A Beginner’s Guide to a Semester Abroad

When I started university, I knew without a doubt that I was going to go on a semester abroad. The only question I had was where? You look at the poster walls and it’s endless. Europe. South America. Australia. Asia. How is one girl supposed to pick?

My semester abroad in France.

My semester abroad in France.

Below were some of the key things I needed to consider before I ended up choosing Caen in Normandy, France.

Do you want to learn a language? Are you hoping to learn a new language, or improve one that you’re somewhat experienced in? For me, my french was beginner-intermediate, and I knew that I wanted to improve my skills. While there were a number of countries that would have been an option, there was something romantic about living in France for four months.

Course transferability. While you’re considering your options, find out how likely it is that your home university will give you equivalency for the courses you plan to take abroad. If it’s slim to none… consider if that’s worthwhile for you or not. For some students, they can’t afford to have to do a supplemental semester when they get home.

A side trip to Berlin during October holidays.

A side trip to Berlin during October holidays.

Access to other destinations. Every single weekend I was in France, there were always at least three or four students away on a getaway. We could easily access the rest of France by train, or be a 3-hour train ride from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Paris proved to be a great jumping off point to Eastern Europe, the UK, Ireland, etc. My roommate, she made the most of travelling: Italy, Czech Republic, Germany. You name it, she made it happen.

SAVE MONEY! I kid you not, save more money than you think you’ll need. I’d almost suggest planning for this a year in advance and saving wisely. For your birthday/Christmas gifts, ask friends and family for money or for things you’ll need for your trip. I saved for maybe 3-4 months and was definitely tight for cash by the end. There’s always one more party, one more weekend away, one more thing you want to try. You only get to do this once, right? Don’t let money stop you from doing it right.

Celebrating early Christmas cheer in Lille, France

Celebrating early Christmas cheer in Lille, France

Other tidbits I learned throughout the experience:

  • Check what your accommodation includes before you go. We had no electricity for 5 days… apparently we were supposed to coordinate it before we arrived. Yeah, that wasn’t obvious to us. Now, that’s probably not the norm, but find out if you need to provide your own linens, kitchen supplies, etc., then figure out how you’re going to get them.
  • Planning to work? Make sure your visa covers part-time work to support your studies. Also, be prepared that if you don’t speak the language somewhat fluently, it might be a struggle to find work. If you have some decent skills in the local language, consider babysitting, nannying, casual serving work or even teaching someone English/your native language.You want to make sure your hours are still flexible enough to allow you to enjoy the semester you worked so hard to be on.
  • Long distance love. This is a topic I think I’m going to have to answer in more detail another time. Know that when you travel, you’re going to meet like-minded, adventurous people like yourself. Also know that they’re unlikely to be from the same country as you. Either temper your expectations of a relationship before you go, be happy with something casual, or be prepared for a hard slog before you can finally get together. Rest assured, it’s doable. I survived!
  • Keep a journal. It goes by so incredibly fast. Whether you scrapbook, blog, or take the traditional pen to paper, make sure you capture those memories. You’ll want to remember all the details later. Like that time you were too broke to afford a Halloween costume, so you and your roommate made cute dresses out of garbage bags and called yourselves EuroTrash? Yeah, like that time.

Have you ever done a semester abroad? Any advice you’d add?

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One Response to A Beginner’s Guide to a Semester Abroad

  1. Diana October 15, 2014 at 1:14 am #

    Great post! Love the Eurotrash costume!

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