How I Planned to Study Abroad: Finances, Applying, Passport, & more!

Programs for this blog post

Summer in Sydney

By: Savanah Koester

I am someone who likes to always have a plan. In my idea of how college was going to go, study abroad was not there for me. When my mother brought up studying abroad, I was very against it. “What’s the point? I won’t have anyone I know there. How will I afford going there?” All questions I asked her as I basically told her no. I pushed back until I talked to my major advisor. Once I talked to her, she showed me programs that would actually count toward my major requirements, which was very enticing to me. I didn’t want to go abroad if there was no academic benefit. The next issue was picking a program,

Summer programs were the options I was looking at because of the leadership opportunities I have on campus, which I would miss if I were gone for an entire semester. I’m also not great with change so an entire semester was very daunting to me. I didn’t want to go somewhere for too short or for too long, so I ended up looking at 6 week programs (a perfect center to the usual options of 4 weeks or 8 weeks). The next challenge was finding a 6 week program that had classes that would apply to my majors. I had narrowed it down to two programs, one of which was an 8 week program with 2 different destinations or the program I ended up going on. Again, the aspect of change was very scary to me, so the 8 week program with a major change right in the middle made me nervous. So Sydney, Australia was the program. Now for more bumps in the road: passports and scholarships.

As I started the application through my university, I realized that my passport was going to expire. Because my passport was handled by my mother when I first got it (forever ago), I didn’t know what to do. After setting up a meeting with the study abroad office at Tulane, I then had to go set up an appointment with the post office. I had to get documents shipped to me and then play the waiting game. Having all of my applications in, but waiting for a passport was super stressful for me. What if it didn’t come on time? What if I didn’t fill out the paperwork correctly? All of these thoughts went through my head while I was trying to fill out scholarships and finish my classes for the semester. The scholarships weren’t hard, but again another task that needed done.

Trying to figure out how to finance my study abroad (before it became a gift from my parents for becoming an RA) was again stressful. Not only did I need to find the scholarships (which was very easy through CIEE) but then I had to complete the tasks that were attached to them. There were many times that I questioned if I should even go, which didn’t stop until I landed in Sydney and found the CIEE staff that were meeting us there. After applying to scholarships, and receiving some, I was then focused on what to bring. What was the weather like (yes it’s winter, but what does winter mean in Australia?) and what was going to be “fashionable” (not that I’m a fashionista but I didn’t want to look super American). 

The last step, once my passport came in (finally), was getting there. I took a flight home, spent 36 hours in Ohio, then started the multi-flight journey to end in Sydney. The first flight and transition went well! I went from Ohio (an airport I knew) to North Carolina (which was decently small). It was also a domestic flight so I didn’t have to go to any new area of the airport. My problems came when I went from North Carolina to LAX. I had never been to the west coast, and definitely never to LAX, and when I got there I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what I wanted to eat (which was a very big deal at the moment), and I didn’t know how to handle it (the airport and studying abroad). I ended up calling my dad and telling him I was going to switch my flight from going to Australia to coming back to Ohio. I had convinced myself that I couldn’t do it. I had to walk around LAX for about an hour before figuring out where I needed to be, then had to find food that I actually wanted to eat, and then find my way back to the right terminal. 

I then got on the plane and got an entire row to myself (which was awesome), finally arriving in Sydney. And I got off the plane, a little tired and nervous, finding my way. I had to exchange my money and go through customs, which made me nervous. Then I checked my email about 20 times to see where to meet the CIEE staff, not that that location ever changed but I just had to make sure. And then I made it. We got in the Uber to the apartment, I found my room, and then they had a plan for us for the next few days. Then I had the best summer I ever had. None of which could have happened without the struggle of figuring out what I wanted and how to handle that stress. 

Studying abroad, as rewarding as it is, can be very stressful or anxiety producing, which is normal. Going to a new country without your parents or a set schedule (for the most part) can be very scary, but it is all worth it. I never would have found my favorite tea shop that I went to every weekend. I wouldn’t have taken a 13 hour train (one way mind you) to Melbourne to spend the weekend in a hostel (which I probably won’t do again because I like my personal space) where I had a wonderfully relaxing weekend. And I definitely wouldn’t have come back to school in the fall with this new found sense of independence and an appreciation for my own company. Even though it may feel like everything is falling apart sometimes, it may just be all the pieces falling into place, which may be uncomfortable but very necessary and rewarding in the end.

Savanah Koester

Tulane University