Things I wish I knew BEFORE going abroad

Studying in Dublin for a semester is easily the best thing I have ever done in my life. But, it definitely came with some surprises and challenges that I wish I had been prepared for. So, here are some (hopefully) helpful things you may not be thinking about as you prepare to go abroad!

Gather as much info as possible!!

Once you have chosen your program, you will probably have to attend some sort of informational meeting. These seem dumb but they are important! Don’t skip out on these or sit in the back playing on your computer (like I did). I found myself having to scramble to figure out what I needed because I didn’t think those meetings were important. Your life will be infinitely easier if you get that information from your school!

Also look for people who have already done the program you have chosen. They will be able to tell you the little things about it like where you should go out to eat or local pubs that have great traditional music. You will have a better grasp on what to expect if you are talking to students about their experience. (If anyone is studying in Dublin, hit me up! I’d love to talk about it)

Start to get organized months in advance

Like I said before, I found myself scrambling to get ready. This was because I chose to leave everything until a few weeks before I left. Well, this caused some problems because there were steps that were time sensitive (like getting my bank account in order, so that I would be granted emigration status). Looking back, I wish I would have started 3 or 4 months before I left (if not more). I would have been able to slowly and calmly checked all the boxes and enjoy the time leading up to leaving. Just some things to 100% do months in advance, regardless of where you study: Passport/Visas, bank account, credit card, and phone plan.

(side note on phone plans… I highly recommend getting a new SIM card wherever you go. I got a Vodafone SIM card and it costs like $20 for an entire month and I could use it in any country I traveled to)

Try to plan out what you want from your semester

Speaking of countries I traveled to, planning travel before you leave is probably a good idea. I unfortunately was not allowed to, due to my program and some class trips we were required to be on. So, I waited until I was in Dublin to start planning my travel. This was a dumb idea. I should have planned my trips out and waited to book anything until later. This is because you can easily get caught up in what everyone else is planning and forget about what you want to see and do.

I highly recommend at least making a list of places you want to go in order of priority. I say this because I did not do this and I regret it a lot. The number one place I’ve always wanted to go is Greece. But, Greece is one of the more expensive countries to go to. Instead of thinking about my priorities through, I decided to go where my friends were going and ended up not having the time or money to go to Greece. That being said, I did get to go to a lot of other cool places that weren’t necessarily places I would choose to go by myself and I am very happy that I ended up going.

Also take this advice about what you want to get out of the country you are living in and the school you are attending. Do you want to make friends from other American universities? Do you want to join organizations on campus? Is there anything you want to see in your chosen country? Do you want to get to know more about the locals and the community you are staying in? Having these goals thought out (and written down) will help you have the best semester you possibly can have!

It’s not all fun and travel

Now, planning everything and being abroad can be really fun and exciting. But know that not everyone will have the life changing, best experience of their lives semester or year. Everyone reacts to change or being away from home differently. So know that if you are not having the best time ever, there is nothing wrong with you or the country you are in. It just means that you are handling or processing your situation differently.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I loved my time abroad (and am actually very sad to be away from Dublin). However, my big did not have such a great time due to the stressors of her environment. Another one of my sisters really struggled with the differences in Academics and expectations. My roomate had an overall amazing time, but she had days and weeks that were extremely hard for her. Know that all these experiences are ok and for better or worse you grow and learn from them.

Think about solutions for homesickness

Homesickness was the hardest part for me. Fortunately, living in Dublin I did not experience it as much as some of my friends who were in places like France, Germany, Italy or other non-english speaking countries. I chose Dublin because I knew it is very similar to America and that homesickness would be a problem for me.

At first, I didn’t experience a lot of homesickness (aside from missing Chic-Fil-A and goldfish). But as the semester went on, and especially during Thanksgiving, being away become more and more difficult. One of the most important things to think about before leaving is what you can do to counteract this. Should you pack photos of family and friends? Should you set up regular times to call home? Is there something like a blanket or tshirt that will make you feel a little more at home?

You may or may not experience culture shock

As I said before, I chose Ireland because of how similar to America the culture there is. My family is also very Irish in its heritage and traditions, so I knew a little bit of what I was getting into. So despite the constant messages and emails about how to cope with culture shock, I really didn’t experience any. Yes, there was a learning curve for how school works, how to cross the street and how much items cost in dollars as opposed to the euro listings. But for the most part, it was only minor things that I had to adjust to.

I know this is not everyone’s experience. Some of my friends experienced a massive culture shock in some countries. But, I was very shocked in my lack of culture shock which made me assume I was doing something wrong. It was just my way of processing and adjusting.

Prepare for landing back in the U.S.

Even though I didn’t experience culture shock going into my program, I definitely experienced some coming back. American culture literally took me by surprise and no one had told me to prepare for this. Coming back, I realized I had this notion that I knew how things in America worked. I mean, I have lived there my whole life except the past four months. But, because I was assuming I knew what was going on, I didn’t allow myself to adjust to being home.

Coming back to America and starting school again is honestly one of the hardest things I’ve done. I forgot that my friends and family have had 4 months of experiences and memories that I was not apart of. I honestly feel like I have been running on a treadmill going too fast and I’m tripping trying to keep up. And I know I just need to keep telling myself things will get better and I will find my rhythm again. So, for culture shock going, either way, know that you just need to push through it. It is much easier said than done, but it is something you can get through. I promise.

I hope you found these little tips helpful in preparing for abroad. It is such a learning experience, good or bad, and I really thing everyone who is able to do it should. Comment below where you would like to or are studying abroad.

Until Next Time,

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