Preparing to Study Abroad

Autumn Larsen
Autumn Larsen
February 8, 2024

Hi! My name is Autumn Larsen, and thank you for reading my blog! I’ll be writing about and reflecting upon my experiences as a U.S. American studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany, in order to preserve the memories I make and educate fellow students who are also considering studying abroad.

About Me

  • Everyone’s experiences abroad are unique and partially based on their demographics and background.
  • I am a white, queer woman who was born and raised in north Texas (the ancestral land of the Jumanos, Wichita, Kickapoo, and Tawakoni).
  • I attend Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts (the ancestral land of the Nipmuc, Pocumtuc, and Nonotuck).
  • I am majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in German Studies.

Why Study Abroad?

  • I have wanted to study abroad ever since high school when I discovered my interest in and enjoyment of the German language and culture.
  • I also have ancestors from Germany, some of whom came to the US from Baden-Württemberg itself.
  • Since my major is in Environmental Studies, the Freiburg program of Environmental Studies and Sustainability is actually a dream come true for me!

I have been studying German for six-and-a-half years, so I feel I am finally ready to take the plunge and immerse myself in the language and culture. I have never visited Germany since our previous attempt was unfortunately interrupted by the pandemic, so I am incredibly excited to finally have the chance. I also have many ancestors from Germany, and I just recently discovered that at least two of them were born in the Kingdom of Württemberg and the Grand Duchy of Baden, which later became the federal German state of Baden-Württemberg, in which Freiburg sits! While there, I hope to access genealogical records that may have more clues to my ancestry. 

Most importantly, though, I am looking forward to learning about Environmental Studies and Sustainability in the context of Freiburg, the Black Forest (der Schwarzwald), and Germany as a whole and their current and possible future implementations of these concepts. In order to prepare for this journey, however, I have made sure to be incredibly organized. I was lucky enough to have this program recommended to me early on, so I knew from the start it would be my top choice. It was recommended to me during a meeting with one of my college’s study abroad advisors, which is a crucial first step for anyone even mildly interested in the idea of studying abroad. 

Preparation and Organization

  • Make use of the resources available to you:
    • Meet with your advisor at your college/university, especially if your institution has advisors for people looking to study abroad.
    • Attend study abroad fairs at your institution.
    • IES Abroad also has plenty of resources to consult, including these blogs, as well as videos on their YouTube channel and content on their Instagram page.
  • In addition to making use of the resources available to you, it is important to keep that information organized.
    • This has helped reduce the amount of stress I’ve experienced while applying and preparing to go abroad. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared!
  • My two modes of organization: Trello boards and spreadsheet.

I created two modes of organization: a Trello board and a spreadsheet. I organized my Trello board by inputting a “card” for every task required or recommended by either my college or the study abroad program to which I was applying (and, after acceptance to the program, I added more). I organized them by due date and checked them often, ensuring I completed tasks as soon as possible, so that if any issues arose, I would have time to address them. While applying, my tasks consisted of meeting with my major advisor to make sure the Environmental Studies department would approve me to study abroad, as well as gaining permission from the college to apply to the program. 

After I was accepted, I added many more things to my Trello board, including making sure my passport was up-to-date, contacting my insurance, reading through the many resources provided by both my school and the program, and getting my vaccinations up-to-date. Another important task was scholarships and grants: I made sure I knew of any scholarships or other financial aid available to me not only through the program, but through my home school as well. I was able to receive money from the German Studies department at Mount Holyoke College to cover my travel expenses, as well as a grant available to German Studies students through an application process.

My second organizational tool, my spreadsheet, has come in handy for organizing what I will need while I am abroad, and what I can bring from the U.S. versus what I can purchase or rent in Germany. I have had to narrow down the list considerably, and I have also had to make myself aware of what I am allowed or not allowed to bring with me or have delivered. One important thing that I must pack is my medication, because it is not guaranteed that the German government will allow it to be shipped to me while I am staying there. I’ve also been told that it’s worthwhile to bring over-the-counter medication as well, since Germany doesn’t have pharmacies in the same way we Americans are used to (read more here: I’ve talked to family members and friends who have visited or studied in Germany and received tips and advice on what to expect and what to bring or not bring, including how to blend in and not look like a tourist.

I still have many things to do before I am fully prepared for this trip, but thanks to my organization and thorough reading of the resources provided, I am confident I will get everything done on or ahead of time!

Until next time,

Autumn Larsen

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Autumn Larsen

Autumn Larsen

My name is Autumn Larsen, and I am an Environmental Studies major and German Studies minor at Mount Holyoke College, but in Spring 2024 I am studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany in the ES and Sustainability program! 

2024 Spring
Home University:
Mount Holyoke College
Environmental Studies
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