By Natalie Heath (Class of 2012)
[In spring 2011, Natalie Heath studied abroad at the University of Scotland in Stirling. Below is Natalie’s advice, some of which came from Beth Dallas, for students who are also going to study abroad.]
1. Before you go, print off bunches and bunches of your favorite pictures of your friends and family and house and dog, even if you think, hey, I’ll just look on Facebook. Because a) you probs won’t, and b) you will most definitely want stuff to decorate your walls. You will be living in this place for the next 4-odd months, and trust me, you really don’t want it to look like a jail cell. You could also go to the obligatory poster sale that most universities have at the beginning of the year and pick up some stuff, but having pictures from home is a great way to start conversations with new friends and also to make you feel less homesick. I covered my walls with pics from home. (Thank you, Beth Dallas)
2. Beth also suggested bringing little trinkets from home as well. I will admit it. I brought my blankie and my stuffed bear McGus that dad gave me when I was in a car accident two years ago. And my heavy special pillow. You may think this is a waste of space but I assure you it is not. If you sleep with it every night and it gives you some comfort, do it. You won’t regret it. Just put the heavy stuff in your carry-on! They don’t have a weight limit for that.
3. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. I can’t say this enough. If you don’t feel totally 100% sure you want to do something (like go on a trip with some people) because of some weird feeling in your gut, don’t go, even if you really wanna go to the places that you would be going. If you don’t like the people, it won’t be fun for you. And there will almost always be some other opportunity that is better that will come along.
4. Don’t try and make all of your plans for the semester in the first two weeks of school. There are some things that are important to make early, like going to Dublin (which was so awesome and I’ll never regret that, ever) but like, spring break, wait until you have some solid friends set up, then go with them. Not that I didn’t have fun on spring break, but it was stressful and I could have had more fun, I think, had I waited.
5. Don’t skimp on research for your trips. Find out how far away your hostel is from the train station/bus station/ airport. Print off maps. Figure out where your hostel is in relation to the city center, and shell out more cash to stay closer in town because time is money. Plus those places are generally less sketchy. Make sure you have enough cash or that the places you will be going have ATMs that work with your card.
6. Start a bank account when you get there. I just had an ATM card all semester because I took all my money in traveler’s checks and started an account right away. I got an ATM card and just did everything in cash, and it was a great way to keep track of my money.
7. Also, remember that reserving hostels online costs money and they almost always want a deposit from a debit card. Keep in mind that if you use your American card (I use Suntrust) then it charges you each time you use it, sometimes up to 10 or 15 bucks per use. So that three-dollar deposit is like a 20 dollar deposit and that really sucks. You can often e-mail them personally and say you’ll pay in cash in full upon arrival.
8. Don’t be too scared to cook in your kitchen. I was and I barely ate the first couple of weeks. Seriously, most people who have a study abroad roommate don’t mind sharing their cooking utensils. Just be kind and clean up after yourself. Common courtesies.
9. Don’t forget to do the touristy stuff in your place of residence. I didn’t go to the Wallace monument until the Thursday before I left when we all left the club and climbed up to the top to see the sunrise. It was one of my favorite memories from Stirling. Also don’t skip something because you’re tired or your feet hurt. Power through if you have an opportunity that is once in a lifetime. You won’t regret it.
10. Make a list of things you would really regret if you didn’t do. Then do those things. Seriously. It sounds kind of obvious, but if you keep putting them off (like we never got around to karaoke) then you will really be sorry when you have a week left and you never went to that concert or St. Andrews or whatever.
11. Remember the seasons are going to change. Even Scotland still got warmer. Bring stuff to accommodate for this. Seriously.
12. And if you have to pay for extra luggage, it’s totally worth the extra money. You seriously won’t regret having too many clothes/extra room for souvenirs!
13. Buy stuff. Lots of stuff. If you want it, buy it because you really won’t regret bringing things home from your magical experience in a really cool country. You chose to go there for a reason, get stuff to remember it by.
14. Eat the local foods. Yes, I tried haggis, and it was tasty. A bit spicy and kind of weird to think about, but not bad. Same with black pudding. Do it!! Even if it’s nasty, you should try it for the sole sake of saying you did.
15. GO ABROAD. SERIOUSLY. DO IT. It was the best experience of my life, and I met the love of my life, and I wouldn’t change any second of it ever. For anything. I’d give up my toes to go again. So GO ABROAD!!!!
*Originally published on Natalie’s blog, An Outlandish Blue Hose Experience, 15 June 2011.