Preparing to study abroad is a super exciting time…so exciting, in fact, that you might forget to take care of some things before you jet off. Because I’ve been there, done that, messed that up, I’ve put together these study abroad planning tips to save you from the stress.

  • Update your Voicemail

Typically, students choose a study abroad phone plan that might allow limited use within their new country, but without access to calls from home. If you plan to apply for a job during your program, then updating your voicemail is one of the most important things to do before studying abroad.

things to do before studying abroad

call me beep me, if you wanna reach me…in Istanbul

The message should be short and sweet:

Hi, this is [your name] and I’m out of the country until [date]. In the meantime, please contact me at [your email].

I lost out on a cool job because I forgot to update my voicemail before leaving the country. Don’t let it happen to you!

  • Confirm your Credits 

Confirming your credits is worth stopping by your school’s international programs office in person — just to check. Before you leave to study abroad, there is still time to add/drop classes in your program. Your academic advisor or your school’s international program coordinator will be able to confirm the exact number of credits you need to take abroad and how they will transfer back to your home university.

john felice rome center

My home in Rome: The John Felice Rome Center

Check and double check! Study abroad credits transfer is not something you want to mess up. I had a miscommunication with my registrar at Mount Holyoke and had to take two extra classes my senior year to graduate on time. No fun.

Don’t let this scare you, though! It’s not a reason not to study abroad. A little elbow grease and #ConstantVigilance can totally prevent any issues.

  • Buy your Bags 

One of my main study abroad tips for women is to upgrade your purse before you leave. Also, if there are any guys reading this, ain’t no shame in rockin’ a new murse.

I’d like to recommend a “pick pocket + slash proof” bag like this one or this one. But fear not, you don’t have to sacrifice style for safety. I scoured the interwebs for the cutest choices because you’re #WorthIt.

things to do before studying abroad

My “hella secure and unstealable” purse.

Since studying abroad on a budget is also key, a small investment in a budget airline approved suitcase will you a lot of money on weekend adventures in the long haul.

I have this one from Rick Steves and am absolutely obsessed with it. It’s basically a Mary Poppins bag, in that it holds way more than it appears to.

  • Make some Friends

There is usually a Facebook group that you can join to ask questions specifically related to your program and semester and get to know your classmates. It’s a great resource for finding sometime to split the ride to campus from the airport or to share dinner with during that first awkward night.

things to do before studying abroad

The squad and I during my first week in Italy

It’s also a good idea to touch base with your future classmates about sharing the cost of expensive textbooks, planning weekend trips, or trouble shooting Visa issues.

  • Get a Credit Card 

Many of my friends had their debit cards eaten by ATMS or swiped by pickpockets. Getting a replacement debit card while abroad is SUCH a hassle, and you don’t want to consume your semester dealing with it. If you bring a credit card with you, you already have a replacement card handy if “disaster” strikes.

Credit cards are also easier to dispute fraudulent charges with, so if you fall victim to any shady travel companies, you are more likely to get your money back, making this one of the ESSENTIAL things to do before studying abroad.

If you’re already abroad and starting to feel homesick, be sure to read my tips on how to deal with it. 

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Studying abroad can really suck.

You’ve been told that it will be the best experience ever, and it is…at first.

But then the homesickness sets in.

Since most students choose to study abroad during their junior year, most assume that the transition will be a breeze. They think that homesickness is something only freshmen experience. But it’s not.

I was one homesick Texan while studying abroad and I was in ROME. So the homesickness was compounded by feeling guilt for even feeling it in the first place when I was in such a cool city. It was awful, but I overcame it, so I know you can, too.

study abroad homesick

My Rome away from home.

Here’s how to deal with homesickness while studying abroad:

Say No Sometimes

Often, people put so much pressure on themselves to “have the best time ever” when studying abroad that they forget how they usually act. While studying abroad IS this amazing once in a lifetime thing, you’re going to burn yourself out and ruin it if you don’t slow your roll every once and a while.

When you’re at home or on your “home” campus, do you sleep in on Saturdays? Do you say “no” to events because you have a paper due? Don’t feel like you have to go 100 miles an hour at all times. You’re there for at least a semester, maybe even an entire year – you have the time to pace yourself.

So maybe the friends in your study abroad program are going to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight, visit the Sydney Opera House, or even zip line in the Costa Rican jungle. So what? Those events will still be there next week, next month, next semester. Don’t feel guilty for sitting out on some things to recharge for your next adventure.

study-abroad-homesick-tips-florence

Taking a break in Florence.

Get Out There

I’m not contradicting myself, I promise. People experience homesickness differently. While some need a reminder to recharge so they can continue to build friends at their study abroad program and enjoy themselves, others need that nudge to step outside their comfort zone.

Homesickness is often significantly tied to culture shock, which is a real and serious thing. It can be loosely defined as that confusing and nervous feeling that you get when you leave a familiar culture to live in a new and different one.

 Here’s how it usually goes:

  1. The Honeymoon Stage

This is how you feel when studying abroad still seems like a vacation. Everything is new and exciting and you might as well be at summer camp. You might be a little nervous, but you don’t miss your parents or home or dog or whatever because you’re having so much FUN.

study abroad homesick tips

My first week in Italy.

  1. The Frustration Stage 

This is usually when the worst of the homesickness sets in. You’ve been abroad for a few weeks and everything bothers you – even things you once found magical. You might find yourself even actively resenting the place you thought you were going to love.

“Why don’t they speak English?” “Why don’t the buses seem to follow the schedule?” “Why can’t things just be like they were AT HOME?”

In this stage, you long for the normalcy of home. But don’t worry – it gets better.

  1. The Adjustment Stage

There is no set timeline for going through these stages. Those around you might power through them, while you might linger behind.

That’s okay. It’s not a competition.

BUT to get out of the frustration stage and into this one, you need to actively try to make yourself at home in your new city.

As your surroundings become more familiar, you’ll find that you start feeling a little less homesick. This is because you’ll be able to recognize bits of the local language, start enjoying the food, and understand the transportation.

study abroad homesick tips

Finally feeling at home at the John Felice Rome Center 🙂

You can jumpstart this process by doing any of the following things:

  • Make an effort to learn the language, even if your program doesn’t require that you take it.
  • Take a trip to the grocery store. If you know people’s stomachs, you know their heart. Pop in your earbuds and get to know the local grub.
  • Take a preplanned walk around your city. Bring a paper map with you and wander. Which brings me to….
  • Find a place that’s yours. Maybe it’s a special bench, overlook, of café. Anything that you can call your own will help ease the transitional homesickness.
  • Talk to a counselor. If you’re still feeling down in the dumps, don’t be embarrassed about going to speak with the counseling office at your study abroad program, or the international students coordinator if you’re at a university. Their job is literally to make your time abroad the best time ever.
study abroad homesick tips

My “special place” — Il Pellicano Gelateria

4. The Acceptance Stage

You might make it to this stage, you might not. But after weeks, months, or even years of cycling through the previous stages of culture shock, you will get to the point where you can simply accept your new culture for what it is. It doesn’t mean that you understand it – or even like it – but you can function just fine and feel joy, not resentment.

Practice Self Care

While you’re still navigating homesickness abroad and the stages of culture shock, try these “quick fix remedies.”

  • Set up a weekly Skype session with the person you miss most. And don’t cancel!
  • Watch a familiar show. If you binge Pretty Little Liars in America, keep up with it in Australia. The characters can be like old friends and bring sense of normalcy to your new life.
  • Create a routine. On Tuesdays you have lunch at the café down the road. On Wednesdays you Skype with mom. On Thursdays you do laundry. Stability is a great way to combat homesickness.
study abroad homesick tips

Friends in Firenze.

Now go forth and prosper! And you can cry. That’s totally okay.

If you’re studying abroad this semester and need to vote in the American elections, click here. 

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