Hello from France! I am currently in the middle of my semester abroad in Grenoble, France and I am really enjoying it. As someone who has had time to both reflect on and see the results of the preparations I made last semester, I’d like to offer some advice to those who are now prepping to study abroad either next semester or the one after that.
DON’T set unreasonable expectations for your experience
I feel like this is a piece of advice that a lot of students already hear before they leave the US, and it is worth heeding. I know some people have friends who study abroad, come back, and tell all about their amazing experiences. The prospective travelers will then begin to expect that their experiences will be at least be similar, if not parallel, to those of their friends. I was not one of those people; I am the first among my close friends and family to study abroad. It was easier to go in without expectations because of that, and I don’t see how I could have ever accurately set expectations for life in France now that I’m there. Maybe this will rub some people the wrong way, but the way I see it is that if you set very low expectations and almost plan on being disappointed, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised. If you don’t like surprises, sorry, but that’s what you’ve signed up for. Of course, there’s no way to completely avoid the setting of expectations and the resulting disappointment. For me, I was excited about getting to spend the first few days of the semester in London before heading over to France. While this was a good opportunity to get to know my peers for the semester, I wasn’t prepared to face the difficulty of sightseeing with people who I had only met the day before.
DO a moderate amount of research
You’ll never be able to learn everything about your city and country just by looking it up online, and you’ll naturally learn so much more just by living there. However, it is of course a good idea to come in with some basic knowledge of your city such as political climate, basic history, and how the city compares to the others in the country.
DON’T worry to death about what to pack
I would strongly recommend to pack two weeks of clothes and maybe one or two special outfits. There’s more to it than that of course, but this is the basic idea. Unless you can’t expect to do laundry often, such a supply of clothes will be more than enough. Remember, you’re going to study (and experience new things), not to wear your favorite outfits.
DO pack smart
Packing too light will create a lot of unneeded stress for you. When you start getting homesick, you’ll be glad you brought some things to remind you of home. For example, I brought some of my favorite t-shirts, and wearing one of them yesterday was one of the things that helped me get through my first day of midterms.
DON’T stress about the small details of your trip
It took me forever to be certain that I was going to France for a semester because I had no idea if all the details would work out (e.g. “What if my visa application gets rejected?”). This is something else that can’t be completely avoided, but it helps to slow down and consciously reassure yourself. Easier said than done, but I think it would be beneficial to at least think about how you have nothing to worry about if you’ve been putting in the effort. It’s always good to email the Admissions Officer (shout out to Erin!) if you have questions or concerns.
Do complete deadlines *well* in advance
As a chronic procrastinator, this is something that was a big problem for me as I was getting ready to study abroad. It’s a great idea to do stuff for AIFS and your home university as soon as you can, but do this especially when you must deal with either the US government or that of your host country. You should not only be prompt, but also thorough. I was trying to complete all the deadlines for my visa application process as fast as I could, but I made the mistake of waiting longer than I should have to make my visa appointment at the French consulate in Atlanta. There were no appointments available for close to a month and a half. I ended up not getting my passport back until the Monday before I flew out of the US on the following Friday.
DON’T think too much about what you’ll be missing at your home university
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a very real thing, especially if you like to involve yourself on campus. You’ll only create grief for yourself if you dwell on the things you would be doing if you weren’t studying abroad. Instead, go ahead and create a list of realistic activities that you’ll get to do during your study abroad.
DO plan activities for after your return
With possibly some exceptions, all study abroad experiences have a definite end to them, after which the student goes back to their home university. The time that you spend abroad is going to be amazing, and it will be incredibly difficult to leave, especially if you have nothing to look forward to afterwards. Before I left the country, I was already talking to my mom about the possibility of a family vacation once I’m back in the USA. You could also buy tickets to go see your favorite band or artist in concert once you return.
DON’T think so much about what’s to come that you forget to live in the moment
This applies to most everything in life, but it applies specially to study abroad. It is easy to become a forward-thinker when it comes to spending a semester or a year in a foreign country. Whether you’re worrying or daydreaming, both can be detrimental to your ability to live in the here and now.
DO get excited!
I saved this for last because it is possibly the most important. You’re studying abroad! You may never get a similar chance again. Here are some things you can possibly expect if you keep an open mind: to meet incredible people, to have your perspective on the world radically changed, to move closer to discovering or reaffirming your passion, to eat food filled with flavors so unique and wonderful that you can’t imagine a world without it, and to see things you never would have seen otherwise. To all who read this post, good luck!