try to buy and book your travels in advance. When it comes to dining or shopping, try to plan which restaurants or shops you want to visit. Tracking your spending is very important abroad, so make sure to pay close attention!

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there is still school!

I’m sorry you have to hear this, but yes. School is just as important as anything else you plan to do abroad. Every country has its teaching and working methods. In most cases the workload will be lighter than in the US. That does NOT mean it doesn’t exist. Make sure you attend all your classes, some programs require this. And keep track of your work and readings. It is very beneficial to understand your university and the policies that apply. Get to know your new campus and explore the different buildings. This is your school now, so be proud and get involved!

Try to leave the country you are in

If you are studying in a European country, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of easy travel between countries. Not only is it a lot cheaper, but it’s an opportunity you may never have again. With many study abroad programs, your classes end before the program, so use this extra time to travel.

Be a local

Trust me, knowing that the London Eye and Buckingham Palace are only a 20 minute tube ride away was the coolest thing ever. But I also started to appreciate and visit cool places around my campus. Learning how to adjust and live organically in a new country is one of the most rewarding aspects of this opportunity. Try to speak the language, support small businesses, use public transport and avoid tourist areas once you’ve explored them!

Souvenirs and when to get them
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Souvenirs are a cool way to remember your travels. In my experience, getting a tattoo was the best way to commemorate my time abroad, but it’s not for everyone. I would recommend keeping your travel tokens small or as items that you will use on a daily basis. If you also want to create a scrapbook when you return (highly recommended), have tickets or small items ready that would fit! Pieces specific to your travel area are great investments to remember your trip, but be careful about how much room you have in your suitcase. This was your experience too, so feel no pressure to spend money on souvenirs for family and friends. Buying souvenirs is always possible, but I would recommend towards the end of your stay so you don’t lose them or pack too much.

Stay in contact

You will meet so many people from all over the world during this experience! Universities are meccas for international students. You will be exposed to many different cultures and types of people, and meet other American students in your program. It’s up to you to maintain those relationships, but there are so many ways to do it! WhatsApp is an SMS app that you will mainly use while abroad, but also a great way to keep in touch with friends from other countries after you leave. Social media also makes it super easy to keep in touch! When you come back, the support of fellow college friends abroad will make the return a much easier process.

Post-foreign depression is a real thing

During your time abroad, you must adapt quickly to a new environment and then learn to adjust back to American life. To put it simply, you won’t feel completely yourself for some time after your return. In the country where you study abroad, you have the opportunity to be authentic and discover yourself without the baggage of your normal life. Returning to this normal life can be difficult, especially when the way you left it isn’t how you return. Be kind to yourself when you return home and know that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.

Studying abroad is the most rewarding experience I can recommend and I hope that those of you who are on the way or even considering it, do it and enjoy every moment!



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