How to survive a Year Abroad

Hearing the words ”Year Abroad”, fills me with a weird mix of gratitude that it happened and sadness that it ended. After spending a year on the beautiful central coast of California, it is a strange sensation to be shoved back into the reality of everyday English life. The last year was one of the best of my life, but it wasn’t all easy. There were some difficult times that took a lot of strength to over come, but essentially all the good and bad times changed me into the person I am today.

Documents for my Year Abroad
Passport and boarding pass ready to leave for my Year Abroad

Since returning home, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the past year and compile some pointers I wish I’d had access to before leaving.


I’m a real over packer, I’ll put in a dress that I haven’t worn in five years “just in case I need it.” Packing a years worth of stuff into one suitcase and a carry on seemed like a daunting task. It took several attempts of packing, repacking and sitting on the case to get it shut before I’d finally decided on my finished luggage.

Several weeks after arriving, I realised that a lot of the things I had brought, probably wouldn’t be used.

When packing, look at the local area and what the weather is likely to be there. If it’s going to be 100 degrees, you won’t need to take 7 sweaters (even though you really love them). I also forgot that there would be many chances to go shopping and I ended up with lots of clothes, making it difficult to get them all back to England. It’s not worth the extra effort and money taking more luggage when in reality you’ll wear the same few clothes over and over.

For me, I didn’t have any housing things supplied, I decided to get a currency card (see here for the best ones to buy) and bought things like bedding and kitchen equipment on Amazon. I had it shipped to my university accommodation in time for my arrival. That way I didn’t have to worry about trying to fit a duvet in my already bulging suitcase.

So don’t over pack, it’s really not worth all the added stress!

Meet people before you set off

Before leaving for my year abroad, I was lucky enough to have been put in contact with two people from my university at home who were also going to Cal Poly. It was comforting to know that, even though I had only spoken to them online, there were going to be some familiar faces when I arrived.

Once allocated our accommodation, I was introduced to the other people that would be living in my apartment. It’s a great idea to reach out to them and introduce yourself before you arrive. This again adds a sense of familiarity to the whole year abroad process.

A lot of universities offer a “buddy” scheme for international students arriving on their Year Abroad. I would strongly urge you to apply for this and get your own buddy. They are people who have either studied abroad themselves or are international students at the University you will be attending. My buddy was so helpful, she reached out to me making me feel more relaxed about moving, gave me tips for packing and even picked me up when I arrived and took me shopping for essentials in my first week.

Me on my first day with the two girls I knew from England

Go on adventures

You are in a new place and, at least for me, the grades didn’t count towards my degree, so take advantage of the surrounding areas. I didn’t really do this until my second and third quarter and I regret the time I wasted that could have been used travelling and seeing new things. It makes your time there more than simply studying in a different country. You will be able to experience new cultures and see new and beautiful aspects of the surrounding nature . Make the most of all the chances you have, once you’re back in your home country these are the memories you look at most fondly.

Grand Canyon Arizona
Exploring the Grand Canyon, Az

Immerse yourself in the culture

Before leaving to study in America, I figured it wouldn’t be much different to my own culture back in England. I was mistaken, although there weren’t many stark differences, there were a lot of things that made me aware I wasn’t at home anymore. It took a while to relax enough to fully embrace this new way of life. Once I did, a whole plethora of things opened up. I met new amazing people, I explored and saw new breathtaking things and I feel I fully made the most of living and studying abroad. Immersing yourself into a new culture really does make the whole processes more special. So be open minded about trying and doing new things from the get go.

The hardest parts of a year abroad

The initial goodbyes. Leaving behind friends and family for a substantial amount of time can be difficult. The worst part is the first hour or two after saying your goodbyes. Then, the excitement of arriving in a new place takes over and, although you miss them, the sadness doesn’t last long.

If anything goes wrong. If something happens that upsets you, or you’re having a bad day, it can exaggerate the distance of being so far away from home. These days can be difficult, but your family and friends are just a phone call away. Your new friends can help you get through these tough times as well. Surround yourself with happy and positive people, go and get your favourite food or just hang out doing something you love.

The absolute hardest part is coming home!!! Leaving behind all my lovely friends, the amazing times and accepting that this fantastic year was over, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do ever. I cried non-stop for a full day, and then on and off for the next…. well forever. But despite how difficult it is, it is important to appreciate that you had this amazing opportunity in the first place. Take all the things you’ve learnt about the world and yourself then try to apply them to your ‘new’ life at home. The tears will eventually stop, or at least become a once weekly occurrence!

Sit back and appreciate

There were many times that I would look around at where I was living and be in complete awe. It was so beautiful, the people were friendly and the times I had were incredible. It’s great to sometimes just take a step back from the chaos and really appreciate where you are, who you have met and what this means for your future. Having the chance to do a year abroad is a once in a life time opportunity, make sure you take in everything and never say no to an adventure… you never know where it might lead.

San Luis obispo coast
Appreciating the beautiful California coast

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