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Study Abroad Tips for First-Timers

March 31, 2019

Ever since I knew I had been accepted to study for a semester at TU Graz in Austria, I started preparing for my experience abroad. It was going to be my first time to live alone and in a completely new city, where I knew no one and I would have to speak a different language… THIS was a big step for me.

Usually everyone has a lot to say about their experiences abroad: what to expect, what not to expect, how you will feel, how strange, or fun, or good or bad it is. You start making ideas in your head about how your life is going to be. Before coming to Graz, I thought life would be a certain way. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. You can never really be prepared for your student exchange (and this is a good thing).
  2. You have absolutely no idea of all the great things the universe has planned for you.

Pre-departure

Pre-departure and preparation before your study abroad program may not be easy. Having to get all the paper work together, applications, language exams, health insurance, passports, visas, plane tickets, packing your suitcase… it can simply be too much to handle sometimes. My recommendation? Take one step at a time:

  • List up! Making lists is the best way to keep organized and be sure you don’t miss anything.
  • Ask for help: from your academic advisors, your university’s study abroad office, ISEP staff, people who have already been through the process, your family, friends, basically anyone.
  • Send emails right away. If you don’t understand something start sending emails, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get an answer. When all of this is done, you may now worry about the weather at your destination, necessary items or snacks you need to bring from home, what chargers or adaptors you need for your electronics in your host country, etc.… all leading up to the fun part!

Being Abroad

The actual journey abroad will be amazing, just the fact of being in another place, miles away from home, means your adventure has started. You should try to make the most out of it, without worrying about the so feared “FOMO” aka Fear Of Missing Out… I’ll explain:

When I arrived to Graz I was jet-lagged and super tired and it took like a week for me to adjust to my new time zone, but I still wanted to go out and meet new people AND get a good grade in my German language intensive course AND be on time for every introduction meeting at my new university AND make short trips on weekends… so as you may see, I wanted to do everything all at once because I didn’t want to “waste my time,” since everyone is always saying to “make the most out of your study abroad because it goes by really fast.”

Here is what I would like to tell you: don’t stress out about anything that people might say to you. This time is for you, and you only. Yes, make the most out of it, but based on what YOU want for YOURSELF. As it happens in all aspects of life, you have to prioritize your wishes, but I can assure you, that whatever you decide is always going to be the best decision, because in the end, that’s what you wanted.

In the 20 days I’ve been here, I’ve been able to get to know the most important places in Graz and I had the opportunity to visit Predjama Castle and Ljubljana in Slovenia. I’ve made a lot of new friends from France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Denmark and the U.S. I’ve met other Mexicans that have become part of my family and I’ve tried a lot of new food and I’ve done some unimaginable things that I wasn’t prepared for but, at the same time, seemed like they were meant to happen at some point in my life. For example, riding a bike like a true Graz citizen. I’m still working on this… everyone is just so fast and I’m too slow and I’m afraid of the cars hahaha…

What I’ve learned in the first 3 weeks:

  • People are nice and willing to help you at all times.
  • Riding a bike among cars and uphill is extremely hard for me (no wonder why everyone in Graz is skinny).
  • Walking alone through the city is one of my favorite things to do.
  • Cooking every day is harder than I thought but it’s so much fun when you cook with other people.
  • If you decide to stay in and do nothing but rest for two or three days, it is not the end of the world.
  • Learning German B.1.1 is very hard (but if I can make it, then you can, too).
  • Night life, new friends, short day and weekend trips… I don’t know how it gets better than this.

One last recommendation before my blog post ends: if you are up for it, try to write daily highlights in a journal so you’ll never forget your experiences while studying abroad! ;)

Thanks for reading and I’ll keep you posted on my adventures!

All the best,

Gabriela

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