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Preparing for study abroad: Advice from those who have been there and done that

| LeBrenda Street

You have your forms filled out, visas obtained and courses selected. Just the packing is left and that can wait until after exams. Is preparing for study abroad really that simple?

This summer 126 UW-Eau Claire students will participate in a study abroad program or faculty-led immersion trip. Many will experience culture shock and homesickness, and will go from feeling on top of the world to wanting to go home.

These feelings are an important part of the study abroad experience, and it is key to be receptive and reflective on them. Four UW-Eau Claire graduates who are veteran world travelers and currently living and working abroad have some tips and tricks to help you prepare for your study abroad and make the most of it while you are there.

1. Make lists

Bethany Webster, 2011 UWEC graduate living in Keil, Germany

This might sound rather simple, but make lists before you go. Before I left for my second stay abroad in 2011, I made a list of places I wanted to see, things I could do at the beginning to meet new friends, and general goals for my time abroad. These lists were especially helpful in the beginning since I didn’t know anyone in the area. Not everything on the list wound up leading me to lifelong friends, but if one thing didn’t work out, I had another option to try, which kept me from feeling discouraged or lonely.

Whatever you do, don’t hide in your room watching Netflix. It can be tempting, especially when you’re feeling homesick, but the best thing to do is to force yourself to get out there and go … anywhere, even if it’s just to the cafe down the street.

2. Bring personal items

Lauren Bryant, 2012 graduate living in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Bring personal things with you, e.g., photos, journals or anything special to make you feel at home, but make sure you leave room in your suitcase for new things, such as clothes and souvenirs. It won`t seem like it when you leave, but time goes by so fast, so you don`t need to pack absolutely everything from home.

Enjoy yourself, but also make sure to keep up with your classes and homework. Your grades are still important when you study abroad. You`ll find time to travel and do everything you want to do during long weekends or if your study abroad program holds special excursions. If not, you can travel after the semester ends or go back for more

3. Take advantage of every opportunity

Katie Summers, 2013 graduate living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Take advantage of every opportunity you have. If you want to take a weekend trip to another country, do it. Living in a different country is the best way to learn about other people and cultures, so attend special public holidays, festivals or performances. Participate in language exchanges. It is a great way to make friends with the locals and increase your language skills. 

Take pictures! Enjoy every moment. Not to sound too cheesy, but your study abroad experience will change your life!

4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Elise Rooney, 2012 graduate living in Busan, South Korea

Let yourself be uncomfortable — not unsafe, but uncomfortable. You will see more, have better stories and you will learn more about yourself than you ever thought you would.

Study abroad can be a fantastic experience if you are willing to stretch and grow. Prepare  yourself to step outside your comfort zone, experience new things, and discover more about yourself and the world around you.

Photo caption: The Glenfinnan Viaduct, perhaps better known as the Hogwarts Express bridge, from the "Harry Potter" movies, cuts through the beautiful Scottish Highlands. It’s near the site where the Jacobite Rising began on the bank of Loch Shiel. (Photo by UW-Eau Claire student Brittany Jansen, taken during her study abroad trip to Scotland.)