by Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Speak to the people who’ve gone abroad before you – you might think you know all the necessary stuff for going abroad, but it can’t help to speak to people who’ve gone before you. They may give you cheaper ways to travel, transfer money, or you simply have someone your age who can just reassure you of the amazing time you’re going to have. Personally, I got told that I could waive the insurance here at UNC, saving me a lot of money.
- Money –it can’t hurt to be over-prepared, especially when it comes to money. There may be some surprise bills when you go abroad, and being prepared makes dealing with this a lot easier. Make sure you have multiple ways of accessing money abroad, such as taking extra debit cards, or getting a post office card (similar to getting a caxton card), or just have some spare money in a drawer in case of an emergency. Find out if you can open a bank account, and maybe exchange some cash before you go. For UNC, it was pretty easy to open a bank account with Wells Fargo.
- Books, paper and other studying supplies – paper in America is hole-punched differently, and so their folders are different. It’s kind of impractical to bring enough paper to last you the entire time you’re abroad, and it’s cheap over here. Renting your books is also a lot easier, but also see if you can find an online version – there may be a problem if you can’t find the correct edition, but it can’t hurt to look.
- Packing – you may think that you can get a certain item out there, like shampoo or conditioner, and most of the time that’s true, but don’t necessarily count on it. I drink a lot of orange squash, which doesn’t exist out here, and whilst I managed to get my parents to post me some, I probably should have thought ahead about this. Also, you’re probably going to buy souvenirs etc. abroad, so unless you’re fine with posting stuff home, don’t fill your suitcase to the brim as you’ll need to leave some room! Also, if someone visits you, send them home with things you no longer need!
- Meal plan or not to meal plan – it’s actually an important question. I’d say don’t buy one immediately – get a feel for whether you like the food in the dining hall, but also see what your friends are doing. If they’re eating out all the time, getting a meal plan may not be the wisest decision. See what the kitchens are like in your halls – if you’re in apartment style housing, you’ll probably have a kitchen, and so may want to cook yourself than eat out.
- Midterms – spoiler alert, they can be anytime in the term, not just the middle. Most professors will warn you about these in advance but don’t count on it. Check whatever the equivalent of blackboard is and make a note of when they are. Be careful with the date as well, what you might read as the 10th November is actually the 11th October, and it’s a mistake you don’t want to make. Do the homework, even if it’s optional – there’s a reason the Professor set it, and can sometimes be very similar to the actual test.
- Professors – it’s best to call them Professor… and then let them tell you what they preferred to be called, it’s just safer. Still, they’re usually pretty nice, and easy to approach. Talk to them – letting them know that you’re an international student is a good thing, they’re more likely to be understanding if you get a bad grade, but you also won’t have the prerequisites for the courses, so letting them know who you are may mean you avoid getting kicked off the course.
- The accent – it’s noticeable, but surprisingly people can’t always tell I’m from England, but just smile and tell them. It’s also a good idea to try to reference where you’re from in terms of well-known places – I just tell people I’m from just north of London; it’s easier, and saves me from having to showcase my lack of knowledge of my own country. They also often expect you to be from the same place that you go to university, as it’s common here as it’s cheaper to go to a university in state.
- Put yourself out there – it may seem harsh to say this, but you’re only there for a year, so have fun! Do things you wouldn’t normally do, and make the most of the opportunities you get. In a way, this is your chance to be a completely different person – you will know practically no one when you get out there, so here’s your chance to reinvent yourself. For instance, I joined tinder, I also then deleted tinder, but still, it was an experience and it’s not like any of them are going to find me in England.
Lastly, don’t compare your year abroad to others. Your experience is your own, and whilst you may push yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to stay well within your comfort zone. Going abroad means something different for everyone, and travelling everywhere, having loads of new friends might not be your cup of tea, and that’s fine, just do what you want to do.