My Guide to Studying Abroad: Packing

Recently someone asked me for advice on the logistics of study abroad. I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain during the Fall 2014 semester. I studied history, worked on my Spanish and traveled to Belgium, Morocco and Portugal in addition. Because I am history major, it is my nature to do lots of research before nearly anything I do, study abroad was no different. I am happy to share what I did about phones and money and other logistics while abroad with you, in case you are preparing for study abroad either now or in the future. I will share my suggestions based on about 3 months of research preparation. Having been returned from my time abroad, I am happy to say that in all of these things I was successful and I never lost (or had stolen -) a single thing!

Note: all of these suggestions are made with the idea that you want to save the most amount of money. If money is not an issue for you, lucky you!


In all the travel blogs and any talk online about studying abroad, I am sure you will see how much people love to talk about packing. Everyone has their own thoughts on the best way to be cost, space and weight efficient. I suggest you look up all these various ways to be so and choose the one that you think will best suit you. I travel quite a bit, so have a routine for packing and what I know I NEED to take. However, I had never packed for such a long period of time before and I wish I had done things a little differently. If you have ever been to Europe you know that there is cobblestone EVERYWHERE. If you didn’t know that before and are going there, remember that important point. I want to use this as an example for context in traveling. If you will be traveling a bit you do not want to be carrying giant or 3 suitcases on cobblestone, up stairs or in mud. When I arrived in Europe, the first hotel I stayed at did not have an elevator or a handicap way to get into the hotel. I carried my giant suitcase up quite a few stairs and was sweating by the end. Perhaps where you are going has cobblestone that will tear your suitcase, perhaps they don’t have elevators, perhaps you will have to walk a while with your suitcase in order to get to your destination, perhaps you are going somewhere where you will get to drive up to front entrance and someone takes your suitcase to your room for you. Be prepared for anything. If you are going to a place you have never been before, do not expect conditions to be the same as they are in the USA. I saw girls who had brought 3 giant suitcases and were struggling whenever we had to go from one place to the next and carrying them up the stairs. I only had one giant suitcase but I still felt I had brought too much. Literally, you feel the weight of your decisions. Be sure you can carry your suitcases on your own and try not to take more than 1 suitcase. You can always purchase another to bring back with gifts for all your friends and family. Things to consider are storage of your suitcases while living there, weight, allowance and being able to move the suitcase yourself. I suggest packing a week before then rolling your case around to make sure you can handle it. If it’s too heavy TAKE THINGS OUT. Below is a vague outline of my thoughts on what to pack .


  • Medication I needed, enough for the entire time I was gone. If you take any medications regularly, be sure to talk to your insurance provider and doctor well in advance to have enough medication for your time out of the country.
  • Contacts and travel toiletries (enough for 1 week, until I had time to buy toiletries there). Do research on where you are going – are toiletries something you can buy there? It won’t be your favorite brand, but immerse yourself in the culture. Maybe you will find something even better there, I did.
  • Really comfortable and cute shoes
  • Unique things from home, like my pillow. I love my pillow.


  • Enough clothing for all the seasons I thought I would experience. Do not think you know the climate of a place you have never been. You can read about it, think you understand, but I really think it is something that has to be experienced. And once experienced, if you find you need a coat there will be a store that caters to that environment where you are. I took a winter coat because I knew I would be there for winter and I never wore it. I didn’t need it. Winter there, although similar temperatures just feels different. I wish I had just taken clothing for the current season and bought more clothing there.
  • Too many clothes in general.
  • Books (real ones). I didn’t have a tablet when I went on my trip, but I do now. I have been a long time supporter of hard copy books. I have a giant bookshelf in my bedroom and I love it. But books are heavy and take up space. I bought a tablet to save space and money on my next trip. I will now be e-reading.


  • I don’t believe in wearing sweatpants in public, but I love a lazy day in sweat pants. I didn’t pack them because I knew I wouldn’t be wearing them often, but it turns out I missed them quite a lot. It’s one of those little comforts that I missed from home and would definitely take them next time.
  • A nice camera. I don’t own a camera. I have always just used my iphone, it takes nice enough photos and is easy to use. But, after all the marvelous things I saw, I realized the importance to me of sharing those memories with friends and family. With a nice camera, I know now the sharing of my experiences would be much better.
  • Old Bay – no explanation needed.

What is important to you?

My boss gave a speech recently and he mentioned that after asking current students why they had selected a certain college and why, they shared that the reasons they had chosen a school then and today would be very different. They explained that what they thought was important in picking a university was actually not as a student at a university. I find this idea to be absolutely true for me. When graduating high school, it may be difficult to understand the importance of finding a school that will help you to get a job, but it is actually one of the most important things to consider in making a school decision. When deciding on a school, I really thought deciding which school culture would provide the best social experience for the next four years of my life. I wanted to be happy for the next four years of my life. My thinking in the beginning of the process was that I needed a school that had all the things that could make me happy during my four years of college.

I was wrong, and I am so glad. Now, as a graduating senior with a job after graduation, I look back at my years at UMBC and know it provided me with absolutely everything I needed to be successful for the rest of my life. UMBC was not my first choice. I chose UMBC for financial reasons, and am so happy that that is the way it turned out. In the beginning, I thought because UMBC may not be able to provide things like a rock wall or a football team that my four years at school might be less fun because those are the the kind of things I was told would make college fun. They are not. Anywhere you go, there will be a group of people like you, who enjoy doing the fun things you do. I know though now that UMBC has been the best choice in the way of providing me with excellent resources to achieve an paid internship each summer, and now a full time job offer for after graduation. Things like the career center, excellent professor mentorship, volunteer experience on campus, and rigorous coursework have prepared me for graduation, work life and beyond. I thought I just wanted to make sure college was the best 4 years of my life, but now I know with the resources and skills UMBC provided me my best years won’t be limited to my college years, but will last for the rest of my life.

My Guide to Study Abroad : Phones

Recently someone asked me for advice on the logistics of study abroad. I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain during the Fall 2014 semester. I studied history, worked on my Spanish and traveled to Belgium, Morocco and Portugal in addition. Because I am history major, it is my nature to do lots of research before nearly anything I do, study abroad was no different. I am happy to share what I did about phones and money and other logistics while abroad with you, in case you are preparing for study abroad either now or in the future. I will share my suggestions based on about 3 months of research preparation. Having been returned from my time abroad, I am happy to say that in all of these things I was successful and I never lost (or had stolen -) a single thing!

I will be doing these blogs in parts. This first one will be about phones.

Note: all of these suggestions are made with the idea that you want to save the most amount of money. If money is not an issue for you, lucky you!

Here in the USA, we are so connected all the time to our devices. Depending on where you study, this may not be the case or perhaps more so. Either way, you will need a way to keep in touch with friends/family back home and a way to make plans with all your new friends. It was important to me to be able to talk to my family on a regular basis, just in case I would need to. So, before I left I asked my family to download Viber. It is an app that uses data or wifi to make phone calls and send texts nationally or internationally. I decided to download this app over others because unlike others, it is free and unlimited. The voice calls do have a computer sounding tone to the calls. It does not sound like your usual phone call, but it is definitely clear and usable. Using an app to make phone calls is much cheaper than making international phone calls, every time.

Luckily, my closest friends and family agreed to download the app and I was able to talk to them without any issues. Many of my other friends who I wanted to keep in touch with, I would text using imessage. Again, luckily most of my friends have iphones, but for those who didn’t I would facebook message and it was never an issue. Texting this way versus an international phone plan is always cheaper as well. The international phone plans add up very quickly. I just had to change my habits and there was never a time I could not get in touch with someone I wanted to. When I arrived in Spain, I realized very quickly many people there use the app Whatsapp to communicate rather than send texts. I downloaded the app almost immediately and used to it to communicate with my host mom and friends. For both of these apps I used my american phone number to activate that way I could use my contacts from my american phone and add any new Spanish phone contacts.

I used these apps on my own phone. I have an iphone that is globally prepared, so all I had to do was purchase a Spanish sim card. You can look up a youtube video on how to change a sim card using a paperclip and it’s easy to do. I recommend this if the country you are going to is a place where many people have iphones, otherwise it may be a target for theft. In Spain iphones are not as popular as they are here, but they are not unusual to see. I purchased an Spanish sim card from realcom. The program that I went with had a special deal with them that allowed for no contract fee, month to month pay as you go and unlimited data. This means that my phone bills were almost $0 each month, because I was paying no contract fee and I was using just the apps with free unlimited data. The only issue I had with this was plan was that any data or calls or texts used outside of Spain cost more. So, when I traveled outside the country, which was usually just for a weekend. I tried to limit my usage to when I had free wifi. There is not as much free wifi other places as here in the USA, but it is possible to find places. There is an app for that too! Some of my friends only ever used wifi even in Spain. This is very doable if you only want to use your phone to check in every now and then. I only used my data if it was an emergency. Even in cities I had never been to before, directions were easy because I would download maps online first or pull up the city on google maps before I lost connection. The map is still active after you have lost connection, if you pull it up when you have data or wifi.

If you do use your own phone, be sure to have insurance on the phone in case anything happens. If this is something you are concerned about, maybe it is better to get a cheap phone that comes with a plan in which it is easy to replace while you are abroad. In the end, you just need to choose the best choice for you. Feel free to ask any questions. I know it can be a scary time, but it is way more exciting (I think).

In my last 4 years…

I recently had the opportunity to read the application essay I submitted when I applied to UMBC. I was embarrassed for myself. Now, you need to understand when I started college Twitter and Instagram had not become ‘a thing’. A lot has changed since I started college for myself and for the world.

Now, I am in my senior year of college, about to turn 22 and I look back on my Freshmen year as a very different person. Not for worse, I think, but for better. In my four years here I have grown and learned so much and realized sometimes I don’t know anything at all. Being at this stage in my life sometimes makes me feel so old, and at other times so young. So I’ve decided to make a list of things that have happened to me during my 4 years of college that are shared experiences with many other seniors I know. These things may or may not happen to you in college, but if they do this is a good reminder that you are not alone.

In my last 4 years at UMBC I have…

walked into the wrong classroom

made the dean’s list

sat next to someone in class who turned out to be a really good friend

been a part of a student organization that is very dear to my heart

been a part of a student organization that another person finds ‘lame’

waved hello to people I don’t remember meeting, but pretended I remembered meeting them anyway

been in a group project that went horribly wrong

debated as a class assignment and kicked butt

eaten lunch alone

gone to many free pizza dinner events with friends

tried registering for a class and was not successful

used my student discount a lot

studied abroad

failed a test

All of these things have been a part of my college experience, for better or for worse, but definitely have shaped me into the person I am right now. All of these things, I tried to laugh about and hope you do too (even the failed test, you gotta remember what’s most important in life). I just received an 90% on my first quiz of my last semester at University, and it was a really difficult quiz that most people did not do so well. I’m feeling pretty good right now about this semester, but I know mistakes can happen at any time and my schooling is not over yet! Bring it on.

My friend just texted me…

My friend just texted me that she is “leaving [her] casa”. This is a common text message I receive from her, and it’s an important one too! Please let me explain to you why. She does not have any data or phone service here in Spain. She strictly uses wifi at her house and in other free places. When we make plans to meet at a certain place and at a certain time, it is important to be at that certain place on time. If no one sticks to the plan, then there is the possibility of confusion, and people getting lost, or something worse. She sends me a text when we have plans to meet to let me know she is leaving her house, and to expect her at a certain time. Once she leaves her house, there will be no way for me to be in contact with her. This is a habit I practice quite often and have only now realized it something I have become accustomed to.

There are many small things I have become accustomed to here in Spain – everything from carrying my own toilet paper around, to texts, to Spanish greetings, to the lifestyle. Most people discuss the culture shock that happens when going abroad, but there is also a kind of culture shock I expect when returning home to the states. I will have to adapt again, but it is a skill that I believe is good not only for my life, but for my career as well.

Academics Abroad – Not Literally – Part 2

While the struggle of studying for midterms and keeping up grades is the same in Spain as it is in the United States for me, the academics and what I am learning outside the classroom is so different! Everything here is a grand cultural adventure! It is the most exciting life I have ever lived. Which life? It’s a life filled with not having internet for a week, learning how to go to the doctor in Spanish, losing your credit card and figuring out how to get it back, asking people to speak slowly, feeling like an outsider, finally feeling like I belong, then remembering why I don’t, eating dishes I don’t know how to pronounce, meeting new friends, beginning conversations with strangers, being cold because my apartment doesn’t have a heater, getting caught in the rain because I can’t afford an umbrella, laughing when I accidentally say a bad word in Spanish, laughing when the only word my Spanish friend knows in English is a bad word, staying up until 4am just like the locals, siesta, using public transportation, getting lost, finding a beautiful park, traveling for the weekend and returning to a place I feel is home, wishing my family and friends could experience all of this, learning that olive oil is a food group on the nutrition pyramid and that I should eat it 4 times a day, and finally ‘Dale la Vuelta a la Tortilla’.

The actual translation of the above phrase, as explained to me by host mother, is similar to the idea that you need to flip the Tortilla Espanola, which is made of potato and eggs (similar to flipping an omelet or egg). But the main message of the phrase is to turn around your attitude in a sense. The video below gives examples of famous people giving comedic examples. One example is the actor who plays Frodo (the guy from Lord of the Rings, correct me if I’m wrong) says “If you have lost your ring, dale la vuelta a la tortilla”. The meaning is even when things are going negatively or not as you planned, keep your head up. The video below is from a popular prime-time Spanish television show that I enjoy watching, although my host mom makes fun of me for it. In the video you will see many famous people you may recognize (my favorite is the backstreet boys).

These kinds of phrases, and the reason for why this phrase exists here in Spain is the education that I really love. I love that my real-life Spanish test is whether or not I can communicate with the store employees that I lost my credit card and whether or not I can get it back (I did by the way – totally passed the test). The education I am receiving during my study abroad experience goes beyond the classroom and into my daily life and need for survival. Sometimes, when my internet doesn’t work and I can’t find a place with wifi, I just remind myself of my newly learned Spanish phrase, Dale la Vuelta a la Tortilla.

Academics Abroad – Literally – Part 1

It is true that there is no study abroad without the ‘study’ part of the term. I can attest to the fact that if you are studying abroad, you will have to do homework at some point, read a book, and definitely take a test. In the past, I have heard that the academics abroad are easier than in the United States. For me, I have not found this to be the case. It is common here in Spain for there to only be two exams in an entire semester – the midterm and the final. This does not leave much room for you to receive a poor grade and then make up for it later in the semester (which is, to be honest, a poor habit of mine). There are not many chances to succeed in the course, so it is important to do well on both exams. Because there is no homework to check periodically that the student is understanding the material, it is common for a student to begin studying for the midterm and realize they have forgotten everything they learned at the beginning of the course (which is what happened to me and my friends). It’s not that I am a bad student, or that I am not smart, it is simply that my classes here are structured and taught differently than what I am accustomed to in the United States. But please! Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing! This is what the study abroad experience is about! I am learning so many things here, including a lot about the Spanish higher education system.

Did you know… Here in Spain, if a college student does not pass a class during the semester, they have the opportunity to take the ‘final exam’ (an exam similar to the final exam) again at the very beginning of the following semester. If they pass the exam the second time, then it counts for them as passing the class! Many students here are not stressed during the semester, because they study a few weeks before the second exam for the following the semester and then can pass the class. At the beginning of the semester here, when the second exams were held, the library was very busy. Now that it is nearing halfway through the semester, the library is not nearly as busy!

Traveling and studying abroad have may similarities in learning about culture, traditions, and language, but are different when learning about the academic system and providing a space for learning. Studying abroad has allowed me to learn a lot about the Spanish education system.

Marruecos (Morocco)

It was my first time in an Arabic country. IT WAS AWESOME! We traveled to Fes ( spelled with an ‘S’, the Fessi are very particular about that) and went to the Medina which is the largest market in the country. Then traveled through the country side – cedar forest, canyons, mountain, oasis and finally to the Sahara Desert. I spent two nights in the Sahara Desert sleeping in a tent and surrounded by the beautiful Berber people. If you have not heard of them before, I suggest you look them up. One of the oldest populations! Without UMBC and the Study Abroad Office, this would have not been possible! Enjoy some of my pictures.

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I have been unable to post recently because I have had extremely limited access to the internet. Last week, I went to Morocco, where I did not even have cell phone service, and when I did find wifi very few websites worked. TIP: I have found that Facebook almost always works everywhere. Upon my return to Spain, there was a storm which somehow made the internet in my apartment stop working as well. The internet in my apartment is not always reliable anyways, so this was not surprising. So, I have been going to the public library here to get wifi, but when there are many people at the library (which also happens often) the wifi doesn’t usually work. I think it has something to do with too many people using one source, or something like that. So, when that doesn’t work, like today, I go to a Cafe de Indias, which is similar to a Starbucks, buy a tea and am then allowed to use their wifi for 30 minutes.

The limited access is not usually a problem, because most of my classes do not rely on the internet – we use books – and I don’t have many other responsibilities tying me down to the internet. This is also how many Spaniards here live. I hardly ever see anyone on their phones or in the cafe on a computer. I’m probably an obvious ‘Giddi’ (slang term for foreigners that my friend told me is not negative) right now sitting in the cafe typing this blog. Now, I must make this blog short for I am running out of internet time and I still need to email my academic advisor at UMBC about registering for classes in the Spring! Hasta!