In September of 2011 I set off on my first real travel adventure….studying abroad for a semester in London. It was my senior year of college and I was itching to see the world. Living in London actually sparked the beginning of Wonderlost– which is a spin off of the blog I kept (mostly for my parents to read) about my daily life there. Embarking on this international experience totally changed my life. Looking back now, there are some things I wish I knew before leaving the country for what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. Here is what I wish I knew…
…I would feel homesick at some point (and that it’s okay).
I was so excited about living in London for a semester, I never stopped to think that at some point I was really going to miss my friends, family, pets, and home. I remember feeling so guilty for feeling that way. I was blessed with this incredible opportunity to live in London– so why was I missing Virginia? Life was moving on while I was gone and social media showed me everything I was “missing out” on. But that homesickness quickly passed and I soon realized I was living the experience of a lifetime. Spending a semester abroad flies by faster than you could ever imagine and it will likely turn out to be one of the best experiences of your life. But at the same time, it is normal to miss home and everyone you know. So work through those feelings but don’t let them hold you back. I ended up meeting some of my best friends abroad which wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t open myself up to this new experience.
…to pack lighter.
I brought a big suitcase and a carry-on size suitcase, both stuffed to the brim when I traveled to London for three months. I couldn’t comprehend how I could survive a whole semester without all my favorite clothes, boots, and accessories, so I tried to fit them all. But you know what? I used way less than I brought with me. I ended up leaving some clothes behind in order to make room for my souvenirs. It’s best to bring just a few staples that you will need and leave the rest at home. Trust me–it makes life so much easier to have less stuff and more space. (The flats we will lived in were tight–I shared a room with two other girls). And remember, anything you forget to pack can easily be replaced while living abroad.
…people would stereotype me.
I wasn’t expecting some of the attitude or preconceived notions we received as a group while traveling, especially through London and Paris. Most people treated us well and were very friendly, but there were the occasional taunts and dirty looks which were really difficult to look past at first. But don’t let that get to you–stereotyping happens everywhere to all types of people. It is best to understand we are all just people, many of us flawed, and they may have those preconceived notions for a reason. Keep in mind, you probably have your own preconceived notions about the country you are planning to study in too! The best thing you can do is be respectful of the culture you are visiting and exhibit behavior that will break those “stereotypes.” For example, Americans tend to speaker louder than Londoners in public places, so we learned to lower our voices in an effort to be respectful.
…to leave most of the planning for when you arrive.
You never know what friends you will meet or what opportunities will present themselves while you are abroad, so leave most of the planning to visit other countries for when you arrive. Once you are out of the States traveling between countries can be very cheap! Those three months slip away fast, so it’s okay to plan a weekend or two in advance. For example, I knew my friend would be in Dublin during the time I was in London, so we agreed on a weekend for me to visit her once the schedule for my program came out. Overall though, I think it is best to make most arrangements once you are actually abroad!
…that studying abroad would make me want to travel the entire world.
This may not be the case for you, but it definitely happened to me. Living in another country gave me a unique perspective on my home (the U.S.) as well as a global perspective. I realized just how much there is to see! I had always wanted to live in London and I thought spending a semester abroad there would satisfy that desire and allow me to graduate and move on with the rest of my life. Wow was I wrong! Living and studying abroad made me want to not only travel throughout the rest of Europe, but also all over the world. I want to see and experience as many cultures as I possibly can with the time I have been given. And this, in my opinion, is one of the best side effects of studying abroad.
Of course, there was so much we learned after studying abroad, which Eva captures in her post: Lessons Learned. Studying abroad is the most important education a college student can get if given the opportunity. I am so grateful every day that I was able to do this.
Looking for more advice on how to prepare for studying abroad? Check out the links below!
- 5 Ways to Get Organized Before a Trip
- How to Pack for Two Climates
- Tips for Managing a Long Flight
- 5 Tips for Navigating Group Travel
- Planning vs. Spontaneity: Which is Better?