10 Things Nobody Tells You When You Decide to Spend a Semester Abroad

  1. There’s going to be paperwork… a lot of it

Aside from the fact that the study abroad application itself was a bit lengthy, there’s so much more than just the application. This included another application for the internship I will be completing abroad, deciding my courses, and, of course, a VISA application. The VISA itself had pages of paperwork, and multiple steps for completion, and then you still have to wait and make sure the embassy accepts your application. All in all, the paperwork is long, tedious, and boring, and you will have to type your name and birthdate approximately 8 million times, but without it, you won’t be leaving American soil.

  1. The wait to study abroad goes both painfully slowly and scarily quickly

Once I decided I wanted to study abroad, I started on the application right away. While I recommend doing this, especially if your program has rolling applications, it did mean I had a longer wait before takeoff. After getting accepted in July, it actually meant having to wait about 6 months to leave. Although at times this wait has been agonizing, I am pretty thankful for the extra time. It gave me the ability to plan ahead, find the cheapest airfare, and get everything else in order; however, as the semester is winding down, I’m more and more antsy to get on that plane. T-36 days… but who’s counting…

  1. You tend to forget that study abroad means you actually study (while abroad)

I really can’t count how many times this fact has slipped my mind, only for me to be dragged back to reality by parents, teachers, and coordinators. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of jetting to Paris for the weekend, or simply sightseeing all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I hope I do both of these things, (and SO many more) during my time in London. All the fun will simply have to be scheduled around papers, projects, and tests, just like when you’re on campus in the states.

  1. You spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re going to pack…but don’t actually start packing

So far, I’ve spent a lot of time looking around my room wondering what I’m going to pack. While I would love to bring my adult coloring books, will I even have room to put them in my minimal bag space? So far I’ve accepted that what ever is not completely necessary, will unfortunately have to be left at home. Although I have already started to decide what’s coming with me, packing with over a month until my flight seems a bit excessive. Plus, I don’t even know what clothes I’m going to bring, or how I will possibly fit 4 months of stuff in one giant suitcase. Which takes me to point number six…

  1. Suddenly, your wardrobe is no longer stylish enough

While I’ve been fairly decisive about some of the things I want to bring to with me, I cannot say the same for clothes. Whether it’s the fact that my wardrobe actually needed a makeover, or the fact that I don’t want to look like an American tourist wandering the streets of London, I’ve done some serious shopping since I was accepted into my program. In fact, I’ve started getting dressed everyday, looking in the mirror, and asking myself if this was something I would wear in Europe. Do leggings even count as pants there? So far I’ve had no complaints about having to go on multiple shopping sprees…

  1. When you tell people you’re going abroad, everyone has a story to share about their travels, or their roommate’s, or their second cousin’s boyfriend’s ex

As soon as I mention to someone that I’m going abroad next semester, they immediately bombard me with travel tips, or stories from their time abroad. While it’s nice hearing these stories, I try to remember to take their tales with a grain of salt. While its probably true that they were able to travel a ton and visit Rome, the beaches of Greece, and the Eiffel Tower, odds are this didn’t go off with out a hitch. Study abroad stories often smooth over the bumps in the road that are encountered on any trip. It’s worth remembering that it might not all be beaches and glamour, but that is okay. Sometimes the best stories come from things that didn’t go exactly as planned!

  1. You start to appreciate the little things about being on campus

Ever since I was accepted to my program, I walk campus with newfound appreciation. You begin to realize that your favorite coffee shop or study places are the places you’ll miss most on campus. Even harder, you start to realize that you can’t walk across the hall and knock on your best friends door to binge watch your favorite Netflix show together. While these are hard realizations, its also makes me love the times I am spending with these people, and in these places, a lot more. I may be temporarily trading mornings at the farmer’s market for afternoons in Hyde Park, but these people and places will be here when I get back. Until then, I plan to soak up all Madison has to offer before I embark on my journey to London.

  1. No matter how much (or little) you travel, this time feels a bit different

I consider myself to be extremely lucky because I have had the opportunity to travel a lot with my family. I’ve been to London before and have extended family in the area, both reasons I chose this as my study abroad destination. This time, though, traveling feels a bit different. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it’s my first time traveling alone, or maybe it’s because I won’t see my dog for four months. Whatever the reason, just know that regardless of your travel expertise some thing about studying abroad just feels a little different.

  1. It’s one of the most terrifying things you’ll decide to do

If I’m going to be completely honest, from the second I click the acceptance button, I’ve been terrified. It’s one thing to say, “oh yeah I can live across the world for four months”, and it’s another to actually commit to doing it. Whether you’re going to a country where you know the language, or it’s going to be completely foreign to you, there’s going to be some degree of culture shock. I still get lost in the humanities building at least once a week, so the idea of navigating the complexities of the London underground on a daily basis is daunting. It’s a good kind of scared though. A mix between, why did I decide to do this?! and I can’t believe I’m actually going to do this!

  1. It’s simultaneously the most exciting decision you’ll ever make

Okay, so maybe this isn’t something nobody has told you, but it’s worth hearing again. I haven’t even departed on my study abroad experience, and I can tell you this is the BEST, and most exciting, decision I’ve ever made. Simply researching your country, getting your passport and paperwork ready, and going to your pre-departure orientation are enough to make you realize that this semester is going to be a life changing experience. Cliché? Maybe. True? Absolutely. The prospect of all the new memories to be made is enough to make me want to jump on the next plane out. For now, I must make it through finals week (and another stack of paper work), enjoying every moment spent with friends and family before I go. Until then…CHEERS!