Eight tips for students going abroad to study next year, from a UCL student survived it

The best time of your life is waiting for you, and you’re probably nervous – don’t be!

The time might have come in your university career when you’ll be thinking about heading off on one of the most exciting and terrifying adventures of your life – studying abroad.

As someone who went on a semester abroad, I like to think of myself as someone with a particular level of expertise in this subject. So, consider this a meticulous and trustworthy guide for one of the most unpredictable times of your life.

Here’s The London Tab’s guide of things to consider before you jet off, and how to overcome some problems you might face while you’re there. 

1. Your visa? You may want to get started on that now

If you’re someone with a beautiful, new, blue passport, you need to remember that Brexit will lead you into some very awkward and complicated situations with the consulate you’ll be visiting frequently – and I mean frequently. 

You should probably start to tackle the unclear visa requirement list now and get your bits and bobs in order. You may also want to start saving some pennies – apostilles cost a lot and you’ll need to get at least two done. 

I know this sounds horrendous, but nothing beats the feeling when you receive your passport with an invaluable paper sticker visa slapped onto its pages. 

 2. You have options for accommodation: Explore them!

Whilst away, I stayed in a student residence a good 30 second walk from campus with its own private entrance into the university. Some perks? I had own my rent-controlled studio, a swimming pool, gym, security, and overall ease day-to-day. 

But, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any drawbacks – student residences aren’t all like Ramsay Hall.

Loads of exchange students live in adorable flat shares nearer city centres. Although you would have to commute to campus everyday, live with people you’ve never met before, and in an area you haven’t really explored, you might have better access to the old towns, supermarkets and general buzz of the location. You need to weigh up your needs for living situations and explore what there is – make the most of Google search, and keep ErasmusPlay open in another tab.

3. Pack light. I mean it.

I don’t care if you say you’re someone who doesn’t spend money carelessly – you will on your exchange. You’ll buy things you never knew you wanted, needed, or even existed and you’ll be happy you did because everything you bought you’ll also want to keep.

Speaking from personal experience, make the most of visiting markets, shops, and sights where you can buy stuff you can’t really get at home (like great vintage or knick-knacks). The last thing you want is a bunch of things from home you didn’t need.

Be ruthless when packing – you can thank me later!

4. It’s okay to be homesick

I didn’t meet a single person who didn’t get homesick. As soon as your family leaves, or you get off FaceTime with your mum, things become real, and, in turn, scary – and that’s fine! 

Get yourself outside, embrace the time you have, and do things that make you feel calm. It’s really important to let yourself feel homesick – it’s not a sign of weakness! Just pop on some Modern Family and eat some classic snacks from your host country. 

5. Research and ask about the simple things

There’s a bunch of stuff I wish I’d known earlier in my time abroad. And, if you try and figure it all out by yourself, you’ll fall behind.

So, make sure you get some good research into these things, make a list, use the university guides, and ask locals! They’ll probably be happier to help you find information on the best travelcard to get than any Londoner would. 

6. Go to Erasmus/exchange events

In your host city, Erasmus and exchange organisations should be hosting parties in clubs, walks around historical sights, and even trips to local towns and countries – go to them!

You’ll end up meeting so many people you’ll love – and, maybe, hate. I dreaded the awkward small talk, but looking back I wouldn’t have met half the people I now know and adore without it. Remember, everyone’s in the same boat.

Tip: Some organisations I would search for are Emycet, ESN, or Best Life Experiences.

7. Don’t worry if it takes some time to find your people

In intense social environments, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thoughts about how you’re not meeting the kind of people you thought you would – don’t stress!

You meet so many people in your time away and you’ll forget half of them within the first month. As long as you’re putting yourself out there and testing the waters, you’ll be fine. You’re there to get out of your comfort zone – let yourself! 

8. If you aren’t happy, that’s okay

I met loads of people who believed it was best to go back home, and it was a huge challenge for them to accept it.

There’s a strong and uncomfortable confrontation to deal with when you realise you’re not happy at your host institution or even the country you’re in – but that’s okay! It takes a lot for someone to admit this, but at the end of the day, your mental health should be your biggest priority.

Of course, these tips just about scratch the surface when it comes to your year abroad. Everyone’s experience is wildly different, and there’s no way to perfectly plan for it –  some things will go wrong, and some will go right.

Just sit back, relax, and have fun!

Related articles also recommended by this author:

A (brief) guide to the best and the worst of London student nightlife

Here’s which Taylor Swift album your London university is, based on pure vibes

Five coffee places in and around Bloomsbury for when you’re sick of studying on campus