How to Prepare for Your First Semester Abroad


There are so many benefits to studying abroad. You may have the opportunity to learn or become fluent in another language, learn about different cultures and customs, and meet incredible people. If your college or university offers the opportunity to study in a different country, take it. It’s not just a travel opportunity, it’s a chance to discover yourself.

As exciting as studying abroad is, however, it can also be nerve-wracking to think about. You’ll have to leave your friends and family, and all of the familiarities of home.  Depending on where you’re going, the idea of spending a few months there could even be intimidating.

However, don’t let those overwhelming feelings keep you from an incredible experience. The more you know how to prepare for your first semester abroad, the better you’ll feel about jet-setting somewhere new.

With that in mind, let’s cover a few practical preparation tips you can use to get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

Gather the International Necessities

When you’re considering a semester abroad, your school will usually give you the basics of what it will cost. Chances are, it’s not going to be cheap. You’ll need to consider things like:

  • Air travel
  • Ground transportation (for the whole semester)
  • Food
  • Shopping

It’s smart to start saving money as far in advance as possible. You should also consider carrying cash with you when you arrive in a new country. Currency exchange is relatively easy, and if you see something you want to buy, you don’t want to have to worry about credit card fees or wonder how much money you have left in your account from a debit card.

In addition to getting your finances in order, it’s important to have all of the right documentation, including:

  • Your passport
  • Insurance information
  • Student visa
  • Necessary prescriptions

To make it easier on yourself, try making several lists of things you need to bring with you. One list could be for clothes and accessories, another could be for health, another for school, etc. Breaking your lists into smaller categories will keep the packing experience from getting overwhelming while ensuring you don’t miss anything.

Make Your New Country Feel Like Home

Around 11% of Canadian undergraduate students study abroad. These students have had to find ways to feel at home while studying abroad. One way to do that is by finding comfort in your new dorm room.

Usually, you’ll be able to see pictures of your room, or at least the building, before you travel. But, even if you don’t know what your room will look like, you can make plans to decorate it. Embrace your personal design style to make the room feel like “you.” Focus on things that can make your dorm seem homier, including:

  • Lighting
  • Throw blankets and pillows
  • Rugs
  • Wall decor

Hanging pictures of family and friends can also help you feel less homesick. However, the best way to make your new country feel like home is to get out and embrace it. Language barriers and unfamiliar city infrastructures can be daunting at first, but by talking to people, utilizing signage and wayfinding, and immersing yourself in the culture, you’ll start to feel more accepted and comfortable in your new environment. Try learning some of the basic signs and meanings in your new country before you go and traveling around the city won’t seem as overwhelming.

Once you’re more comfortable with where you’re living, embrace the culture. Your dorm might feel like a safe space, and that’s good, but you didn’t come to a different country not to experience as much as possible. Try different foods, befriend some locals, and figure out the “must-see” attractions the country has to offer. The more you embrace it, the less homesick you’ll be.

Take Care of Yourself

If you’re feeling especially stressed and overwhelmed by the idea of studying abroad, that’s not uncommon. Taking care of yourself now, and learning how to practice self-care while you’re away, is important. You can manage your stress in many different ways. Finding something that works for you can make a big difference. If you’re not sure what helps, try some of the following:

  • Journaling
  • Mindfulness/meditation
  • Exercise
  • Cooking
  • Reading
  • Deep breathing

You can take those techniques with you no matter where you are in the world. While you’re abroad, continue to make your mental and physical health your top priorities. Make sure you’re eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Simple changes to your self-care routine can reduce your stress levels, improve your overall well being, and keep you healthy and happy while you’re away.

You’re about to embark on a journey that not everyone gets to experience. While it’s normal to feel nervous, these preparation tips can help. Do what you can to manage your stress and find comfort in your new country. By the time you’re set to come home, you’ll have incredible memories to last a lifetime, and you might end up staying abroad for more than one semester.

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