After finally submitting all my application materials to IES Abroad, compiling everything for my Spanish student visa, and reading pages of packing guidelines and class registration information, I thought I would be done with paperwork, applications, and logistics for a semester. Sadly, arriving in Spain didn’t bring repose, and I quickly realized that I would need to make plans for my return to Chicago in June. Apartment hunting from 3,000 miles away, registering for next semester’s courses, and scheduling internship interviews across a seven-hour time difference can be tricky, and I certainly didn’t make it any easier for myself! Although I’ve now secured both an internship and an apartment for when I return from Spain, there were several bumps in the road that could have been avoided. So please, learn from my mistakes—below are some tips I’ve learned (the hard way) for how manage your U.S. life while abroad.
- Do as much as you can before you depart. While this may seem straightforward, it cannot be stressed enough! Look for internships and submit applications before you even leave the U.S., if possible. It is so much easier to compile paperwork, submit payments, complete interviews, and request transcripts or letters of recommendation while still at home—or still on your college campus, if possible! It was very helpful for me to have designated recommendation-writers before leaving, so that I can send them a quick email for any new application that pops up and they already have a letter prepared. And, especially if something goes wrong, it is so much easier to call your bank or university from the States, or be able to go to your school’s office or a physical bank location, to resolve whatever problem you may have. If your phone is unable to make calls via WiFi or you’ll be switching your SIM card and won’t have your U.S. number anymore, contacting U.S.-based customer assistance numbers can be nearly impossible. Even in the best-case scenario, the difference in time zones can make U.S. business hours inconvenient.
- Designate a friend or family member for every possible job. Before leaving, assess your needs—apartment? Internship? Job? and designate a person to be your contact point for each. Make sure each person understands their responsibilities, and is willing and able to help! This is especially important with housing and finances. For example, I added my mom as a co-signer on my bank account, so that she can take care of housing deposits and payments to my home school. As an example of what not to do, I fell short on finding committed roommates before I left Chicago, and that created a lot of unnecessary panic. My original roommates changed their plans without my agreement, and I was left ‘homeless’ in the States for about a week, until some truly amazing friends found a way to fit me into their apartment hunt. Don’t be me! Do everything you can to make sure you have concrete plans for housing upon your return, whether that be family, university housing, roommates, or even a designated apartment-hunting friend.
- Be flexible and innovative with applications, interviews, and dates. In the case that some jobs or internships you want to apply for require you to submit materials or complete interviews while you’re already abroad, it can seem daunting to accomplish everything! However, just remember that studying abroad is a huge plus in the eyes of many organizations, and they will be more than willing to work with you as a result. From submitting materials electronically to completing interviews via Skype and/or at special times, there is almost always a work-around for anything an application may require—just be ready to suggest solutions and get creative!
Additionally, if you’re interested in a position with a start date that’s before you return, it never hurts to ask if they’re willing to wait—although I recommend doing that before you put work into applying!
- Make sure you know how your school handles course registration for the next semester. Before you leave your home school the semester prior to studying abroad, talk with your academic and/or study abroad advisors to make sure you understand how you’ll register for courses for the semester you return. Some schools will allow you to pre-register before you go abroad, while others will require you to register as usual. If you have a four-year plan, make sure to revise it right before you go abroad, and again after your classes abroad have been finalized, to make sure you are prepared when registration happens. And, or course, refer to #3—be flexible! Whether your planned courses abroad change, or a course at your home school becomes unavailable before you’re able to register, it will work out! Don’t sweat it too much, and be sure to enjoy your time abroad and focus on your life in the moment.
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Whenever I have access to a kitchen, my hobby of baking and decorating cakes, cupcakes, and countless other sweets gets out of hand! Not even a tiny dorm kitchen can stop me from making enough cake to last my entire hall a week. A fun fact is that I have only been to Taco Bell once in my life.