What to Expect and How to Prepare for Your First Days Abroad

Nicole DiCenso Queen Mary University, England


October 6, 2015

If you are studying abroad through Arcadia in London, regardless of which school you are going to, there is a good chance you are going to have a brief “pre-orientation” in the city before you depart for your school. My orientation was three days long and consisted of city walks, a group dinner, and multiple information sessions at the Arcadia London Center. Rather than bore you with (or spoil) the details of orientation, I am instead going to share with you a few tips on what to expect when you arrive in London these first few days and how to prepare ahead of time so that you can have a slightly better experience than I did; not to say I didn’t enjoy my Arcadia orientation experience, I just wish I had a better idea of what I was getting into...

Picture this: It is 87 degrees outside on a Tuesday morning and you are sitting poolside in a tank top and shorts, chatting with your mom about everything from your family to the latest celebrity scandal. In just a few hours, you will board an overnight flight to London where you will begin your study abroad experience. Fast forward about 16 hours. You have landed in London, gone through the 2 hour long customs line, and have finally arrived at your hotel. You don’t have cellphone service, you’re starving, and to top it all off, it is pouring rain so cold that you can see your breath. To make matters worse, you are told that you can’t get into your hotel room for another two hours and are left on your own in this giant unknown city until you can check in. All of these factors don’t exactly add up to the perfect beginning to studying abroad. And if you’re anything like me, they can make you start to regret leaving your home in the first place. Here is where tip number one comes in: You are not alone. After talking with a good amount of the other students on my program, I realized that everyone was pretty shell-shocked with everything that was going on and that most people were already incredibly homesick- like myself. If you need to Skype your parents or your best friend to help you cope a little, go for it. A little familiarity will definitely help you get through your first day. However, don’t forget to make friends with the people on your program- you don’t want to miss out on what is going on in London while you’re too preoccupied with what is going on at home.

My second tip to you is to pack everything you plan on wearing/using during your first few days of orientation at the top of your suitcase. While in the hotel, there is a good chance you won’t be unpacking your entire suitcase as you are there for such a short time. Had I put some thought into this fact in advance, I would have spent a lot less time unpacking and repacking to find what I wanted to wear. I would suggest packing all of your toiletries, two days of comfortable, walking around clothes, a nice outfit for dinner and the show, and what you will be sleeping in, somewhere easily accessible.

Lastly, try not to sweat the small stuff. It is incredibly easy to get frustrated when you can’t find the bus that gets you back to your hotel, and overwhelmed when it seems like everyone in your program came knowing someone else and you don’t know a single soul, but do your best to keep calm and keep going. Take a few deep breaths and remember that you are only in the first few days of what will end up being one of the best experiences of your entire life. The Arcadia advisors are super friendly and helpful so don’t be afraid to ask questions- that’s what they’re there for.

I am now in my 3rd week in London and although it felt so hard in the beginning that I wanted to go home, I have now made a great group of friends, have spent countless hours exploring London, and already have four out-of-country trips planned. I hope that this post will help you manage your expectations and brave the scary unfamiliarity that is your first few days abroad.