I am writing to you directly from my second term placement abroad. Everything about my preparation for this year is still so fresh in my mind that I thought I would share 10 tips with you.
- Visa Prep
Now we are out of the EU the way we can travel within Europe has changed. It is really important that you not only need to know what to do to apply for a visa, but also that you do it wellllllll in advance. I’m talking 6 months prior to your departure date. This allows you to get researching and seeing what type of visa you need and how to apply for it whilst being prepared for any setbacks that may cause delays. You can usually find a lot of the important information on the country’s embassy website and it is also the most reliable source of information for this. It can take a long time to gather all your documents, make your application and it could involve you travelling to and from a major city in the north or south like Manchester or London, so get researching!
2. Mobile Phone Usage
Another thing you will want to check now we are not in the EU is how your phone will work abroad. You definitely don’t want to incur huge fines and especially as google maps will be your very best friend whilst on placement, you will want to try and get some data on your allowance that you can definitely use in your destination country. Ring up your phone provider and ask them if/how your plan will work in your destination country. You might want to buy a sim card when you get there if it looks like you won’t be able to use your plan as you can at home.
3. Bank Account
Also make a phone call to your bank account or check their website. Some banks charge extra when you use them abroad and we students don’t typically have a lot of money to spare so you want to be wise and avoid unnecessary costs if you can! I use a Monzo card which just charges me the Mastercard conversion rate and not an added fee on top. Some places also use cash a lot more than in the UK so it’s important to be able to withdraw some if you need to.
You will want to sort out your accommodation in advance too. This doesn’t necessarily mean booking anything, but definitely get on google and see what the popular options are. Note that accommodation can work differently in each country. At Aston, a lot of people live in the student residences on campus but it is quite popular to find a house share abroad as some people let their rooms while they are away. I would also recommend trying to speak to a student who has already been to your destination and check where they stayed and how it was for them, as student residences aren’t the same wherever you go. Also bear in mind that when you arrive, you might not have all the things you need like pots and pans, cutlery and bedding. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy it all! If you opt to stay in a house share or apartment it will probably be equipped, my halls in Austria was too but not my halls in France! However, they did have somewhere on site that was called the ‘boutique sans argent’ (moneyless shop) where students had left their crockery, cutlery and kitchen supplies like graters/sieves/brooms etc when they moved out. The principle was that you took what you need and when it was your turn to move out you returned it. It was a great alternative to having to buy things there and also a great solution for people who had to leave things behind! So keep an eye out for something like this that could be offered at your host university.
Along the lines of packing… keep in mind that you will probably be on placement for a while and throughout different seasons. If you’re a good packer then this might not be a problem for you but I always struggle to know what to bring. If you feel like you need more than your baggage allowance, consider getting some things shipped over as this actually might work out cheaper than paying for extra suitcases and will definitely be more convenient than trying to pull more than one suitcase through airports and cities. Just be sure that you know your address so that they don’t get lost. If you can move in first and then get someone from home to send your things this might be the best idea.
TOP TIP! I bought some vacuum bags and they were so great with saving space in my suitcase. It obviously didn’t reduce the weight, but it did allow me to use up the whole allowance whereas without them my suitcase might have been too full even before it weighed the full amount.
6. Meeting people and making friends
Once you get to your destination, try and join as many group chats as you can. There will likely be an ESN (Erasmus Student Network) Facebook page or WhatsApp group that you can join if you’re going to a European country, equally there could be an EBN (Erasmus Buddy Network) that will allow you to be paired with someone who comes from the host country and can give you advice and recommendations after moving there. ESN usually organise some good trips and excursions so keep your eyes peeled for the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture! You can also buy an ESN card for the year which will allow you to get a discount on ESN events and also always remember to look for student tickets for other things like the cinema or museums. I would also recommend joining Facebook groups like ‘internationals in ____’ or ‘expats in ______’ or even ‘students in ______’ to meet people.
Have a little google before you head out as to what is important regarding manners and etiquette in your host country. Something that is polite in one country might not be as polite in the other and it is important to respect the customs of where you will be heading. Blog posts are usually good for this. I also usually go to blog posts for recommendations for local restaurants/bars because they are often written by travellers that have been to the city or area and so they are reporting the good places where you can get a real taste for the culture.
Familiarise yourself with how your host uni works regarding exams and coursework. You will probably find that they work differently to how they do at home. If you have any questions then you will be given a coordinator at your host university that you should always be able to contact for help or advice and remember you can always contact the placements team at Aston.
9. Language Practice
Remember that you’re at uni, and it might feel like a holiday but you’re in the very best place to improve or learn new language skills that could be really beneficial in your final year. It’s important to have fun too, but just be sure to take full advantage of being in a foreign country if you’re a language student. Your uni might offer a refresher language course before or at the start of the term that will help you gain confidence when practising your speaking skills in your host country. As language students, you might notice that people might speak a lot more quickly that you imagined, or with accents or even in a dialect, so it is good to get as much practice in as possible! That being said, don’t be afraid of speaking and making mistakes. It’s the way you will learn and improve and you will find yourself becoming more and more competent as time goes by.
10. Have fun!
Finally, try not to miss home too much. It’s normal to feel lonely or homesick in the first couple of weeks when you don’t know anyone, but nowadays with video calling and being able to talk to people so easily over the internet, it doesn’t feel so far away at all. You won’t be abroad for long and you’ll especially notice how quickly time flies when you’re settled in and in a routine. Enjoy every single moment and don’t count the days, make the days count!
I hope these tips have helped you in some way!
Written by Cassiopeia Rodell (study placements in France and Austria)