Words and photos by Luz Arregoces, a CAPA Dublin study abroad alumna and communications major from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
- - -
If you're planning to study abroad, you're probably already realizing how much prep goes into making a semester or summer overseas a reality. Luz shares, from her personal experience, some of the best ways to prepare yourself and stay organized.
1. CHECK TO BE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR PASSPORT AND ALL OTHER IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS. AND THEN CHECK AGAIN. No matter how many times you have traveled abroad in the past, it never hurts to err on the side of caution. It is important to look into the rules and regulations of your own home country, as well as the country you are traveling to. Some countries will require you to get your visa ahead of time; others won’t. I did not need to get a visa before traveling to Dublin, but I obviously needed an updated passport. I was sure to compile a folder of any important papers I needed, which I kept in my carry-on. I ended up not needing to show any of them to the airport or immigration officials along the way, but it was comforting to know that I had all my bases covered.
2. TRY TO SET A (FLEXIBLE) BUDGET. When it comes to your own spending money, it is important to try and set some guidelines. Many people start their study abroad experience with the mindset that it is a once in a lifetime experience and money is irrelevant. While this is true to some extent, it is important to be realistic and budget your money. For most students, groceries will be an important area to allot some funds. You will also go out to eat much more often than you would at home, so you should plan accordingly. And yet, on the flip side of this, don’t over stress about your budget. Try to keep your guidelines somewhat malleable, because your time abroad will certainly present you with amazing and interesting experiences that you could have never planned for.
3. KEEP IN MIND WHICH OTHER COUNTRIES YOU'D LIKE TO VISIT. I fell in love with Ireland and everything about it. The people were friendly, the food was good, and the classic pubs were unforgettable. However, one of my favorite parts about my semester abroad was being able to travel to other countries. Before you leave home, try to make a list of the top 10 places you would like to go. Chances are you won’t go to all of them, and your opinion might change as time goes on. However, you will be grateful that you began looking at all of your options.
4. READ INTO THE LOCAL SLANG OF YOUR DESTINATION. Believe it or not, a common word used in Ireland is “craic,” pronounced like “crack.” The closest translation would be “fun” or “a good time.” Luckily, I had researched this before I left the States. An American hearing “What’s the craic?” can cause a great deal of confusion.
5. GET READY TO FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE SOMETIMES. One of my fondest memories of studying in Ireland was feeling uncomfortable, as strange as that sounds. When I finally signed up to go abroad with CAPA, I knew that I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. There is only so much that you can learn in a classroom setting. Every other life lesson will come from trying new things and meeting new people. Keep in mind that it is okay to do something you aren’t used to.
6. BRING ONE SMALL ITEM THAT WILL COMFORT YOU IF YOU FEEL HOMESICK. Ever since I was 6-years-old, I have had a stuffed animal dog named Jason. I have slept with it every night, despite my friends making fun of me constantly. For me, that is my personal item that will always remind me of home and comfort me. Whatever that small meaningful item is for you, bring it along! It will definitely come in handy when you miss your family or friends.
7. PACK A PAIR OF GOOD WALKING SHOES. Don’t forget that you won’t have a car when you are abroad! Public transportation will become your best friend. The bus usually won’t take you right to your destination, though. During my first few days in Dublin, I was walking almost five miles each day! Traveling to other countries will also introduce you to different hilly streets and cobbled side streets, so be sure to plan accordingly.
8. DON'T OVER-PACK. As much as I preach this to other people, I never learn to stop over-packing. I brought two suitcases with me to Ireland, and this even ended up being excessive. If you are able to condense your belongings to one suitcase, you will be very grateful afterwards. It is not an easy task to walk around the airport with multiple suitcases (trust me). Also, you will probably be buying things in your host city; so don’t fret with bringing all the little things.
9. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. The night before my flight to Europe, I was a mess. I could not sleep, and I even felt nauseous. The fact that I would be away from home for four months was mind boggling, and I was extremely nervous. However, when I was finally faced with hugging my parents goodbye and walking towards airport security, I stopped myself and took a deep breath. Rather than stressing with the small things, I focused on the big picture. There were plenty of uncertainties, but I trusted that everything would end up falling into place.
10. GET EXCITED! Finally, embrace the experience you are about to embark on! Your study abroad experience will be something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Take risks, laugh a lot, and remember to FaceTime your parents every once in a while.