So you have decided to study abroad, Congratulations! You are about to embark on a very exciting and rewarding journey. An experience that some may say happens once in a lifetime; I know I’d say mine was. Now if you’re anything like me–overly cautious, yet risky–you’ve done so much research and have asked so many questions, that you know so much more than what you know to do with. And if you’re not like me, you are both overwhelmed and completely calm because you have no idea what to do. BUT HAVE NO FEAR! That’s why I have decided to start this blog–to help relieve some of your worries and share how I managed to survive these last 6 months.
How one prepares before going abroad will differ for everyone, naturally, but there are some steps that EVERYONE goes through. No matter where you’re going or when.
- Location, Location, Location.
I chose where I wanted to study based on a number of factors, as I’m sure everyone who reads this probably has. I have a minor in Spanish language, so I wanted to pick some place that I could complete my studies for it and this wanderlust-stricken girl has never been to Europe, so Spain it was. Once you’ve chosen your location, you can begin to narrow down the bunch of things you have to search for, such as the type of program you’d want to go on.
- Money Matters
Along with choosing the location, you must choose the type of program you’d like to go on. Now, like all other things in life, money is a big factor when studying abroad. There are many programs to choose from, some more pocket-friendly than others. The most popular types are exchange programs or study abroad programs. I was on the exchange program route which for me was the most economical choice. My school having this exchange program meant that I paid the tuition I pay at home for school. Accommodation and all the rest was left up to me to figure out, but the host school offered help and options that I will explain later. Study abroad programs tend to be pricier, but they do include more than just tuition. Some things included are tuition, housing, adventures, and assistance with anything you need. It’s big decision that you have to make. How can you decide? I, personally, am I fan of lists.
- Make a pros and cons list.
- Sit down and talk to whoever will be helping finance your trip
- Set up a budget
- Find out if your school has any study abroad scholarships you can apply for or are eligible for
- APPLY for scholarships! You’ll be surprised how many you can find that are ‘no essay required’ or about personal reflections.
Following these steps, will help you make a more informed decision and make the stress of deciding that much easier. Once all this is settled, you can move on to learning more about where you’ll be making your home for the next 6 months. It’s also very important to change your money! While exchange rates are always changing, it’s better to arrive in said country with a decent amount of cash on hand. I’ll be writing another post on money tips soon.
- Budget, Budget, Budget
You are going to be living in a foreign country for the next 6 months. They don’t use your currency. You are on a student visa, which prohibits you from being able to work. How are you going to sustain your living expenses there? The best advice I can give is save, save, and save some more. Deciding on what program to go on will greatly help you to start making your budget.
- Scholarships: Applying for scholarships will help in aiding you with some disposable income, given that they are given directly to you and not the institution in question.
- “I’m abroad and I want to travel!” Make a plan. It will be easier for you to make your budget by planning ahead on where you’d like to visit and what you would like to do in said locations.
- Parents: Will you be getting help from your parents? Family? Discussing with them the cost of your
- What’s It Like Over There?
After choosing your placement, the next thing you’ll need to help you prepare is learning more about the climate and area you’ll be going to. Will you need to pack for winter in the Alps or summer in Nice? Is it normal to tip where you’re going? Do people speak my native tongue? Knowing what the weather is going to be like will make it a lot easier to decide what you will need to pack and what you shouldn’t. Take it from me, over-packing is quicker done than said. You definitely need to evaluate what you will actually need for that time—especially if you’re one to shop, it’s crucial. I left behind a lot of things in Spain, not to mention sent back a box of stuff I didn’t even use. So you should definitely choose carefully. Learning the customs of the country you’ll be going to will save you from some awkwardness. It’s best to read up on some different customs so you’re prepared and aware of what you’ll be living for the next 5-6 months.
- Mi Casa es Su Casa
Accommodation, depending the type of program you chose to go on, will be left up to you to decide and figure out. Many of the programs, with their high cost, includes things such as accommodation. They offer various options for you to choose from, such as home-stays, student residences (dorms), or student apartments. On my program, I have to find my accommodation. In the beginning, my roommate and I choose an AirBnB as a temporary solution. While we were there and getting to know Madrid, we began searching for a piso or flat, as they call it. For us, our main factor was being close to the center (Sol). We had to get on three trains to get to the center from where our AirBnB was located and everything goes on in the center, so it was an ideal location. With location came a price, but compared to New York rent, it was a price we were willing to pay for being 2ft from a major metro-cercanias station. In Spain, a decent room in a flat can range from 300€-600€ (utilities included), all depending on what location you choose. Some flats costs are shown without utilities (also called services) included–they usually range from 30-50€, given the time of year you go, things like gas for heating may not be necessary. Finding a flat will be stressful–I won’t lie to you–but if you can narrow down your wants and budget for a place, it will make the hunt that much easier.
- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
You’ve chosen a country, semester, program, and a flat. You live in Madrid during the fall and live in the center, but NOT close to your university. How are you going to get around? Do I need a car? Is the train/metro system reliable? How much is that going to cost? These are a few of the questions you’d be asking yourself once you’re settling in. While I was abroad, I traveled to several places and in every city, my means of transportation were either by train or by foot. The metro systems of European cities are quite reliable and very convenient, with a catch. Now as a New Yorker, the subway never stops in the city that never sleeps. Europeans actually like their sleep and the metro system is usually closed by 1:30AM, 2AM the latest. So if you plan to go out past 1:30AM you must be prepared with a plan B to get back home. In Madrid, the clubs and metro worked together; the metro stopped at 1:30AM when people arrived at the club and opened again at 6:00AM when the clubs closed. Now you won’t be stranded if you missed the last train–that will never be a case. You can always catch a cab and many cities even have night busses. The night busses don’t run as frequently, but they will save your pocket. In Madrid, the metro system pricing works on an age breakdown and sector basis. I, an under-26 yr old, paid 20€ a month for an unlimited metro pass that worked on all lines within the B1 sector. The 20€/mth pass began in October while I was there and it was the best thing ever. It made getting around Madrid so easy and convenient. From the center where I lived, it was a 20min train ride to my university in a different town. It’s a definite MUST to find out what is the easiest way to travel around the city you’ll be making your home for the next few months. (P.S. there will be a transportation cheat sheet coming soon!)
There’s definitely a lot missing from this list, but these are the major things that I felt prepared me before I left. I’d definitely recommend checking out others and tailoring all the how-to guides you’ll read to YOUR liking and needs. There’s nothing more important than remembering that everyone has a different experience and goes to a different place, so you’ll have to make sure to remember that!
But no worries, if there’s ever any doubt, feel free to ask for help!
Location: New York, NY