I don’t want my first post about my foreign exchange experience to be a negative one, but good old Wien sure is making it hard not to.
For all those university students out there excited to finally expand your horizons and become a “global ambassador” (*rolls eyes*) by studying abroad, keep in mind the beginning of your international adventure is just a whirlwind of government bureaucracy, shrinking bank accounts, frantic pantomiming of basic needs, countless misunderstandings, and minor panic attacks over forgotten materials and missed deadlines. I swear my stress level was at an all time high the past 11 days, and I haven’t even started classes yet. I still can’t do my laundry or withdraw cash or connect to university WiFi…It’s been a trying time here in Austria, or as a friend called it, Beta-Germany.
I won’t go into the details about my struggles just yet. That’s a story for later and will provide some context for this post, but for now here are a few of my tips for making your study abroad experience less stressful than mine. This one’s for you my fellow noobs! You’re welcome.
Disclaimer: This is from an American perspective so the advice will be most relevant for U.S. peeps.
General Tips for Starting off Your Study Abroad Experience
- Make a packing list. I didn’t do this. Not really. I had one in my head and would mentally check off the essentials as I packed them in my suitcases, but it wasn’t an effective method. I’m generally an organized person but I got lazy this time. Luckily, I only forgot two important things…That’s not good. Don’t forget things, kids. (Packing list post coming soon!)
- Keep all important documents in a folder. Make copies!! Generally you should have your passport, proof of residence, letter of nomination/acceptance from home and exchange universities, birth certificate, and visa always on hand when dealing with paperwork. I didn’t make copies of my letter of acceptance from WU, which prevented me from opening a bank account until I could get another copy.
- Bring snacks in your luggage. You’ll get hungry on the plane, in the airport, and upon arrival. Having snacks on hand means saving money (airport/airline food is expensive!) and having stuff to eat in case you can’t buy anything in that new country right away. If you don’t know the language, you might not know what you’re ordering, or you just might not have the right currency.
- Get T-Mobile. I may be going against a prior employer here (oops) but seriously, T-Mobile has great international coverage. It depends on the plan you have, but my family gets data and text in over 140 countries with no extra charge. Your other option is to get a SIM card in the country you’re moving to but that can be a hassle.
- Familiarize the public transportation. Find your closest station, visit the website, look up ticket prices, study the map, and check out any student discounts.
- Find the closest grocery store(s), pharmacy, home goods store, and convenience store to your residence and school. These places are essential. You can’t eat out all the time. Sometimes you get sick. Buy a spatula. Learn to cook.
- Bring electrical outlet adapters. Find out what kind of outlet the country you’re traveling to uses and buy multiple adapters along with a power strip. I recommend the small kind because you can bring it around with you to university and other places too.
- Invest in good athletic/walking shoes. You’ll probably be walking around more than you do at home since most students don’t bring cars. Get good shoes with soft insoles and substantial bottom soles. Bring a pair of flip flops to wear around the apartment too.
- Message the group! Some exchange/study abroad programs make Facebook groups for all the incoming students or some similar social media group to facilitate communication and connections among the new students. Say hi, introduce yourself, express your excitement for the program, ask questions, invite people to hang out, etc. This is how you’ll make a lot of new friends, and trust me, everyone’s really nice and open to new people early on in the semester, so take advantage of it. Just remember, you’re all new and scared so don’t be embarrassed.
- Walk around your new home. As soon as you arrive, take a stroll near your residence and your university campus. Get to know your new home for the next few months, take some pictures to send your parents, and drink it all in that you’re in a completely new place. Damn.
Plenty more tips specific to Vienna/Austria and study abroad in general to come!