I know this post isn't directly related to my research, but I figured it could benefit those of you who might be interested in studying abroad. This is particularly geared towards anyone who might be like me, the extrovert-who-struggles-with-anxiety-but-wants-to-see-the-world-anyway, or anyone else who wants to go abroad but is nervous about the idea.
-Come up with a packing list weeks in advance. Start packing things you know you won't need while you're home but will need abroad.
-Have someone help you pack. If you're a bit scatter brained like me, you'll probably forget something if you pack by yourself. Having someone (I used my mom!) help you pack will ensure you have everything you need, and it'll also make the whole process way easier.
-Remember that if you DO forget something, you will most likely be able to buy it once you get to your destination.
Say your goodbyes:
-Don't say goodbye to everyone the night before...it'll lead to a very emotional and stressful night. Say goodbye to people a few days in advance. I had a nice dinner with my best friends from home a few days before I left, and said goodbye to my other family members the day after that.
-The night before you leave, make sure you have all your necessary documents for traveling. I kept my passport and acceptance letter to my university (needed to enter the country) in my purse so I had easy access to them when I needed them.
-You can check in and get your boarding pass before you arrive to the airport, but you don't need to. Trust your mom when she says all you need to do is show your passport (nearly had an anxiety attack in the airport because I was afraid I forgot papers or something).
-Don't bring a lot of people to the airport. It's going to be hard enough to leave, and if you have to say goodbye to 6 people it's going to make it harder. I brought my mom and my two sisters, and I felt that was perfect.
-Once you get through security, go straight to your gate if you're afraid of getting lost like I was. Once you know where your gate is and know when you're boarding, then you can walk around for a bit to get something to eat or drink. Just don't leave your bags behind!!!
-Schedule your flight for a time that will work best with you and your sleep schedule. I decided to fly overnight because I thought it'd help me adjust to Ireland's time better. Sadly, it did not. However, if you think you can sleep well on a plane, an overnight flight might be best for you.
-If you can, pick your seat. You might have to pay an extra fee, but it's worth it in my opinion. I knew that I wanted to be next to a window so I could sleep easier, and I was more comfortable there than I would have been sitting in between two strangers.
-A neck pillow might be helpful, but it depends on how you sleep. If you think you can sleep sitting straight up, I highly suggest it. However, after all of the flying I've done recently, I've realized I sleep better resting my head against the seat in front of me (weird, I know).
-Make sure your phone (or iPod) is charged, and bring a portable charger just in case. Listening to music can help you fall asleep and also drowns out other noises in the planes.
Arriving in your host country:
-Before you leave, figure out how you're getting to your university. Some programs will pick you up at the airport, others will have you take a cab to your accommodations. At UCC, I had to take a cab from the airport. Make sure you have cash in the country's denomination, as most of them don't take cards.
-If you're staying with other students, get to know your roommates. They are most likely just as anxious as you are.
-Once you are settled and feel comfortable, try going for a small walk around the area. You don't have to go too far, but it can be helpful to have a better idea of where you are.
-If you're going to a university that is way bigger than your home one (like I did!), walk around the campus and get idea of what it's like, short cuts on how to get to your classes, etc.
-Give yourself plenty of time to get to your first class. Assume you will get lost. I was on campus 3 hours before my first class started, and left to go looking for the classroom an hour before it started.
-Step out of your comfort zone and try to make new friends. Join a club. Go to events for international students. Having people on your team will make everything so much easier.
-Culture shock is a thing, I promise. Even if you go to a country that speaks English, it definitely won't be like the United States.
-Homesickness is also a thing. I thought I'd miss home only a little bit, and I was very wrong. Some of my roommates decorated their rooms with pictures from home, which I'm thinking I might do myself.
-You're going to be lonely sometimes, and that's okay. Take sometime for yourself when you need it. Reach out to your friends when you need them.
-Don't look at studying abroad as an extended vacation. I unfortunately made that mistake and now have to change my mindset. You are going to be living in this country for 4 months, so you're not exactly a tourist.
Most importantly: Don't let your anxiety keep you from doing something you've always wanted to do. I was terrified of leaving and didn't think I was capable of doing it. While I'm very homesick, I'm so glad I made the decision to come here. I think it's going to help me grow as a person, and I don't regret my decision one bit.