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7 Things I Wish I’d Known About Studying Abroad (List)

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Planning on studying abroad as part of your degree? Well, we've got you covered, because our bloggers have been there, done that. University of Manchester student, Elena Cotton, goes through 7 things she wishes she knew about studying abroad before she embarked on her own journey...

Studying abroad will undoubtedly be the best decision you make throughout your time at university. Having just returned from a semester in the US, I can say this wholeheartedly. However, it is important to be aware of exactly what you're getting yourself in for. So, here is a list of 7 things I wish I'd known (and actually bothered to pursue) before I jetted off for the experience of a lifetime.

1. Budget

Your university will likely give you an estimate of how much money to save for your time away. Whilst useful, it's always best to plan to take as much money as you can. Who knows? You might wish to travel more, join societies, buy souvenirs. Obviously, none of this is essential and if you're really strapped for cash then don't let it panic you. However, it's always useful to carry a little extra just to ensure you can make the absolute most of your time abroad. If (like me) you can't go running to the bank of Mum and Dad, getting a summer job is a really great way to save for your next adventure. Working at summer camps is particularly good, as although they include long hours and hard work, they pay well and often provide you with free bed and board - a bonus if you're looking to move somewhere new or cannot face the boredom of reuniting with your hometown. If kids aren't for you, bars and retailers are always on the hunt for fresh employees at this time of year.

2. Research local laws

These will vary from place to place and are usually less of an issue if you're studying in an EU country. However, if you are venturing to locations like the US, Canada, Australia or Asia then getting to know local laws is key. This is particularly true in the US as state laws often vary from federal rulings. A quick google search of "most important laws to know as a tourist in…" takes about five minutes and could save you a whole lot of hassle whilst you are away.

3. Stay healthy

In the UK, we are blessed with free healthcare under the NHS. Unfortunately, this is not the case in a lot of countries outside of Europe - particularly North America and Canada. Not only should you budget for health insurance (costing around $350 for one semester) you should note that even with this, not all treatment is covered. Don't let this worry you too much though - it's not uncommon for hospitals in the US to charge you hefty sums unnecessarily. Sometimes you are able to negotiate fees down to a reasonable amount, or even have them discounted completely.

4. Different countries have different environments - so be prepared for surprises

As I discovered whilst getting stranded in a sand storm in the Nevada deserts - weather abroad is far less mild than our ever-overcast UK. We have been conditioned to expect (at worst) some heavy thunder and flooded basements. However, the rest of the world can bring some surprises in this department. This could be anything from worst-case-scenario hurricanes to something simply unexpected - like cloudiness in California throughout May and June (and there was me thinking we'd be soaking up rays in the Golden Coast...). Again, educating yourself on the different conditions you can expect could take under half an hour but will help you choose what to pack and where you go should you decide to embark on post-placement travel.

5. Leave your suitcase half empty!

You are probably going to be away for at least six months, so undoubtedly you will need to take a fair number of things with you. Yet, I would strongly suggest that despite your best instincts you leave that pile of nostalgia t-shirts you got in Freshers week at home and really only pack the bare minimum. You might think that your time on your placement will allow you to enter a new era free of materialism and the need to buy things. It won't. You will want to join your friends in buying staple university merchandise - jumpers, t-shirts, flags… and you're going to need to find room for it. I made the mistake of over-packing by so much that I had to send packages home - and at $65 per parcel, it did not come cheap.

6. You don't have to enjoy every single moment, 100% of the time

It takes a lot of hard work to be able to go on exchange - in university, part-time jobs and travel arrangements. So, when you get there you will be overjoyed that you made it and want to start living the high life ASAP. Yes, the first few weeks are a tornado of parties and excitement, but after you get into the swing of things and the workload hits it's inevitable that you'll start to feel homesick. This is normal! Studying abroad might seem like this exotic prospect (and a lot of the time it is), but it is also just you living your life somewhere else. It is impossible to feel the happiest you've ever been all the time. In fact, there will be moments when you wish you could just jump on a plane and snuggle with your dog. Fear not, for this too shall pass. Studying abroad will be filled with amazing highs, but also, at times, intense lows. Try not to beat yourself up when these lows hit as, despite what your friends on exchange in Singapore, Toronto and Berlin's Instagrams' tell you, they are feeling exactly the same.

7. It won't last forever

A semester, or indeed a year, will seem like forever before you leave. In fact, for the first half of your time away it will seem like you'll never go home. However, this will change. Despite your best efforts to deny reality, there will come a time when you realise that you only have 6 weeks left and you still haven't explored half of what your host university has to offer. Going on exchange is one of - if not the - most exciting experiences of your university career, so make the most of it! Meet as many people as possible, go out and join new clubs, experience new things, make friends from all over the world! It will fly by in the blink of an eye, so be sure to do everything to make this a trip to remember.

About the Author: Elena Cotton is an undergraduate of Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester. She has held the roles of News Editor and Head of Publicity at her student paper and radio station respectively. She also writes for online publications Babe, Society 19UK and The Tab, and she is looking to pursue a career in journalism after she graduates.

elena cotton grb author

Elena Cotton is an undergraduate of Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester. She has held the roles of News Editor and Head of Publicity at her student paper and radio station respectively. She also writes for online publications Babe, Society 19UK and The Tab, and she is looking to pursue a career in journalism after she graduates.

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