Pre-Takeoff Tips: Preparing for your Semester Abroad

Erika Tulfo headshot
Erika Tulfo
January 1, 2024

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Manhattan anymore…or at least, we won’t be in just a few hours.

New year, new me, new semester, new country.

It’s still surreal to think that in less than a day, it’ll be goodbye New York and hello Nagoya. But I can’t think of a more fitting way to ring in 2024 than by starting my study abroad semester in Japan. 

At the time of writing this, I am sitting in the airport and waiting for my flight, looking at my bags and wondering how (by some miracle) I was able to fit my life as I know it into a single roller luggage.

I have to admit that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around the fact that I’ll be an ocean away– 6,833 miles if you insist on precision–for the next five or so months.

But while I wait for reality to hit me (as I expect it to do the very second the plane touches down), I wanted to take the time to share a few tips that I found helpful in the days leading up to my flight.

1) Create a list of varied goals

If you’re jetting off sometime around the start of the new year, this tip comes with the added bonus of potentially doubling as your New Year’s resolution. 

While you might already have a set list of objectives in mind for you to accomplish while abroad, I find that it’s helpful to have a wide array of goals, ranging from those you could cross off in a day to ones that might require some planning ahead.

The items on my list, for instance, vary from seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom to taking a solo trip to another city. 

I hope you’ll pardon me for describing myself as a goal-oriented person (an adjective more likely to be found on a job application than anything else), but if you’re anything like me, attaining fluency in your target language is your primary objective for studying abroad. Though it may very well be your main goal, it shouldn’t be your only one.

Setting goals for yourself that don’t directly correlate to academics but instead have to do with exploring and appreciating your host city could prove to be a solid foundation for making the most of your semester!

2) Be intentional when it comes to packing (especially for clothes)

Anyone who has ever traveled with me can attest to the fact that I’m a horrible over-packer and an even worse shopaholic, so I speak from experience when I offer this piece of advice.

Packing for this trip was a multi-round affair, and in my first round, the suitcase full of clothes and accessories that I swore I absolutely couldn’t live without refused to even close.

The most useful tip I received when trying to narrow down my travel closet was to think twice about bringing clothes that needed special care. In my case, fussy blouses that were labeled “dry-clean only” were the first to go.

I also found it helpful to curate my clothes so that the tops and bottoms I opted to take with me were versatile enough that they could be easily mixed and matched. While no one loves a statement piece more than me, for this occasion, sticking to the staples proved to be much kinder to my suitcase. 

3) Brush up on your language skills

Some programs (like the one I’m taking in Nagoya) might be more oriented towards intensive language learning than others, so it wouldn’t hurt to skim any notes from past classes to refresh your memory. Flipping through a book of common phrases or even logging back into your language-learning app of choice is another low-energy alternative for you to do in your free time.

If you’re particularly ambitious, you could even try consuming pieces of popular media in your target language for when you find yourself in need of a conversation starter in a pinch.


4) Connect with the rest of your study abroad peers (and host family, if applicable)

In recent weeks, I’ve discovered that the study abroad experience starts even before the “abroad” part. 

The predeparture orientation Zoom meetings held by IES Abroad allowed the group going to Nagoya for the spring semester to connect with each other on social media, resulting in an Instagram group that has proved helpful in tracking each others’ flights and coordinating arrival times.

And if you’re staying with a host family like I am, I would recommend getting in touch with them over email and introducing yourself. In my case, this early correspondence with my host family has allowed me to learn more about their family dynamic and what to expect in terms of commuting to campus. These conversations could also give you an idea of the kind of gift you can give them for when you arrive.

5) Allow yourself to be sentimental with your loved ones

Last but certainly not least, allow yourself to be sentimental with your loved ones. 

You’ve probably already come to terms with the idea that your study abroad experience marks (excuse me for the cliché) a new chapter in your life. Since you probably won’t be seeing the faces you’re used to seeing every day, it wouldn’t hurt to spend a little extra time with those closest to you (in my case, my dogs definitely included).

So before you jet off, let your relatives know what the best way to reach you is, hug your pets for a little while longer, and take a copious amount of pictures with your friends for you to look back on when homesickness (inevitably) hits.

And that concludes all my predeparture tips! 

I’m looking forward to keeping you updated on how the rest of my semester shapes up— from sharing my experience staying with a host family and commuting to campus, spending my birthday out of the country, and giving my reasons for studying abroad— I hope you stay tuned!


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Erika Tulfo headshot

Erika Tulfo

I’m a New York-based and Manila-born journalism and history student in my junior year. I’ve been to 37 countries (and counting!), so travel has always been my lifelong love. I'm beyond excited to share my adventures with you!

2024 Spring
Home University:
Fordham University
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