How to Survive Your First Week Abroad

Greetings fellow Pios!

I have successfully completed an entire week of classes at the University of York, which means that I have finished my third week abroad when factoring in my pre-class time here in England. The past three weeks have been eventful, complete with me discovering misty, Charlotte Bronte-esque fields around campus:

Where’s Heathcliff?

And even venturing off campus, out of the city and up to the seaside to find the sun that can be quite elusive sometimes in York:

Seaside sunrises are something else.

As it would seem I am somewhat “settled in” now, I have compiled a list of protips and anecdotes that have aided in the settling process for your reading pleasure.

Faith’s Settling in Protips-or, How to Not Make a Complete Fool of Yourself While Studying Abroad. 

  • In your Study Abroad 101 sessions and regional sessions, the DUSA staff will tell you over and over again that you will need to learn self-advocacy while abroad, even more so than while you are at DU. Take that seriously, because it’s so true. Here at York Uni, they won’t chase you down to make sure you’ve registered your visa or registered for classes or are even in the proper department. They’ll just conclude that you’re not a full-time student if you don’t handle those things yourself, and you will have to deal with immigration services in an unpleasant way. (Now, that’s not to say that the University of York doesn’t have any student support services. They have a very well-developed student welfare system, but it handles personal matters and not academic ones).
  • Fall asleep in your first formal class. Be really embarrassed about it because you were in the front row and your prof totally saw you dozing. Then let it go, because it happens to the best of us, and sometimes the quickest lessons are learned by humiliation.
  • Realize that there are very few contact hours in England (especially in York) universities when compared to the States. Plan out your own study hours carefully so you don’t get screwed over, and then look for a volunteer position or even a part-time job to fill the downtime. It’s a great way to get connected with the community and meet people outside the Uni.
  • See if your school has an International Student’s Association. They may have a very active one like at York that plans day trips nearly every weekend of the term. Go on a few of these, even if you barely know the people there. Connecting with other internationals has been hugely beneficial to me as they are well aware of any difficulties I’m having getting used to English life.
Exploring Cambridge, England with a fellow international student from Germany!
  • Step outside your comfort zone a bit when it comes to socialization. Don’t do things that are contrary to your personality or convictions, but if you’re not a huge late night person, push yourself and try going to a pub night once a week. So far, I’ve found that pubs in York are an excellent way to get to know your new friends and classmates. Typically, they are not very noisy and have a warm, homey atmosphere that facilitates get-to-know-you moments. Trying out different pubs in your area is also a great way to get to know the city.

Every study abroad experience is going to be different and is going to require different levels and forms of personal growth. But I would venture to say that the concepts of learning to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself, trying new things socially and academically, and making friends in groups you wouldn’t have even considered previously are fairly universal.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger


Forethought and Hindsight: Packing for Abroad

After a month of adjusting to the Belfast life, I can say I feel much more at home. I am more knowledgeable about navigating the city, campus, and the nightlife. I am still adjusting to things like military time and using the currency, but those are understandably taking a bit more time. Being comfortable comes in waves, and is mostly about your mindset. Sometimes though, it can come down to the things you have and the things you need, and their ease of access. This being said, I have compiled the following list of things I am very thankful I brought on this journey with me, and well, the things that if I could have had the foresight to bring I would have.

  1. My Camera: This one probably is the most obvious, but I had to mention it. Before coming abroad I invested in a DSLR Canon Rebel and a few lessons to make sure I could really capture moments from my time here to share with friends and family back home. If you don’t want to make the investment or really don’t care for picture taking, consider just bringing a basic digital camera, or even a smart phone in airplane mode, and using it to capture some of the memories.

    Glad I had my camera to capture the Lanyon Building, the most photographic building on campus
    Glad I had my camera to capture the Lanyon Building, the most photographic building on campus
  2. Towel/Sheets: These depend on what kind of living situation you are in. I live in an on campus house style accommodation.  My first night in Belfast, I was happy I could shower and sleep on my own sheets. Although the school provided an option for buying a bed pack (which I did) the sheet was scratchy and it didn’t include a towel. These items took up space in my suitcase, but I was happy to have them once I moved in! Nothing like a shower after hours on a plane with a warm towel to wrap up in.
  3. Swiss Army Knife: If you bring this, make sure it goes into your checked luggage! Bringing this fancy tool has been great. You never think about the times you’re at home and need a scissors, knife, or even a bottle opener/corkscrew. This tool was my mom’s recommendation, and I have already put it to use even just opening packaging for new items I purchased here.

    My photos from home! as well as some items on these lists :)
    My photos from home! as well as some items on these lists 🙂
  4. Pictures from Home: One of my first purchases at the school organized IKEA  trip was a corkboard. The £3 purchase was great for putting up a few pictures I brought from home, as well as important paperwork I needed for the week. Having already printed pictures, I stuck them on the top of the board, and made my empty room feel much homier. Plus it was a simple, inexpensive project!
  5. Super Glue: Really! After running around the airport my first day and doing walking tours of campus, journeys into the city center, and just exploring in general, I put a lot of wear into one of the pairs of boots I bought. So much so that one of the heals started to come off the boot! Instead of having to go without, however, I simply super glued the heel back on. Presto! Good as new. Again, make sure this is in your checked luggage, but it really can be a great quick fix instead of spending time and money on replacement items.

    Ready for the rain!
    Ready for the rain!

    6. Rain Coat/Rain Boots: Here they call them your Waterproof and your Wellies, and they are essentials anywhere in the UK. It can rain at any time, can come at your any and every direction, and can take you completely by surprise. Bringing these items with me makes for more pleasant days, rain or shine.

      7. Reusable Grocery Bags: In the UK, and most of Europe I believe, when going to any shop, bags will cost you. They are only about 7 cents, but that adds up over time. I was very happy that I happened to throw a few of these into my luggage. They fold up really well and have come in handy wherever I go. They are lightweight and many conveniently fold up, so I recommend adding these to your packing list.

And what I should have brought…

  1. Utensils: Again, this one really depends on the type of living arrangement you have abroad, but hunting down a fork and spoon the first day was a dumb inconvenience that I could have solved by just throwing some plastic wear in my bag.  Even if you just snag the pack they give you on the plane (if you have a flight that provides food) you will thank yourself later when you are trying to cook dinner and realize you may need utensils to eat it.
  2. Sharpie: I brought pens and pencils with me, but the pouch of markers I had originally thought about bringing didn’t make the cut. From labeling food and kitchen tools to writing on my pub crawl shirt, there have been many occasions a little permanent marker could have been handy.
  3. Water bottle: Another thing that I had intended to pack and decided against. Being in a more humid environment, I forget to drink as much water as I do in Denver, and that has resulted in some minor dehydration. Drinking fountains are not as readily available as on DU’s campus, so bringing something that made it easier to bring water with me would have been helpful.
  4. School Supplies: I was not focused on the school aspect of things when I packed, and when I started to get prepared for classes I realized I didn’t have notebooks, or post-its, or binder clips. Again, I don’t recommend packing a full backpack of school supplies, but if you like to highlight notes or use binder clips to organize notebooks, consider putting a few in a zip lock and tucking them in your carry on.
  5. Tupperware: Versatile kitchenware that I can think of a million uses for now… Packing electronics in it to keep them from getting wet, saving left overs, cooking with, eating food from, storage, drawer/shelf organization, lunch box, change holder, jewelry box…needless to say I purchased some when I got here.
  6. More adapters: I didn’t realize that the UK had different outlets than the rest of Europe, and so the adapter I brought doesn’t work here…but the converter I brought does. This just makes for a bit of an annoyance/strategy when it comes to charging electronics throughout the day, I usually have to rotate them through a schedule in order to get things powered. I recommend 2-3 total adapters, just to make life easier.
  7. A Budget: I battled with this idea before I left, feeling like it would be too hard to judge costs before I got here and so I didn’t want to really limit my first week’s purchasing power. I was wrong. I think for me having more of an idea of what I would have liked to spend for “start up” costs would have been helpful, so I wasn’t blindly strolling through IKEA with no idea how much money I could put towards purchasing house necessities. In hindsight I wish I would have created even estimated figures to help me steer my spending from the beginning. I now have made a monthly budget, which I update nightly from the days purchases as a way to really maintain a spending limit and minimum. I hate spending money, so I had to set a minimum to make sure I was going out and eating or drinking at local places, rather than being too conservative, and passing on things I would regret later.

These items may not help everyone, but after a month here, this is my list of my month’s hindsight as well as some surprising forethought. Ultimately, what you bring and what you forget usually ends up adding to the stories you have and memories you make, forgetting something at home usually isn’t the end of the world!

– Jessie GG, DUSA Blogger