Now that my semester abroad at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland is halfway over, I’ve realized that I couldn’t have been completely prepared for this semester, no matter how much research I did. But, I should’ve asked more practical questions before I left. Here is all the practical study abroad advice I’ve collected over the past few months from other Goucher students, blogs, and my own experience.
What to Bring:
You are living abroad, not going on vacation. You will want the things you use every day at Goucher, and if you’re like me, you’ll hate buying things that you already own. I left most of these things at home and highly regret it.
Reusable water bottle
Small wallet for your school ID and keys
Toiletries because you can’t guarantee you will find your brands abroad
Pictures you have hanging in your dorm room
Backpack (most international flights allow one carry-on suitcase plus a personal item—your backpack can be your personal item!)
Ulmon is a free GPS app that uses satellite instead of wifi or data to locate you. It doesn’t generate directions, but it locates where you are in relation to your destination to orient you as to which way to walk. Download the city maps of the places you’re visiting on this app before you depart!
Rome2Rio is a free website/app that gives you all the public transportation options for how to get from point A to point B, whether that means walking for fifteen minutes or taking two planes and a train.
Viber, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger are free apps you can use to text, call, and video chat using wifi with your family and friends at home. If you buy a SIM card in the country you’re studying in, you won’t be able to call or text internationally without an international plan, so make sure your family and friends download these apps before you depart! Also, buying a SIM card in the country you’re in is only worth it if you won’t have wifi often in that country. Data won’t work in other countries you travel to, and you’ll only be able to text and call people with SIM cards from that country.
The American versions of Amazon, Netflix, and other websites don’t work in the UK, but you can easily use the UK versions. (I’m guessing this is how it works in other countries, too.) Pandora Radio doesn’t exist in the UK at all, though.
Check your requirements for your living situation for electrical converters. My electrical converter got confiscated (I’m living in the equivalent of an on-campus dorm) because it was unfused. Since I had to buy a new one, I learned that buying one on the UK Amazon is a lot cheaper than buying one on the U.S. Amazon, so those studying in the UK should wait until they arrive to buy an electrical converter.
Order foreign currency from your bank one-two weeks before departing. Many of my friends who are also studying abroad here did not do this, and because they are converting money more frequently, they are paying a lot higher conversion fees than I did.
To avoid more international conversion fees, every Goucher student should apply for a credit card with no international fees now. (For Bank of America customers, the Travel Rewards card has no international fees, but I don’t know what other banks call it.) I applied for one two months before I left, and there have been so many complications that I still haven’t received it. Apply for one now! I’ve wasted too much money paying conversion fees, and all my larger purchases like flights for spring break are on my credit card. Don’t procrastinate on applying for a credit card with no international fees!
European Budget Airlines are fantastic (RyanAir, EasyJet, etc.), but bring your own water bottle on the plane.
Hostels are great. Don’t forget to pack shower shoes and a combo-lock, but bed sheets are included, and towels are either included or for rent. Hostelworld.com is a great site to find highly recommended hostels.
When travelling in larger groups, Airbnb, a company that rents out locals’ homes to tourists (like Uber for cars), is usually more economical.
Sandemann is a company that gives free walking tours of most major European cities.
If you are a short-term student not on a visa, don’t leave the country without your acceptance letter to the school you’re studying at. Otherwise, they might not let you back into the country.
I would also recommend doing some preliminary research as to what you want to do in the places you’d like to visit when you’re abroad. This will save you a lot of time and stress when you’re beginning to plan your trips and will help you prioritize which places to visit and for how many days. But, hold off booking trips until you meet new friends. You never know who you might meet, or who might have the same interests as you until you arrive!