Studying abroad will be the most exciting time of your life; I can promise you that. However, living in a different and foreign country for three and a half months can be overwhelming. There will be times when you will feel unsure of yourself, anxious and a little emotional, but the majority of the time will be indescribably fantastic. It is impossible to plan out exactly what you want to do ahead of time but to avoid having regret at the end of the road, here are some tips.
1. Plan as many trips ahead as possible.
Even though you will think that you have endless time to plan where you want to travel, time really catches up to you fast. Before you know it, you've been abroad for two months and now that flight you needed to take is booked. Traveling is much, much cheaper abroad than it is from America because you are so much closer, but it still works the same way. To get the best prices and dates, plan as many trips before you go or plan in advance so that it's less stressful and less expensive.
2. Don't pack an entire suitcase full of summer clothes.
The clothes that you pack depends on where exactly you will be studying abroad. However, in Italy, I somehow never thought that it would actually get that cold. Although Italy is on average much warmer than New York — where I'm from —, it does get much cooler starting in mid-October. Italy's winter is also rainy, but not snowy, so bring a raincoat or umbrella if your country is similar. Basically, look up your location's seasonal climates to make sure that you're prepared and won't have to spend a lot on warmer or cooler clothes.
3. Spend at least two weekends in your host country.
It is tempting to travel every single weekend and explore as much as you can, but don't forget the amazing city that you're already in. Everyone wants to pack as many countries in as possible to make the most of their study abroad experience, but traveling all the time can be draining and exhausting. It's nice to have free time to just walk around the city on the weekends and do all the touristy things that you wouldn't have time for during the week when you have class.
4. Don't be afraid to be alone.
I'm not saying to not hang out with your friends from home, but sometimes walking a different route home from class by myself allowed me to take in the city and how amazing it is. Being on your own schedule will force you to be more independent and discover things at your own pace. If you really want to eat at a new restaurant or travel to a different city and your friends don't, go!
5. Don't miss class!
While you may think that courses abroad don't matter as much as your courses at your home university, they are still extremely important. Oftentimes, studying abroad can seem too much like a vacation and it's easy to forget why we're really here, but classes abroad are so much more interesting than at home and you learn so much. Plus, you don't want bad grades to ruin your experience and make it harder for you when your return home. Most of them aren't that hard and there are a lot of courses that have walking tours that help students to explore their city.
6. Pack the best carry-on that you can.
When I traveled to Italy, both of my suitcases were lost for 10 days, which apparently is really really common because most of the planes to Florence are smaller and have short layovers. About twenty other people in my program had the same problem. However, losing my suitcases was really terrible for me because my carry-on had the most random stuff in it and I had nothing important in it that I really needed. It was traumatizing, to say the least. While both suitcases arrived eventually, it would have saved me a lot of stress and anxiety if I had prepared better.
7. Don't go to the same places every day.
While it's easy to find a favorite restaurant to go to all the time, make sure that you branch out and pick new random places to try. Whether it's a different gelato place or a new club, you never know if it will be the best place that you never knew about.
8. Write down all the places you go.
Try and keep a list of all the different cities and countries you visit because it's easy for them to blur all together. You don't have to keep a diary if you don't want to, but even a list in your phone will do. Also, make sure that you keep any ticket stubs or mementos. I kept all of mine, and it's so cool to look back and see all the places and museums that I visited from so many different countries.
9. Read the emails that your study abroad program sends you!
These emails often contain important information and also offer a ton of free events for students! Mine offered free tickets to Fiorentina soccer matches and similar events, which were really cool to go to and all you had to do was sign up.
10. Make sure that you buy souvenirs for yourself.
They don't have to be kitchy, touristy things, but make sure that you buy nice stuff for yourself that you will actually use. It's easy to remember to get gifts for your parents or other family members and friends, but sometimes you forget that you're the one actually studying abroad. Buy things for yourself that you will treasure forever.