Colin Gilbert is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A marketing and supply chain management major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.
In his first post, Colin talks about planning for the unexpected when preparing to study abroad and the process he went through before heading off to Sydney for the spring.
I woke up yesterday with a sore throat and a fever of 100.7ºF. Four days before boarding a plane to depart for Sydney.
As would anyone anticipating a study abroad experience, I immediately began to stress. I had various errands to run, tasks to complete, and goodbyes to say within four short days! Strep throat knocked me out for two of those days. Fortunately, I had planned enough in advance to be able to rest and recover as opposed to forging on and wearing down my body even more before beginning my trek to the Land Down Under. I didn’t plan on getting sick—no one does! However, by planning for the things that I could control in advance, it allowed me to better cope with the unexpected.
This brings me to some important things I kept in mind while planning my study abroad experience.
Where should I go?! I knew I wanted to go abroad during the spring semester, but I wasn’t totally set on a location until I talked with my advisor. Between language, climate, culture, and travel time, there are quite a few factors to keep in mind when deciding where to travel. I ultimately chose Sydney for a few distinct reasons. First, they speak English! Besides my few licks of French, I knew an English-speaking location was a must. Second, believe it or not, it takes quite a bit of time to get across the Pacific Ocean! I knew if I were going to travel that distance, I’d want to visit for more than the typical length of a vacation. Lastly, the climate! Growing up in Western NY afforded me plenty of time to appreciate the beauty of snow and sub-zero temperatures, so I feel as though I’ve earned a break—if only for one winter!
Once I decided on where and when to study abroad, I started planning a budget. CAPA is extremely helpful in providing budgeting tools and other resources to help financially plan the experience. I also reached out to friends who had previously gone to Sydney as an additional resource. Based on that information, I began to set money aside and plan accordingly to ensure I’d be able to do everything I wanted to! Additionally, there are SO many scholarships available for students studying abroad, many of which I discovered after the deadline passed, so be sure to check those out early as well.
Another seemingly daunting task is packing three months worth of belongings into luggage with precise size restrictions. Taking this into consideration, I chose an airline which allowed two checked bags at no additional fee, doubling the space allowed on most flights. With two 50 pound bags, a carry-on, and a personal item, I knew I’d have more than enough space to pack everything I’d need and even have extra space for items purchased abroad. I found several different packing lists online and compiled them to create my own, which I then assigned individual articles of clothing to. This really helped me itemize exactly the things I wanted to bring, and helped me cut back on unnecessary shirts or shoes that I truly wouldn’t wear.
Lastly, I wanted to make sure everything I’d need at the airport was lined up in advance. Applying for a visa as soon as possible is crucial, as different countries have different requirements and timelines, and without a visa, it’ll be pretty hard to enter! I chose to bring a duffel bag as a carry-on and a backpack as my personal item to maximize storage. I also planned to wear some of the heaviest items I was bringing: a sweater, pants, and converse, and most importantly, socks, as I can only imagine a few things worse than passing through TSA with bare feet. Finally, I printed out my itinerary to place in each of my bags should they get lost and downloaded my airline’s app on my phone to make boarding a breeze.
The idea of spending a semester on the other side of the world seemed daunting once I made the decision to study abroad, but since I started planning as early as I could, it made the process much less stressful. If I’ve learned anything from others who have studied abroad, it’s that unexpected things happen often. Flights get delayed, weather turns poor, and yes, people get sick! It’s all part of the incredible adventure and all will be okay in the end.
Colin's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned!