3 Things To Do Before Going Abroad (And 1 Thing Not To)

Lilian Morgan Headshot
Lillian Morgan
June 4, 2024
An image of an outlook from the Siebengebirge nature park in Nonnenstromberg, Germany. From between a cluster of trees, many houses and buildings in Heisterbacherrott can be seen scattered over a large hill in the distance.

So you’ve made your decision – you want to study abroad.

Maybe it’s something you’ve been wanting to do for years. Maybe it was a spontaneous idea. Either way, that decision has brought you here – a little place I’d like to call “Now What?

Now What? is a scary place to be, because usually once you’ve reached that point, there’s no more turning back. You’ve committed to that bit, and now you’re staring at an expensive plane ticket and a big neon suitcase stuffed to the brim with everything you can possibly fit into it, from toothbrushes to Band-Aids to that old MP3 player you found in your closet that you want to bring “just in case.” 

This is happening, you think, and then again for good measure: Oh my God, this is happening.

Two weeks before my departure, that was exactly my train of thought. Even now, a week after I've arrived in Berlin, I find myself thinking the same.

That first step into  Now What? territory is overwhelming for several reasons, because it's when things really start to sink in.  When it first hit me, there was, in fact, a SpongeBob-themed MP3 player sitting in my eye-bleedingly neon orange suitcase, one that hadn't been turned on since I was in middle school. I had my flight itinerary printed out and sitting on my desk and reminding me as I tried to make it through my last round of finals that, in less than a month, my life would look entirely different.

Generally speaking, I am not somebody who adjusts to change well. I have been diagnosed with multiple anxiety disorders, which can sometimes make it difficult just to leave the house some days. For me, this kind of step was not just a step – it was a free fall. 

And I was still committed -- and still am -- to seeing it through anyway. 

My experience traveling to Germany before along with the help and encouragement of my advisors at IES Abroad and my partner who also lives in Germany helped prepare me to take that next huge step. Hopefully, it can help you feel a little more prepared too. 

She did it, is what I hope you’ll think, so why can’t I?

Well, you can, anonymous stranger. And I’m going to tell you how.

  • DO: Realize that you can actually do this (no, seriously, you can.)

If you’re like me, then you’ve been mostly going through the motions up until this Now What? point. Signing forms here, making flight plans there, and otherwise proceeding with your life as normal. Maybe you weren’t totally sure it would work out and wanted to keep an open mind about the possibility of plans changing. 

Well, surprise! This is actually happening. Like, seriously happening, and you need to start putting plans into motion that have only existed conceptually up until this point.

Here’s what I did: I made lists. Several of them. Stuff to bring. Stuff to do at home before leaving. Stuff to buy once I’m actually abroad. Places to visit if I have the time. Write lists you might not even ever manage to finish completing, just for the sake of having them. Let them be your cornerstone; that way, when you find yourself feeling lost and overwhelmed later on, you know exactly where to look for guidance – yourself, but in a rational state of mind, not a panicked one.

  • DO: Figure out the logistics ahead of time.

Trust me, your wallet (and your sanity) will thank you for it.

This is where Google will become your new best friend. Find out, if you don’t already know, the currency your destination uses. Get it ahead of time (because exchange rates are, pretty much always, horrendous at the airport.) Locate the nearest embassy. Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Look into flight insurance. Research international customs and airline policies so you know what will and won’t fly. If you know where you'll be staying, familiarize yourself with the area on Google Maps beforehand.

It's tedious. But you’ll feel better for it in the long run. When you show up to your destination dehydrated from an overnight flight that has leeched you dry, you won’t have to worry about conversion (and you’ll know, hopefully, that it’s probably going to cost a bit more than other places because it is, after all, airport pricing.) 

  • DO: Learn how to ask for help.

This doesn’t just apply to countries where a language other than your native language is spoken. Sometimes, asking for help is daunting even in your mother tongue, be it because you’re afraid to, or because you just don’t want to look like a dumb tourist.

But here’s the key difference between a dumb tourist and a smart one – the latter knows when and how to ask for help when they need it. 

If it is a matter of a language barrier, have a translator downloaded to your phone (and be able to access it offline; airport WiFi is unreliable and your data plan typically doesn’t run abroad. It’s not something you want to rely upon.) 

The first thing you should identify in an airport upon arrival and departure is your airline’s help desk, followed by the respective customer service desks for generalized flight questions. If you can’t find those, look for security officers; airports are full of them, and they probably know the layout well enough to help you out. 

  • DON'T: Forget to have fun!

This is a big moment! Holding on to that excitement during what feels like a lot of stress will take half of the burden of preparation off just on principle. You’re doing something incredible on your own initiative, and you have every right to have a blast doing it!

If you prepare right ahead of time, you won’t have to spend too much energy during your trip worrying about the details. That gives you the freedom to really lean into the new lifestyle you’ll adapt abroad and make the most of the massive new opportunities that await you.

Meet people. Make connections. Do stuff you wouldn’t usually do back at home (safely!) just to say that you did it. Who knows when you’ll get an opportunity like this again?

And, of course, you don’t want to forget the most important rule of all: clear up some free space for photos on your phone. Trust me. You’re going to need it.

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs
Lilian Morgan Headshot

Lillian Morgan

My name is Lillian Morgan and I am a graduating senior at Florida Gulf Coast University pursuing a Communications internship in Berlin. I love writing, reading, exploring, and taking photos of literally everything, especially my cat.

2024 Summer 1
Home University:
Florida Gulf Coast University
Explore Blogs