Pack and Go: My Experience Leading up to Studying Abroad

I’ve been waiting to study abroad since high school, and tried my hardest to make it one of my priorities once I got to college. I was on track to study abroad in Australia, one of my dream destinations, when COVID-19 hit and everything shut down, postponing my plans for at least half a year. When me and Olivia, a good friend of mine who is also studying abroad at the University of Roehampton, talked about our plans, we decided to switch programs as London and the United Kingdom seemed more likely to let us in than Australia was. (They were being very strict with COVID policies, which is understandable.) So once this semester abroad was confirmed, it was almost surreal to think about it finally happening after a year of trying and many more of thinking about it.

So….what do I think about the preparation phase of studying abroad? It’s stressful. Since I am graduating this year, I was scrambling to figure out class credits and transferring the classes I take abroad to specific courses at Chapman University. I knew I needed at least one course to transfer to a specific credit for me to be able to safely graduate, while two or more would allow a more comfortable spring semester schedule. However, it took me five tries to get the classes I needed approved for credit, along with emails sent to my advisors and the dean of the English department detailing why I thought each course should count for this specific requirement. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people! It might help speed the process up. Classes were easily the most stressful thing for me. Once I had those figured out, I knew that everything else would be able to work itself out.

The second most stressful aspect of the preparation phase is the couple weeks leading up to departure. As someone who waits until the last minute to do things, which I get from my mom, most of the prep aside from classes was done in these two weeks. We needed to figure out money, what we were going to do with my phone and its data plan, I needed new clothes and jackets, and I needed to start packing everything. Most of these things could’ve been figured out before, like the phone plan, the money situation and the new clothing. I got a new phone (an upgrade, from an iPhone 8 to an iPhone 13), and we decided on a 30-day eSIM card that got me 10 gigabytes of data and a small amount of allowance for calls and texts the day before I boarded the plane. Packing also occurred on the day before I left, as I wanted to wait until I had the clothes I wanted to bring to organize my duffle, carry-on, and backpack.

A before and after comparison of my items packed versus unpacked.

Day of Departure

The day I left was busy. I was gathering my devices, cords and toiletries while my mom finished hemming two pairs of pants for me to bring. On top of this, I knew I had a game I needed to (wanted to, at the end of the day) play before I got on the plane, as there are some gameplay aspects that require daily playing. It was going to plan before I realized that one of the belt loops on my pants was loose, so my mom had to fix that before I could truly finish packing my bags. Once everything was squared away, and we double-checked everything (and yet I still managed to forget my raincoat), the stress stopped and the nerves started. I have traveled internationally many times before, and had even traveled without my parents or any family members. This was the first time that I was alone—or mostly alone. Olivia and I were on the same flight. I know the drill, but I never trust myself until I am doing it—which makes me nervous, even though I know I know what to do, and have gone over it with my mom repeatedly.

Me and my friend Olivia before we went through security and found our gate.

We made it through security just fine, as both of us had pre-check even though both of us had to take off our shoes still, as the scanner didn’t like the boots we chose to wear on the plane. Small price to pay for a quick trip through security! Once we passed the checkpoint, we found our gate, so we could hang out as the plane had been delayed. We were expecting to wait by the gate for a little longer. Olivia and I went to the restroom right before boarding started, as well as to a small market to buy drinks and a small snack. I had packed some beforehand (ChocoRooms, Brookeside Chocolate-covered Açai berries, and dried mango), so I was tagging along to keep Olivia company as she searched for her drink and snacks. Once we finished buying that, we went back to our gate just in time for them to announce boarding.

Next, we waited for boarding–the final confirmation that the middle seat in our row wasn’t taken. I had been checking the seat map on the United app beforehand to see if the middle seat in our row was taken, and fortunately for both of us, it ended up empty. This allowed us to spread out a little more, which made the flight more comfortable and made it easier for me to fall asleep on the plane. Leading up to the long flight, I was worried I would experience something called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). I had, or at least believe I had, experienced this on a much shorter flight. RLS is where you get this weird, creeping feeling in your legs that goes away when you move them—and only when they’re moving. I didn’t end up getting this during the flight though, something I’m contributing to the entertainment on the plane and having something to do other than try and force myself to sleep the entire time. (As last time it happened, I was on a three-hour flight with nothing to do but sleep.) Instead of staring at the clouds in the sky, or forcing sleep, I was able to watch movies and play games, keeping my mind occupied. Definitely made time seem to pass faster too!

The view from my window, just after take-off from San Francisco International Airport.
The view from my window as we begin our decent into Heathrow Airport.

After the long hike from terminal 2 to terminal 3 and the 40-minute bus ride from the airport, we arrived at campus and every ISA student was given a temporary key to their accommodation, along with briefed on safety protocols while in London. We were also taken down to the main street of the nearest town, Putney, and shown where we could shop for various items.

Overall—I had a very long day, with multiple long days ahead of me. I was prepared for this and am good at forcing myself to stick to a reasonable sleep schedule after a long flight to avoid jet lag. (Sticking to a sleep schedule consistently though… that’s a different story.) As long as you’re prepared for it! If you’re not—I wish you good luck. Running on low sleep and not being prepared for it isn’t pleasant.

Being in London for three months seems less daunting now than it did before I was here. Now that I’ve made it past the travel part, the only thing that’s making me nervous is the first week of classes, but that’s normal for me. I don’t know where my classes are until I find them during the first week, and I’m unsure of the class structure. Once I’m able to settle in, I’m not worried. It’s a nice feeling.


  • Figure out phone data plans and money while abroad sooner rather than later. I went with an eSIM, but maybe simply using your carrier’s international plan is better for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to email professors and advisors about class credits and how they transfer! I’m not sure my classes would’ve been approved had I not emailed them.
  • Not original advice (though I doubt any of this is all that original) but – once you arrive, don’t take a nap. Go to bed at a reasonable hour to be sleeping, to minimize jet lag messing with sleep schedules! (This is also a fast-track way of fixing my sleep schedule. I give it a week before I mess it up again.)
  • Most of all, have fun. Make the most out of this experience! Try your hardest to make friends before you arrive. Start a group chat with everyone! Even vaguely knowing them helped me get comfortable around the other ISA students a lot quicker than usual.

Maria Haggart is a student at Chapman University and an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in London, England.

Leave a Reply