Studying Abroad? Top 10 Tips to Read Before You Go

by Sarah in General / 08.21.08

I miss Amsterdam. A lot. This week last year, I flew on a plane to Europe and had the most magical time for one semester. Since I am especially nostalgic this week, I figure I can give you ten important lessons I learned when studying abroad in Europe.

1. Pack Light!
For many of you, this is the first time you have left the country for such an extended period of time. People start freaking out about what they think they will need and end up packing way too much. YOU ONLY NEED ONE LARGE SUITCASE. Trust me on this one. Anyone one who brought more than one suitcase regretted it. Most study abroad programs provide bedding, cooking utensils, furniture, etc. You just need clothes and other necessities. Keep in mind that you will accumulate stuff throughout the semester and you will need space to bring it back home.

attempting to close my suitcase (attempting to close my overstuffed suitcase)

2. But bring a laptop.
If you have a laptop, bring it. That is probably the one bulky thing you will need. Most students can’t live without their computer, so having a laptop is pretty essential. If you are just backpacking or taking weekend trips DO NOT BRING A LAPTOP. You will never use it and you won’t want to lug around all that weight.

Make sure and get an account with skype. This is the cheapest and most efficient way to stay connected with your family and friends while abroad. You can instant message and call each other through your computer for FREE! It’s amazing. You can also call land lines and cell phones for much cheaper than calling cards. It’s awesome.

4. Start a Blog, Bring a Camera, Record Your Memories!
When you study abroad, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about capturing your experience. Your time abroad will fly by, and you will be back home in no time. When you are back home, depressed, and experiencing reverse culture shock, you want to have photos, video footage, or a blog to reminisce on the past semester. I have only been back in the states for 8 months and I have already forgotten so much about my stay in Amsterdam. I am so glad I took pictures of big events and moments with my friends so I can remember my time there.

5. Spend Most of Your Time with Locals
This is the best advice I can give: make friends with locals. They are the ones who can really show you the best places, and they are your best resource to learn more about the culture (and you are the best resource for them to learn about your culture).

6. But Make SOME American Friends
This seems like strange advice, since you are going abroad. I was so anti-American-friend-making when I first went to Amsterdam. I only wanted international friends and I was a big snob about it. But, then I ended up meeting some really cool people who happened to be Americans. I realized there are lame people in all countries and cool people in all countries, so I should not discriminate against my own people. It was great because, whenever I was feeling isolated or missing my own culture, I had friends who could relate with me. I also ended up making friends with people who are from other regions of America. Because of this, I have had reunions with friends in other parts of America, which is really cool.

(Thanksgiving in Amsterdam)

7. Do the Touristy Stuff in Your City
It is so easy to see tourist sights when you are just vacationing in a city. However, for some reason you never visit those places when you live in the city. I finally went to the State Capital in Austin last month, and I have been living here for 5 years! I remember in Amsterdam, I figured I was going to be there for so long that I would surely hit up all the museums and sights. But, time flew by so fast that we were all scrambling to visit the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank Huis during our last week there. Most of these places are worth visiting, so take advantage of the culture in your city.

8. Take Weekend Trips to Other Countries
Especially in Europe. It is so easy to travel within Europe for cheap! One night, you are in Amsterdam, and one overnight train later, you are in the Swiss Alps! It is seriously that easy. I suggest using a combination between the Eurail and budget airlines. It all depends on where you are and where you want to go. If you want to travel to neighboring countries, get a Eurail Pass. The trains are much more scenic and less stressful. If you miss a train, you can just catch the next one and you don’t have to deal with long lines and scrutinizing security, like on planes. However, if you want to travel long distances, buy a very cheap plane ticket through a budget air travel site. I flew from Hungary to Scotland for about $40! You can find sweet deals if you shop around and plan ahead. Here are sites I used when I studied abroad:





(Swiss Alps)

9. Couchsurf!!!

Couchsurfing is a website where travelers all around the world come together to give other travelers a free place to stay. It is probably the coolest thing on the internet (other than mindbites, of course). You set up a profile describing yourself, then you search for people in countries where you are planning to travel, and request to crash on their couch for a few days. In return, if they ever come visit your city, you have to give them a place to stay. It is so much better than staying in a hostel-not just because it is free, but because you actually make friends in the country where you are staying. I highly recommend doing this.

( Oscar, our wonderful host in Iceland)

10. Finally, Live It UP

Because It’s over before you know It. I can guarantee that this will be your best semester in college, and will also change your perspective of the world forever. You are very lucky to have this opportunity, so make the best of it. Travel, meet new people everyday, go out, and have fun! Don’t let little things bother you or cultural clashes effect you. This will probably be the most carefree few months you will ever experience so let go of everything and LIVE IT UP!

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  1. Scott, February 3, 2009:

    Hey, I see that you posted this a while ago but I just found it. I will be studying at the UvA in Amsterdam spring semester next year. It seems that I can’t quite get enough juice on the place, I find myself looking for blogs, online videos, pictures, and whatever else I can find. My email is and it’d be awsome if you can give me a little advise. I don’t really know where to start but say if you were to go again, how much traveling/personal money would you bring? What were the living conditions like? The weather pretty crazy? (can’t be much worse than Ohio) … haha anything you can tell I’ll probly eat it up so anyway thanks for the blog post.

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