My criteria for choosing a university boiled down to three crucial elements: 1. A Strong Biology Department; 2. A Safety Net Community of People That I Can Rely On; 3. The Ability to Study Abroad Every Year. I am already aware of how lofty the third objective sounds. In fact, even as I am living out my third objective I am struck by how lofty it sounds. Recently as I was networking with a few other international students, we came across the topic of what exactly makes study abroad appear so unobtainable. We shared a few good laughs over the excuses we had heard—and even over some of the excuses that we ourselves had clung to before embarking on our latest adventure.
The list of these goes on and on, but the most popular responses appeared to be the following.
“It’s too expensive. I’ll wait until after I graduate to travel.”
“I’m not much of a linguist.”
“The application process is too extensive and complicated.”
“It won’t benefit my future career.”
I could harp for hours over each excuse, detailing why I believe it to be a misunderstanding worth negating. But where would that put us? Instead, this week I would like to offer a peace treaty in the constant tug and pull on the Study Abroaders vs Homesteaders by way of a list. But not just any list… a packing list!
10 Things to Pack for Your Semester Abroad
1. Sunscreen and Bug Spray.
Remember when your camp counselor forced you to put on sunscreen and bug spray before you left the cabin? Don’t let those sweet words of wisdom dwindle in your young adult years. These two items are essential for a more comfortable semester abroad, especially if you choose to visit a tropical region like Costa Rica. Because these regions thrive on tourism, local venders exercise little to no hesitation when inflating the price tag on these items. Bring them, and bring them in bulk. While you’re at it, it may not be a half bad idea to bring along aloe and anti-itch cream… just in case.
2. Toiletries—Both Full and Travel Sizes.
Many students opted to bring only travel sizes when they arrived in their study abroad location in an attempt to save space. However, it is not uncommon for toiletry items like shampoo and conditioner hit the shelf with sky high prices. Travel sizes are ideal for weekend excursions and outings, but make sure you also have what you need to sustain your beauty routine for x number of months in your new home.
3. Peanut Butter.
If you have a peanut allergy, please discard this advisory with my sincerest apologies. For everyone else, this is a lesson that I have learned the hard way over and over again. A quick and tasty way to pack a little more protein into your diet and a little flavor of familiarity into your day. This is especially recommended when studying in countries with high populations of vegans and minimal sanitary access to fresh meat such as India.
4. Small Journal.
The burden of carrying it with you is nothing in comparison to the burden of forgetting witty quips, moments of epiphany, and the name of that restaurant that you adored later on down the road. Make time for it. You won’t regret it.
5. Lock for Your Luggage.
Stay safe. Be smart. But don’t let your fear for the security of your belongings be something that holds you back from a spur of the moment adventure.
6. Budget for Your Adventures.
For my fellow organizers, and especially for anyone who believes that study abroad extends beyond their financial capabilities, make a financial planner before your trip. Apply for scholarships, look for deals and sales online, and decide which activities are worth the sticker shock. Give yourself an outline, but don’t make yourself crazy with a dollar bill play by play. You’re going to spend money. That one is just a given, but where, when, and how you delegate your finances is completely up to you. Keep yourself accountable throughout your adventures abroad and don’t be afraid to adjust your spending habits as you see fit. Oh, and apply for scholarships.
7. Book in Your Language of Choice.
Do you have a book that you’ve been dying to read, but just never made it past the lobby of the library with? Bring it with you. Are you just starting out in a language? I suggest beginning with a familiar chapter book such as Charlotte’s Web—or Las Telarañas de Carlota as I am currently deciphering. Are you ready to up your reading game in the language you’ve already been studying? Challenge yourself. Whatever the language, whatever the skill level you currently possess, a great book makes for great relaxation and a plethora of conversation starters. Read because you want to, when you want to. You might just find an adventure right before your eyes.
8. Old Fashioned Photo Album.
I got this idea from a friend in India and tried it out with my host family in Costa Rica. It’s a fun, low maintenance way to introduce who you are and build connections. Bonus: It’s excellent practice for those really attempting to learn a new language, because you can practice your opening dialogues again and again, but the conversations that stem from them will always surprise you. Double Bonus: It’s a great way to count your blessings before you set sail and to remind yourself of the important figures in your life while you’re abroad.
I am admittedly biased on this one, but there are few purchases in my lifetime that have benefitted me as much as this pair of sporty, yet fashionable sandals. Effective in all types of weather, on nearly all terrain, and you can even wear them with a dress—what more could you want out of a versatile wardrobe?
10. Confidence in the Coincidence.
Cheesy? Perhaps. True? Absolutely. Costa Rican society thrives off of the ideology of Pura Vida, the Pure Life. The greatest lesson I have taken away from my time in this beautiful country has been peace of mind in the crazy occurrences and a relentless hope that things will always turn out okay. Take the bus system for example; you may not arrive at your destination “on time” but you will always arrive when you need to. A semester, month, or even week abroad contains a great deal of the unknown. Inevitably, things are going to go wrong. You will be frustrated. You will be homesick. And yet, the character of our lives is composed by how we hurdle Plan B. You will be joyful. You will be courageous. And in the end you will be richer than any amount of money could provide.
Study abroad has been the most valuable experience of my college career. If you’re still providing yourself with excuses rather than encouragement, I advise you to begin packing your bag. Today. Right now. Start with these items, and let the rest of the adventure unfold from there.
A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.