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Suitcases and Foreign Places: How to Prepare for a Semester Abroad

While many Boston College students are posting pictures of themselves sipping wine along the Seine or hiking the Swiss Alps, those of us studying abroad next semester are waiting for our turn to travel the world. 

After the stress of finals and the holiday season, you will want to relax before packing your bags, boarding your flights, and moving to a new country. Here are some of my tips on how you can begin preparing for your semester abroad now to ensure a smooth transition.

Begin to Set Travel Plans

When you arrive to your host city, there will be a lot on your plate. I recommend you start thinking about some weekend adventures, even if it is just a rough idea. Jotting down locations, dates, and methods of travel now will help alleviate some of the stress at the beginning of the semester. 

Make sure to talk with your friends who will also be abroad—ask when you can visit them in their host cities, and put those locations down in your calendar. You can also coordinate with friends and figure out when and where you would want to take trips together. 

My advice is to print out physical calendars for the months you’ll be abroad, and pencil in some plans. Or, you can use Google Calendar and input some tentative ideas.

For now, I would hold off on actually buying the travel tickets because plans may change, but at least having an idea of where you might want to go is a great starting point.

Make a Packing List

Since you will spend an entire semester in a different country, you’re going to have to pack a lot of stuff. Consider buying travel compression bags to maximize the space in your suitcases. 

My friends who are currently abroad frequently use over-the-shoulder fanny packs, which are perfect for protecting your important items from pick-pocketing. Some great options are from Lululemon, Target, and Patagonia

You also may want to consider buying Apple AirTags, which are small, disc-shaped tags that you can track on the Find My app. While abroad you will probably travel a lot, so putting these tags in your luggage will ensure you can retrieve your belongings in case something gets lost. 

Lastly, if you’re living with a host family, a good way to thank them for their hospitality is to bring them a memento either from Boston or your hometown. It can be something small, such as a BC pennant, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate the gesture.

Get Your Visa with Ease-a

One of the most stressful parts about preparing for abroad are the logistical aspects. If you’re in a country that requires a visa, you should get started on that process as soon as possible. Most countries require students to obtain a student visa for  stays over 90 days. Some host universities handle the process on behalf of the students, whereas others make the exchange students go through the process themselves. 

To find out how to obtain a visa for your program, check your Office of Global Education portal, reach out to your program manager, or do some research on your host university and host country. Many countries have website pages dedicated to helping students navigate the visa process, such as France, Ireland, and Australia.

Think of Ways to Document the Experience

While studying abroad, you will most likely have some once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you will want to remember, so I recommend that you find a way to chronicle your semester. If you enjoy writing, buy a journal where you can write about your favorite places, trips, meals, and restaurants. 

If you’re into photography, you can take pictures and create a scrapbook. Recently, many exchange students have been creating social media pages dedicated to posts only about their time abroad. 

You can make a new Instagram account, create a fun name, and post your favorite pictures from your travels for your friends and family to follow along. Documenting the semester will also help you remember all of the amazing experiences so you can look back on these journal entries or photos years later.

Beginning to prepare to go abroad now will help you be less stressed in the long run. Studying abroad can be fun, but it can be challenging. So, getting a headstart on preparation will hopefully make the transition all the more smooth, meaning you can savor your time abroad as much as possible.

October 20, 2022