Study abroad is literally the time of your life but very few people are actually prepared for it, and I was one of those people back in February 2014. I left on my trip to Prague, Czech Republic knowing pretty much nothing about Czech Republic (or Europe in general) and very little plans for what I wanted to do while I was in Europe. I enjoyed the spontaneity of my trip because I am usually a well planned out person, but now three years later and looking back I feel like there were a few things I wish I knew and did before and during my stay.
Took a photography class before and invested in a good camera
I can’t even stress this one enough. I wish I had learned a little bit about photography and got a nicer camera so that the photos I took were better. As a junior in college, I was mostly concerned with how I looked in the picture and almost half the pictures I have now are just me standing in front of this or that in the same exact pose. I wish I had learned more about photo composition and what makes good photos before I went so that I could have taken some really cool and creative shots. Czech Republic has some really awesome photo ops too that I completely missed, so I wish I would have researched those better.
Created a list of everything to do in Prague
I was very focused on all of our weekend trips throughout study abroad that I feel like I didn’t always get the most out of the beautiful city that was right under my nose. I’m pretty disappointed in myself that I never even went on a real tour of Prague. I went to most of the major landmarks of course, but I feel like there was so much to explore and reading up on some blogs may have helped me learn some insider tips right off the bat.
Learned about my city and country’s culture, history, and language
They suggested this to me multiple times and I really didn’t listen. I’m not sure why, but I wish I did. I was so behind on Czech culture, history, and language that I feel like it took me half the semester just to get the basics down. make sure when you decide where you are going that you take the time to learn about where you will be so that it isn’t so foreign to you when you get there.
Taken my health seriously
When I am at home, I will literally lay on my deathbed for two weeks before surrendering to going to the doctor. Do. not. do. this. Please please take your health seriously because this can make or break your trip. I ended up getting a bacterial infection and having to take two rounds of antibiotics (I lost the first one half way through). I was literally sick for over a month and missed out on so many fun times with my friends. Plus, when I’m sick all I want is my mom and it was really tough not being able to see her when I was feeling my absolute worse. So, make sure you take Vitamin C pills and always stay hydrated. In a country like Czech Republic they basically drink beer like water so I think this was no help in my road to recovery either. So take care of yourself from the beginning so you prevent missing out on the party later!
Left things I didn’t need at home
You get one bag (unless you want to pay for extra), and it’s really tough to pack but make sure you start packing early and make a really detailed list. Think things through and make sure they are things you definitely need and are going to wear. Since you are there for a long time, try to pick versatile clothes or things you can layer for any climate. This also helps with switching up your outfits so you aren’t wearing the same thing every week. You can also buy a lot there, like hygiene products, hair styling tools, beauty products, etc so there’s no need to weigh your suitcase down for no reason.
Took advantage of the programs through my school
The college I studied at offered a buddy program with free events that I never even tried to get involved in. Everyone was paired with a buddy but mine never showed up on the first day so instead of trying to get a new one, I gave up. Schools put these programs together for a reason and I think forming a friendship with a local student would have really enriched my experience (and gave me someone to visit when I inevitably return).
Kept a blog (or a journal)
Obviously, I love my blog now but I still think about how cool it would have been if I started Up and At Em back then and talked about those journeys and the feelings I had while I experiencing this time of my life. I did keep a journal but wrote in it pretty infrequently. Writing down my thoughts on a regular basis would have definitely helped me understand all of my feelings (I was pretty homesick, excited, overwhelmed, exhausted, and everything in between).
Been a little bit more alert
I always tell the story about how I stepped off the plane, went to the restroom and ended up leaving my passport in there. Thankfully, someone turned it in but I easily could have been the next identity getting sold on the black market. I know everyone’s parents tell them to be safe and alert but this is really a serious matter to pay attention to. There were a few times where I put myself in some unsafe situations with drinking too much or not keeping track of my stuff and while it all turned out okay, safety really should have been a bigger priority for me.
Taken time to travel after my trip
Three and a half months was long, but since I was already over there it would have been nice if I took a few weeks to travel and experience some more cities. Since most of my trips were only three day weekends I wish I would have spent more time in some cities and also got to experience more of Eastern Europe and some of the places off the beaten path. I had a friend who actually had a job lined up for the rest of the summer in France so she left our program and got to live in France for a few more months!
Applied for scholarships
I skipped out on most scholarship applications for study abroad because I thought it would be super competitive and I felt like I didn’t have the time between my internship, job and classes I was juggling the semesters before. In reality, I found out so many students don’t take advantage of these opportunities and I did have a real shot at getting some. Now as I sit here paying off my $18K loan, I really wish that I set aside the time to apply for a scholarship or two.
Found my happy medium when going out
There were a few times that I let a little too loose studying abroad and ended up with a mean hangover the next day. I wish I had known my limits and understood that going out didn’t have to mean a hangover and stumbling home at 3 am. I wish I would have explored more of the local bars and switched it up a bit more to try something new. I think that when I took it too far, I would end up pulling back way too much and avoided going out sometimes because I didn’t want a repeat of the last time. I really needed to find that happy medium where I could enjoy the nightlife without putting myself in danger.
There you have it. Honestly it was pretty tough to think about things I would change so I had to enlist the help of my lovely group of friends from study abroad. I struggled to think of stuff because they made my experience so memorable and it’s hard to look back and think anything but positive thoughts. So make sure you also try to connect with some people in your program before going so you can scope out a good, trustworthy friend group that will be your friends for life.
As always, if you have any questions please feel free to comment, email, or dm me 🙂