9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Abroad

Meghan Callahan University of Otago, New Zealand


June 11, 2019
Currently studying at: UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO, New Zealand
Homeschool: Denison University

I am writing this blog post during my layover in Auckland, New Zealand before I hop on the plane to San Francisco and then onto Pittsburgh. Looking back at when I landed at this airport almost four months to date, I was naive, clueless, and honestly, wish I knew more about New Zealand before I came! That was my inspiration for my blog post: myself; and I hope it helps another naive college student as they embark on their journey of a lifetime.

1. Emotions and Tears Are Okay!

For the first two weeks, I was here I could not talk to my parents on the phone for more than two minutes because every time I heard their voices, I started to cry; that phase does not last forever, and if it does not happen for you that is also completely normal.


2. Cooking Is Hard and Can Take a Long Time

For my entire college career, I have been on a meal plan, and at home, my mom is typically the one cooking. As much as you want to constantly eat out because of the ease, cooking saves a lot of money and can be fun once you get a few staple meals down. Also, I would make a meal on Monday, and that would last me for another two or three days, leftovers are powerful.

3. Grocery Lists Are Necessary

If you walk into a grocery store without a plan, you will walk aimlessly for hours and end up buying things you do not need. My first trip to the grocery store here I was so overwhelmed and actually bought breadcrumbs. I do not know the last time I ate, let alone cooked, something with breadcrumbs yet that was one of the first things I decided to buy.

4. Do Not Be Afraid to Go Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Before I came to New Zealand, I had never slept in a tent, let alone done a multi-day backpacking trip. These ended up being some of my favorite memories from my entire time abroad, and if I had stuck to my comfort zone, I never would have seen so many beautiful places around this amazing country. Also, tramping is free most of the time and staying at a campsite saves you so much money in comparison to hostels or Airbnb. Roughing it is something everyone needs to experience.

5. You Need to Be Flexible

Plans can change the day before a trip because it looks like it is going to be bad weather, a bridge collapses, or your flight gets canceled (all things that happened this semester). If you get held up on these last minute plans you are going to miss out on so many exciting opportunities, not everything needs to be planned in advance. This was a hard pill for me to swallow but one that needed to go down very early on.

6. It's Feasible

Everything you want to do while you are abroad can be done-- yes you need to budget and not spend all of your money, so you need to find balance. But just because one of your friends does not think going skydiving in Australia is possible-- trust me, it is, and I have seen people do it.

7. Don't Compare Your Experience to Someone Else's

I know it is cliche, but it is also true!! Social media has changed everything. Rather than focusing on what everyone else is doing online and trying to take that perfect picture for the most amount of likes on Instagram, actually enjoy the moment. Sure I was taking as many pictures and videos as I could at the top of Roy's Peak at sunrise-- but I also sat and soaked every moment in because I knew that I would never experience something like that ever again. You do not want to go home with regrets, so do not focus on what you did not do, but focus on what you did and how amazing it was.

8. Enjoy Yourself

You think this goes without saying, but it is important to reiterate that point because sometimes you forget. You might have a hard week of class (if you're going) and a bunch of assignments piling up, but take the time to get yourself a coffee, walk through the botanical gardens, something for you that makes that day better. Time flies, and soon you are on your flight home, so literally enjoy every minute you can.

9. And Speaking of Class...Go!!!

In the grand scheme of things, you do go abroad to study, take classes that interest you and go to them! The University of Otago was huge compared to the school I go to at home, so being in a lecture hall with 200 students was something I almost enjoyed. Go to class, do your assignments well, and study for your exams. You can work hard AND play hard too.

New Zealand was such a special place to spend four months, and I will look back on these memories for the rest of my life. Your abroad experience will be whatever you want it to be, so do exactly that.