Advice for Studying Abroad
So I’ve been in Ireland for 11 weeks now and time is just flying by! I have 7 weeks left until I leave Ireland (3 weeks of school, 2 weeks of break, and 2 weeks of finals), which seems crazy. It feels like just last week I was scrambling around Indianapolis preparing for my trip to study abroad.
A few weeks before Winter Break, the Center for Global Education at Butler University hosted a Pre-Departure Orientation to prepare us for going abroad. There was a question and answer session with other students who had studied abroad, which was probably the most helpful thing from the orientation. They answered questions I didn’t even know I had and gave some pretty great advice that has served me well. I realize that everyone’s study abroad experience will be different, but here is some advice I have for future students studying abroad (hope it helps!).
I was only allowed one checked item and one carry-on bag, so I had to pack very wisely. I used most of the space in my luggage for clothes, shoes, and toiletries. Pack only the essentials because there isn’t enough room to bring something you’re not going to use. Despite what you may think, you don’t need 6 pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of jeans, 4 handbags, or 14 shirts, for example. As an international student, it is completely socially acceptable to wear the same outfit for several days in a row (trust me on this one). A tip for packing clothes would be to roll everything instead of folding, putting the harder materials at the bottom and the softer materials on the top. This nearly doubled the space in my suitcase! Everything else I needed, such as school supplies, kitchen supplies, and bedding, I bought abroad. Also, realize that you may have to leave things behind if you want to take home everything you bought abroad (or just wear everything you possibly can to the airport to free up space, which is going to be my strategy).
I would also check the weather of your host country before you leave. I checked the weather in Dublin and was pretty confident I knew what the temperature was going to be like. The temperature was in the high 30’s and 40’s in January and compared to the -12 degree weather Indiana was getting before I left, this almost seemed hot. However, Ireland is very humid, wet, and windy, which makes everything seem much much much colder than it actually is. I can handle 40 degree weather in a sweatshirt in Indiana, but I really regretted not bringing a coat to Ireland. I was freezing for the first two months, which was miserable and I was too stubborn to actually buy a coat.
I was very lucky because I never got past the honeymoon phase of culture shock. I am still completely in love with Ireland and I doubt that is going to change (the down side of not being homesick is the fact that it will just be that much harder for me to leave). However, some of my good friends here did go through the negative phases of culture shock. My advice for this is that you’re not alone and the bad feelings will pass in time.
Staying in Touch
You’re in a new country and experiencing all kinds of new and exciting things, but it is good to take time and call home every once and a while. On the other hand, don’t spend every second you get checking Facebook to see what your friends are up to and calling home multiple times a day. You’re in a new country, so get off the Internet and experience it!
The time difference can make calling home a little difficult at times, so you just have to plan ahead. I call home once a week using Skype or Facetime (depending on the Wi-Fi connection that evening) and I’ve talked with most of my friends from back home at least once so far.
I am generally a pretty frugal person. I usually only buy what I need and then splurge every so often, so I never really had the need to make a budget. However, if you are someone who will spend all your money until its gone, it would be a very wise decision to budget how much you can spend each month and then make sure to follow it. Also, costs abroad are different than they are at home. It’s also a good idea to leave extra money in your budget for unexpected things, like a spontaneous weekend trip.
Another thing to consider is the exchange rate. Right now, 1.00 euro equals 1.39 dollars. While this is constantly changing, it is usually not in favor of the dollar (… don’t even get me started on the pound). Things cost the same as they do back home, but because of the exchange rate things will end up costing more. This can be a bit overwhelming, but knowing this in advance can help with planning.
I set up an Irish bank account so I wouldn’t have to use my American cards here. I was very opposed to this idea at first, but it was actually rather painless and really easy to do. If you don’t want to set up an international bank account, then just make sure you check with your bank to make sure they won’t charge you any insane international fees. Also, let your bank know you are studying abroad so they don’t shut off your cards when you withdraw from a foreign ATM.
I decided to buy a cheap 20 euro phone with a pay as you go plan. I don’t use my Irish phone that often, but it is nice to use in emergency situations. However, I do have friends here that just brought their phones from home and bought a pay as you go plan, which saved them the cost of the phone. If you do this though, make sure to talk with your provider and unlock your phone. My iPhone was still in a 2-year contract, so I couldn’t unlock it unfortunately. I brought my iPhone anyway to use when I have access to Wi-Fi. Since I have an iPhone I can use iMessage to text other people with iPhones. It is just like texting normally and it is free since it uses the Internet. There are also a lot of apps that you can use to text and call back home using the Internet.
I live in an on-campus apartment, so transportation to and from the university hasn’t really been an issue for me. I have my own bedroom and bathroom, so I haven’t had any roommate issues either thankfully.
There is no meal plan on campus so I have had to cook for myself, which has been a new experience. We have a kitchen in our apartment and we were provided with some cookware. However, we were not given everything we would need to cook here, such as a baking pan or an oven sheet (which doesn’t really matter too much because our oven is broken anyway). I decided that I wasn’t going to buy a bunch of cookware to just have to throw it all away in a few of months (I’m frugal remember?), so I’ve been living on cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pasta for the past two months. Even if I did have proper cookware, I would probably still be eating cereal, PB and J’s and pasta, which is sad, but true. This is no exaggeration. So be prepared to learn how to cook or eat the same thing for every meal!
Laundry is very expensive at my university. We have a washer and dryer in our apartment complex. The cost to use the washer and dryer is 3.20 euros each. So if you would like to wash and dry your clothes, it costs around 9 dollars. The worst part of this is that the washer is so small that you physically cannot fit more than a weeks worth of clothes in it (I’ve tried and it doesn’t work out very well). So there is no separating clothes by color here (not that I did that at home) or waiting several weeks to do laundry. Sometimes I’ll dry my clothes on the radiator in my room when I don’t feel like paying for the dryer.
Take the courses that are required for your major, but aside from those take classes you will enjoy. There are so many things that you can’t learn in a classroom setting. I’m not saying take the easiest classes you can find, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you don’t want to waste it studying in the library.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you will have to do a little work while you’re abroad (who knew there was a scholastic component to STUDYING abroad?). You don’t want to blow everything you have been working towards because you partied too hard a semester abroad. While I am doing significantly much less work here than back at home, I still do work and have somewhat of an idea of what is happening in class. Play hard, but work hard too.
Public transportation is wonderful in Ireland. You can pretty much get anywhere you want by bus or train and, if necessary, taxi for a reasonable price. The only complaint I have about the public transportation is that busses and trains often never depart when they say they will. They are usually late, but a friend and I actually missed a bus because it was five minutes early. Also, taxi drivers are the friendliest people and love to talk to you.
You should take every opportunity to travel, but at the same time don’t over do it. Over break, I had the chance to go to Scotland for a week. My friends and I planned the whole trip. We wanted to do so many things and tried to make it all happen. We would visit two cities in one day and sleep on the train ride to the next city. It was exhausting because we tried to do too much with the little time we had. Also, take several trips to other countries, but make sure that you have time to travel your host country. You don’t want to get to the last week of your program and realize that you haven’t seen any of your host country.
Plan trips out before you go, but leave a little time for relaxing and unexpected things. In my experience, just “winging it” has never worked out. Also, book everything online. During our first study break, some friends and I took a bus to the airport at 300a on a Tuesday. There were so many people at the bus stop, which was surprising for 300a. The bus had completely filled up and because we booked our tickets in advance we got a seat, but several people who were relying on this bus to get them to their flights on time had to wait until the next bus in a hour and a half.
Also, don’t be afraid to travel alone. If you want to go somewhere that none of your friends want to visit, don’t let that stop you. It might seem scary, but it is actually a good experience. You can do whatever you want whenever you want without having to consult the people you’re traveling with, you meet people you wouldn’t have met if you were surrounded by your friends, and the best part is all the confidence you gain afterwards.
First Generation College Students
My main concern abroad has been finances. My advice to this would be to save money as soon as you know you want to study abroad. You might want to buy that new DVD that just came out, but you’re going to want to go on a weekend trip to Belfast even more, for example. Also, don’t be afraid to tell people no when you’re abroad. What I mean by this is that sometimes your friends are going to want to do things that you will have to say no to. I have had to tell my friends that I can’t go out to eat with them or travel to Budapest for the weekend or buy several drinks at a bar, which is always hard especially when you want to do these things, but sometimes it has to be done.
Freshman year when we were advised to think about studying abroad I completely blew off the idea. I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the time, I didn’t want to leave home, and it just wasn’t for me. Besides, people in my major rarely study abroad because of the strict courses we are required to take. However, by the end of freshman year I was scrambling to make my study abroad experience happen second semester sophomore year (I know this blog says I’m a junior, but I’m actually a sophomore). I have never met anyone who has studied abroad and regretted it. So if you are deciding whether you want to study abroad, the answer should be yes and you will find a way to make it work. It truly is a privilege to study abroad. You have four carefree months that you get to immerse yourself in another culture, travel the world, and have unforgettable and life changing experiences. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I know this is a very long post, but I don’t know the next time I will have the opportunity to blog. Procrastinating has caught up to me this week, Spring Break is next week, and then my parents are coming to visit Ireland the week afterwards! It will be a busy few weeks!
Let go and let’s live –