10 Tips for Prospective Study Abroad Students

Having just finished my period as an Erasmus student in Portugal, I thought I would write a post for other prospective study abroad students. Before heading out to Coimbra, I was panicking and extremely stressed, and in a way, I feel that it ruined the first part of my journey. Had I have read an article like the one I’m about to write, I might have felt a little bit better about it. So here are 10 tips to keep in mind for those students currently planning to study abroad, or those who are about to embark on the same journey:

  1. Use social media: I cannot stress this point enough, but using social media to connect with others going to the same place, makes things much more relaxing. Safety in numbers: everyone is in the same boat,  you’re not alone, and everyone will  be feeling just as nervous/scared/excited as you. I personally did the generic thing of joining every Facebook group I could find (don’t worry if you can’t find any, keep looking, there will be some!). But I also used a site called Erasmusu, (click here), which is a really great way of advertising for flatmates, of searching for accommodation, and reading about other people’s experiences in the place that you’re going to. I made a huge group of friends through this site, before even flying out to Portugal, and now I translate online for this company too. It offers so many great opportunities for students.
  2. Don’t worry about finding accommodation before you get there: in retrospect, I should have waited until I arrived in Coimbra, but I found a house online before moving out there. I was panicking and wanted to have somewhere to go when I arrived in Coimbra, so I found a lovely woman to rent a house from. There isn’t much wrong with the house, don’t get me wrong, but my friends that arrived and stayed in a hostel/hotel and then proceeded to find a house, pay much less than me and have much nicer houses. So I would advise not panicking, just be relaxed, go with the flow, and find a house when you arrive, so that you can view the houses and get the most for your money.
  3. Go on all the offered trips: if you’re going to study abroad on the Erasmus programme, Erasmus often offer group trips around the country you’re studying in, and sometimes to other countries too. Make sure that you participate and go on as many of them as you can afford. Often, the trips are discounted for card holders, and are so worth it to see different parts of your country/other places. This is a mistake I made, I didn’t go on many of them, and I wish that I did now.
  4. Having said that, travel independently: this is one thing I did do, me and my friend travelled to places like Lisbon, Aveiro, Porto etc. Do this independently, or with a friend, it will give you a new sense of freedom, and is a great way of travelling at your own speed and seeing what you want to see. You’re going to live in one place, which is new to you, but that shouldn’t stop you from branching out and visiting other places within reason, too.
  5. Study just enough to pass: this is dependent on your home university, but my requirements from my home university (the University of Manchester, UK) is that I have to simply pass all of my classes. This means that I have studied just enough to pass my classes, rather than do really well in them. This is perfectly fine, as long as you’re complying with the requirements. Maybe it will be different for you, it depends on what your university at home requires of you, but for me, I spent more time enjoying myself/travelling Portugal/socialising and making friends, than studying. I have no regrets about this, a year/semester abroad is about freedom: make the most of it, and study hard when you get home.
  6. Don’t buy textbooks/stationary before you go abroad: I made this mistake. I bought notebooks, pens, textbooks etc., before I flew to Portugal. I shouldn’t have done this, I had plenty of time to buy everything I needed when I arrived, and it ended up being a hindrance when weighing my case. My notebooks took up at least 3kg of my 20kg allowance, and you should be savvy with how much you take: remember you have to bring it home, and you might even acquire more things while you’re there (souvenirs, presents for your family etc.)
  7. Buy extra weight/an extra bag on your flight: speaking of luggage, I made the mistake of only taking one hold bag and one cabin bag. My hold bag was restricted to 20kg. In hindsight, I should have paid for one extra bag, or extra weight in my hold bag. I struggled to keep the weight of my cases down, and when it came to it, I was 0.8kg over the allowance. So definitely buy extra weight or bags, it will stop you stressing about it before you go. Having said this, I always fly with easyJet, they are the most lenient with weight allowance and a really great airline to fly with.
  8. Keep in contact with your home institution: one thing I would say is that it is perfectly okay to feel lost. When I first arrived in Portugal, I didn’t have a clue what was going on, I didn’t have a clue what to do at university, and I didn’t have a clue what was going on in class. For certain classes, I still don’t have a clue. But this is okay. Make sure that you keep in contact with your university at home, because they kept me sane when I was panicking over my lack of understanding. My coordinator at home really helped me out when I explained to her how much I was struggling with a certain module. So make sure you have someone to email or speak to regularly: they’ll keep you from panicking and feeling overwhelmed during your time out of your comfort zone.
  9. Don’t be afraid to use your mother tongue but make sure you’re using your foreign language(s) sufficiently: this is controversial, maybe some will disagree with me. But there are certain circumstances when using your mother tongue is perfectly okay. There have been times when I’ve needed to go to the chemist, and haven’t known the Portuguese words to ask for what I needed. In serious instances like this, if you really need to, using your mother tongue is fine, but make sure that you are speaking your languages sufficiently to keep you or get you to a fluent level. Don’t pressure yourself, but make sure you’re working just hard enough.
  10. Finally, don’t panic: this is the most important point, for me. Do not panic! I panicked so much, but there was no need to worry, not even a little bit. You’ll have the best time of your life, I am so said that my time as an Erasmus student is coming to an end, and am jealous of all prospective Erasmus students. Good luck and enjoy every minute!

For those interested you can click here and here to see previous posts about my time in Coimbra, Portugal as an Erasmus student.


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