How To Prepare For Your Year Abroad: Visas, packing and more…
by Jemima Steen
It can be very daunting when it finally hits you that you are going on a year abroad. I know it hit me the summer before. I wasn't really thinking about it because I was working, and I hadn't had much time to consider it, but then suddenly - BANG, I realised. Here is some of the advice I wish I had before going.
Firstly, however annoying it may sound, it is NEVER too early to start with the visa. (Unless you have an EU passport, then you're lucky)!! While I know most of us would rather enjoy our summer holidays, whether it's interrailing with friends, going on a beach holiday with your parents, or hanging out with your work colleagues after close, I would recommend starting to think about the year abroad as soon as you can. It actually takes the stress off you, believe it or not. Then, you can actually get on with all the stuff that you wanted to do.
Once the visa is sorted, you can begin to look into the more fun things, like accommodation. Consider whether you would like to go into halls or privately rent a flat. I am in Spain and it is not common for Spanish people to go into halls, as they mostly live at home for Uni. This means that it's worth doing some research into what the situation is like in the country that you will be going to. I, personally, would recommend renting privately as I think you get more of an authentic experience. But, it depends on your destination.
If you organise a flat in advance, you must request a video call to see that you are not being scammed. Do not pay anything until you have done this call. In fact, Spanish Peer Support advised me to do this before I left. Alternatively, you can wait until you get out to your country to find accommodation, and see the places in person. I know some of my friends did this. But, if you like everything to be organised in advance (like me), make sure you consult lots of flat websites and see which prices are reasonable. It is also worth looking at the flats' location to see if they are close to the Uni and town centre. You don't want to be walking long distances just to get to the centre. If you are going to Spain, I know some of the good flat websites are Idealista, Uniplaces, etc. and I'm sure Spanish Peer Support would be able to tell you more. But again, make sure you do this in advance. This will avoid stress and a freak out about being homeless on your year abroad.
The worst part of planning for me was the visa (thanks Brexit!) So, the most important thing is getting that sorted ASAP. Make sure you go on the consulate website for your country and read carefully what they require. It is worth reading it 3 times, so that it is extremely clear what they want from you, as sometimes they can ask for very specific things. I did not do this and it resulted in a delay in my visa and some tears... So, if you want a stress-free experience, print the visa instructions off, or write clear notes on what you need. Then, when you have everything you need gathered, book an appointment at the consulate. This should be about 2 months before your departure date, because the visa can take up to a month to process.
Next, the exciting, and dreaded thing - packing... How do you possibly pack enough things for a whole year? But, remember, realistically it is not the whole year. Chances are you will come home before the end of your stay, like for Christmas. This means you can bring clothes back and fourth if need be.
When packing, it seems obvious, but look up the weather and bring a mix of clothes for hot and cold weather. Remember, even if you are going to a hot country, it can get cold. In Spain, I had to buy some furry socks in November, because I did not bring enough warm clothes...
Also, I would recommend packing the clothes you wear the most, like comfortable hoodies, clothes you wear around the house, and that outfit you always wear to Uni. There's no point bringing things you only wear once a year, as this will take up valuable space in your suitcase. So, really bring your favourite, everyday clothes. Chances are you will end up wearing them more than those cool shoes that give you awful blisters, which you never wear!
Finally, if you can try and get a parent or friend to come out with you to carry the bags, that would be helpful. If not, look up international shipping companies, to ship luggage in advance. This will save you from carrying really heavy luggage around the airport and could also take the pressure of stressing about packing light.
If there is one thing to take away from this article, it is that it is never too early to start the paperwork for the year abroad. While it is boring, you will thank yourself in August, when all your peers are stressing. So, get on with the visa and accommodation! Then, it will be no time before you are having a cold beer with friends in La Plaza de la Corredera, in Córdoba, (well in my case anyway....)