Studying in another country is a life-changing adventure, and challenges are a welcome part of the learning experience. However, it's easier to immerse yourself in a new language and culture when you're prepared for some of the most common challenges. Packing lists are excellent resources as you plan ahead, but they tend to focus on the bare necessities. If you haven't studied abroad before, you might assume these checklists are comprehensive. Take it from me: they're not.
During my semester in China, there were a few crucial items I wished I had brought. Even though I followed the suggestions of many study abroad packing lists, I learned some lessons the hard way. Through trial and error, I discovered a few extra things that students should pack to make their study abroad experience better, easier, and more comfortable.
Whether you're still researching your options or you're getting ready for an extended stay in another country, keep these ten commonly overlooked items in mind as you prepare for your journey.
Your Favorite Movies
Your time abroad will be packed with exciting new opportunities to learn, socialize, and explore. However, during the course of several months, some downtime is inevitable. Make sure you bring DVDs or digital downloads of at least a few favourite movies. They'll remind you of home when you're homesick, distract you if you're actually sick, and entertain you on rainy days. Movies are also a great way to connect with new friends and introduce them to American pop culture.
Downy Wrinkle Release Spray
Irons aren't exactly lightweight, and you may not have access to them in your dorm, hotel, hostel, or host family's home. After your clothes travel thousands of miles in a cramped suitcase, Downy Wrinkle Release Spray will be your best friend. Just follow the directions on the bottle to remove any wrinkles and make a good first impression with your professors, host family, and new classmates.
A deck of playing cards is a universal source of entertainment, crossing language barriers and age groups. Thanks to games like solitaire, they're also insurance against periods of boredom. Pack playing cards in your bag and bust them out if you want to socialize with new friends or kill time.
Don’t ruin your shoes and track water all over your host family’s floor like I did! Umbrellas may be relatively easy to find, but it’s much more difficult to find a sturdy pair of rain boots in your size. Instead, bring your own all-purpose galoshes to prevent soggy shoes and socks. They'll make it easier to navigate campus and city streets on rainy days (you won't have to walk around puddles). Plus, they come in many fun and colorful styles which make for a great icebreaker!
Small Gifts from Home
Whether you stay with a host family or make friends who live nearby, you'll receive plenty of hospitality from locals when you study abroad. You may even receive gifts from teachers, hosts, and fellow students. Show your appreciation with unique gifts from your hometown or home state. Monetary value isn't important; it's truly the thought that counts.
Photos from Home to Hang Up
Don't underestimate the value of seeing the smiling faces of your friends and family every day. If you get overwhelmed by language difficulties or struggle to make new friends, personalizing your living area will cheer you up. Incidentally, personal photos also help when you're feeling the opposite of homesick. If you’re having such a great time that you start to dread your eventual return, remind yourself of the family members and friends waiting for you.
Pair of Sweatpants
When I prepared for my trip, I focused on packing light and preparing for different seasons and outdoor conditions. I didn't put as much thought into my loungewear, so I only had a few lightweight pairs of pajama shorts. Sweatpants are a warmer, more modest option for students with host families. They’re also super cozy and comfortable! Bring a pair from your college or favorite sports team to remind yourself of home
Itemized List of Checked Baggage
As you pack the luggage you plan to check with the airline, make a detailed inventory of each item. You may have to claim damages for lost luggage or replace missing items, so it's important to know exactly what you packed. Just in case, add an extra outfit to your carry-on luggage too. I rolled up a lightweight, wrinkle-proof dress and extra pair of underwear. That way if your checked luggage does get lost, you can enjoy the comforts of clean clothes while you figure things out.
Your school will probably have a cafeteria or nearby restaurants to frequent for lunch. However, if you want to save a little money you can make your lunch at home and bring it with you in a lunchbox. Bringing your lunch is a great way to enjoy fresh ingredients from local markets and experiment with cooking at home. Ask your host family if you can wrap up leftovers to have for lunch the next day. Some host families may even make lunch for you to bring to school. Hard lunchboxes can be difficult to find overseas, so consider bringing one with you from home. It also doubles as a separate storage container in your suitcase!
Pillowcase and Sheets
You'll probably stay in more than one place during your travels, especially if you plan to visit other cities and countries during your study abroad experience. Student hostels are cheap and convenient, but they're not exactly famous for cleanliness. If you're a germophobe like me – or you have nightmares about bed bug infestations – I highly recommend bringing a clean pillowcase and set of sheets. Lightweight "sleep sacks" like the cocoon travel sheet save space in overnight bags.
What Else Should You Pack To Study Abroad?
I hope this list comes in handy as you explore your study abroad options or prepare for your upcoming trip. However, if you've already completed a study abroad program, you know these ten suggestions are just a starting point.
If you learned any packing lessons the hard way, help future students avoid the same mistakes. What do you wish you had brought with you on your study abroad? Let me know in the comments!