By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University
It has been one year since I embarked on my journey to the US and so after some reflection, I thought I would share some tips on how to prepare to go abroad. There are so many things you have to think about before you leave like visas, accommodation, what to pack, which courses to take, which flight to take – the list feels endless! However, I would say that there are three key ways, in which you must prepare for your trip, and that is financially, logistically and probably most importantly mentally.
So it might seem obvious that of course you will have to think about your finances before you go abroad, especially if you want to fit some travelling into your budget. However, as much as I tried to budget before I went abroad, I had no idea of half the things I would end up spending my money on. First of all, I had no idea of the sheer volume of ubers I would end up taking, which are not cheap! However, there isn’t much you can do to avoid this because the public transport is non-existent and the distances are so large that if you tried to walk it would take you half the night. An uber costs between $7-$15 dollars, depending on where you want to go, which doesn’t sound much but adds up when you are taking a few a week and people forget to pay you back. It is also a cost that I don’t have in Manchester, since the buses run frequently, and so I hadn’t anticipated it. Secondly, were there were sooooo many travel plans! A lot of the exchange students I was living with, were only there for one semester and so obviously they wanted to make the most of their limited time, by travelling a lot. However, what I failed to realise at the time was that they only had to make their money stretch one semester, whilst I had to make my budget last a year. So, in fear of missing out I tried to keep up with their travel plans and ended up spending way too much money in the first semester. I had a great time, and visited a lot of great places but it meant that during the second semester I had to be much more careful about my spending. So be weary of that; keep in mind how long your budget needs to last and try to stick to it a bit better than I did. Thirdly, don’t expect things to be priced the same as in the UK. Again this might seem obvious, but I was caught out by the extreme prices of some items, which are relatively cheap in the UK, like deodorant. I would never have thought that a can of deodorant could be as expensive as $8 when it is only £1 in the UK. However, it isn’t all that bad because it balances out, with some things being much cheaper than they are at home. I think the most important point though is be flexible and wait until you have got to your host country to make a final budget. It will be so much easier to have a budget you can stick too once you have sussed out the prices of things. So make a rough budget before and then a better one after you’ve been there a couple of weeks, and always remember how long you are going for!
I think the most important thing to say about logistics is UNDERPACK!!! I cannot express enough how important I think it is to not pack too much. I packed way too much. I was going for a year and so I took so many things but, guess what, I ended up buying so many things too! So when the time came to pack up my room, I had about an extra suitcase worth of stuff, and no extra suitcase to put it in. You will amass so much stuff during your time abroad, so take as little as possible. I took two big suitcases and a backpack and I wish I had only taken one big suitcase. Yes, you might not have absolutely everything you need, but how much stuff do you really need. I would say pack once, then take out half your stuff and pack again. You are still going to have a great year if you take three jumpers instead of six, plus you’ll have more room to bring things home.
I think this is definitely the hardest way in which you will have to prepare for your time abroad. You have to come to terms with the fact that you will be away for an extended period of time and that things might be different when you come home. The world keeps on moving and whilst you might be worried about missing out on things at home, you will be having new adventures of your own. You have to get used to the fact that you won’t be able to stay completely up-to-date with your life at home, but that doesn’t matter. Home will always be there, it is always a place that you can come back to. Your year abroad, on the other hand, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you probably won’t be able to have so easily again. So you need to prepare yourself for how to deal with your new ‘dual life’. I would say the best thing to do is leave home behind, as much as that is possible. Tell your friends and family that you will aim to keep them updated but that you won’t be able to talk 24/7 because you’ll be too busy. It is very tiring trying to keep up to date with your life at home, whilst also living a whole new life, half way across the world. Also you want to have the best experience possible and if you are constantly in contact with your life at home, you won’t be able to fully immerse yourself in this new life. I know the idea of cutting off regular contact with home and flying half way around the world, with little idea of what to expect, is daunting but that’s why it is key to prepare. Prepare yourself with the idea that you won’t be coming home for a while and work out a communication plan with your friends and family. This will make it much easier to get your head around going away and will let you live your new life, without constantly worrying about keeping up with your friends at home, since you’ve told them you’ll be going off grid for a while!