Sunday, June 7, 2015

Study Abroad Tips

Hi everybody! Today I’m going to be typing out some tips I have for those thinking about studying abroad. There are a lot of blog posts like this out there, so I’m going to try and limit my tips to things that may be less obvious. Therefore, I’m not going to tell you to keep a budget, pack carefully, blah blah blah. So without further ado, here is my advice for studying abroad!

  1. Don’t spread yourself too thin when it comes to traveling. When you study abroad, the temptation is to go to as many places as possible. When I was in London, other study abroad-ers were going over to the European mainland every other weekend! While I’m sure they had a wonderful time, I think it’s better to focus on the place where you’re staying. Although there were places outside England I wanted to visit- Rome, Vienna, and Munich, to name a few- I’m glad I didn’t take time out of the semester to visit those places. The visits would have been short and rushed. Traveling within England was a much better use of my time and energy, and when the semester ended, I really felt as I had explored and experienced England. 
  2. A pay-as-you-go phone service for the UK that I recommend is GiffGaff. It’s a service that falls under the umbrella of the O2 network, which is one of the big ones in the UK. The service and data plans are good and there are absolutely no contracts. For 12GBP a month I had unlimited UK calls, texts, and 3GB of data. For another 20GBP total for the whole semester I added some credit for international calls. For most international calls, though, I used Skype and Viber. 
  3. Download Hola Better Internet extension for a free VPN. If you want to access American websites (mainly for Netflix or TV shows), a VPN works great. Netflix offers different shows in the UK than in the US, so if you want to watch a TV show only offered in your home country, VPNs are an easy solution.
  4. Find a good maps/navigation app for your city. CityMapper is great for the London area and Paris, and is free! For smaller cities Google maps works pretty well. 
  5. Get a microchip credit card before traveling. In England, almost all cards have a microchip, so it will be a lot easier if your card is compatible with the card machines. 
  6. Bring a charge cell for your cell phone! When you’re going on day trips and having to use your phone a lot for directions, etc., your phone will die quickly. If you have a charge cell, you can just plug your phone in when the power is getting low, and then you’re good to go. It was one of the most useful things I brought.
  7. For packing, packing cubes are great! There are some cheap packs of all sizes you can order from Amazon. The cubes were most useful for weekend trips when I had to fit a weekend’s worth of clothes into a backpack. Packing cubes can work wonders!
  8. If you’re studying abroad in London, look into when Open House weekend is. During Open House weekend a lot of buildings are open which aren’t normally open to the public, or they are open for free during that weekend. During Open House weekend I got to go to the top of the Gherkin and visit Westminster Hall- both places I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise. Be sure you are prepared for long queues, though!
  9. If you’re studying abroad in London, check to see when Buckingham Palace is open for visits. It’s usually open in the summer until the end of September. I only found out about it being open the last weekend and fortunately was able to go!
  10. As far as packing goes, I recommend bringing as little as possible and buying things when you get to where you are staying. So many of the blogposts and articles I read recommended packing months and months’ worth of toiletries, etc. because they are more expensive abroad. This is true (everything is more expensive abroad!), but part of the experience of living abroad is living like a local. Part of the fun in adjusting to life in England was shopping for the everyday things I needed- UK shampoos, UK toothpaste, etc. Of course, if you have a particular product you can’t live without (e.g. acne cream, allergy medicine), do bring enough for your stay. Otherwise, I recommend buying things once you arrive (Poundland and Primark are wonderful!)
  11. Similarly, I would bring fewer clothes than you expect to need so that you can buy some at charity shops and Primark. One thing I did to save room packing was bring a pair of cheap sneakers that I could toss in England before I came back. I also purchased a cheap hoodie and an insulated vest that I donated back before coming home. 
  12. Don’t try to plug a US power strip into a power converter- it won’t work (trust me!)
  13. Get a railcard and a Student Oyster. They’ll help save you money and make nice keepsakes to bring home.
  14. Use TripAdvisor. It was my best friend while planning for my semester abroad!
  15. Buy train tickets in ADVANCE! You can save a ton of money this way. 
  16. Don't be afraid to travel alone. With the appropriate planning, preparation, and a reasonable amount of caution, travelling alone can be an awesome experience, whether you're travelling for the day or the weekend. 
  17. Do a little research on the history of where you’re going. Along with this, try and read some fiction related to your destination. For example, if you're studying abroad in England, you can't go wrong with Charles Dickens and Jane Austen! If you're visiting London, a little bit of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster is a must. All the reading will make all of your sightseeing and adventures lots more meaningful and fun!

Well, those are my tips for now! Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions, etc. If you’re spending a semester abroad, don’t worry- it’ll be wonderful and unforgettable!