Getting On The Plane To Study In A Foreign Land

Welcome to #STEMSupport, a bi-monthly article that will tackle common questions and issues others may face within STEM. Today’s article will talk about a subject that’s quite personal to me as an international PhD student – studying abroad!

If you’re an undergraduate student, you’re probably being bombarded with fliers and emails regarding study abroad opportunities. Broaden your horizons! Change your life! Spend $4000 to get a stomach virus in Scotland for 2 weeks! It definitely becomes a bit annoying after a while.

Now, let me be straight with you: although studying abroad may be a nice addition to your CV, don’t feel as though you need to spend the money! Studying abroad can also be incredibly expensive, so only go if you feel like it’s necessary and you can find ways to fund it (for example, through departmental funding or bursaries).

That said, if you are about to make your first trip abroad as part of a short-term program or if you’re moving for a degree, then this article is for you! As a New Yorker who uprooted her whole life after a fantastic summer program excavating in Scotland to eventually undertake postgraduate studies in England, I feel like I have a decent amount of experience to draw from to give you all tips on how to make the transition smooth for all of you international students.

Take a deep breath 

It’s okay to be nervous! I nearly psyched myself out of traveling the first time I moved abroad for my studies – it was my first time in Europe, my first time traveling alone…I was really scared. So if you’re feeling nervous, just take a deep breath and relax…you’re not alone!

Collect your documentation

This is, by far, the most important advice I can give you. There is a lot of documentation required with studying abroad, so make sure you’re on top of things! I found that it helped to keep folders for all of my documentation, along with Post-It notes on each document that explains what its needed for (this is especially helpful for anyone moving for a long period of time – different things will need different identification documents for verification, so always be sure you know what papers need to be sent where!).

Decide what NOT to bring

Unfortunately, airlines seem to be increasing the prices for extra luggage and decreasing the actual amount you can bring on for free. To make things easier, make a list of things you can buy at your destination: kitchen supplies, bedding, toiletries…this will make packing a lot easier and give you more room to cram all of your stuffed animals into your suitcase. Not that I’m speaking from experience. Ahem.

Pack. Unpack. Pack

Probably the best tip I’ve ever been given for traveling in general! I’m a notorious over-packer, so I live by the pack/unpack/pack method. Basically, pack your suitcase and then unpack it. When you pack it again, try to eliminate a few more things from your suitcase. Do this as many times as you need to, and voila! You’re traveling lighter than before.

Get your post-flight plans sorted 

There is nothing worse than arriving at your final destination and realizing you have no idea how to get to your accommodations! Before you head off, make sure you at least plan at your first day – this is especially handy if you’re traveling along difference and get a bit jetlagged. Most universities should have an airport pick-up system for international students, so if you’re unsure about navigating public transportation to get to your final stop, get in touch with the international students representative at your school.

Relax and enjoy your trip

As I previously mentioned, making the move abroad can be scary. But if you keep things organized and plan ahead, you’ll be able to make the journey a bit smoother and allow yourself to sit back and relax a bit. And be sure to get excited, too! You’re about to start a new chapter of your academic life…so good luck!


Thanks for reading! If you have suggestions for topics you would like #STEMSupport to cover in the future, feel free to contact me on Twitter @ArchaeologyFitz. I also write at animalarchaeology.wordpress.com.


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