Murphy’s law, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, is a law which could also be called the Study Abroad law. After only being here a week, I can already attest to the number of things that can and do go wrong in a foreign country and the difficulties associated with correcting these issues.
So, when preparing for the problems life abroad will throw one’s way, the obvious solution would bring everything and anything necessary to help in any given situation. Right? Wrong. So wrong. Although my experience is limited, as far as I can tell packing all of one’s earthly possessions for a semester abroad is definitely not the way to go. This will probably severely embarrass me, but I am willing to detail the gross mistakes I realize I have made in packing for this semester.
Note: Please don’t make too much fun of me!
First of all, on clothing, you are going to wear what you are most comfortable in. The culture and fashions of the country you’re in really aren’t going to matter when the thing you most want while abroad is a feeling of being at home. Some study abroad tips mention to avoid wearing school or Greek paraphernalia to avoid being singled out as an American, but honestly, they’ll already know, so the best thing to do is just be on your guard. In my case, I was absolutely not overzealous in the amount of sorority T-shirts I brought (I believe the last count was around 20) because that is what I wear nearly every day, at home and in Ecuador. Therefore, bring what you like to wear, leave the things you never wear at home.
On the other hand, it is easy to fall into the black hole of “but I might need that!” Don’t do it. In my case, I currently have sweaters, a pea coat, and two pairs of boots just sitting in my suitcase even though Quito is the land of eternal spring because I thought, “what if it gets cold?” This was utter silliness. Normally I ascribe to the mantra “always be prepared” but I crossed the line packing so much for Quito. Know the weather where you are going and don’t over prepare.
It is really easy to slip into the mindset that if a ton of clothes sit in your closet during a regular semester, they can sit in your closet at your host home. Please, save yourself the extra baggage fees (which I assure you are substantial), the hassle of lugging around all of those bags and limit yourself. Why, for instance, do I have three ultimate frisbee jerseys? I only wear one at a time, I only needed to bring one. And why did I bring every pair of running/soccer shorts I own? I really only need two pairs, one to wear while the other pair is dirty. This will vary for everyone but give it some thought, your bank account and your dignity will thank you.
I could really go on and on with the list of things I could have left at home (Scarves. Really? Eight pairs of shoes? Did I temporarily lose my mind?) But there are a few things I am really glad I have here. One is my Spanish-English dictionary. Being able to look up words on demand is great for communicating with my host family, so the bulk was definitely worth it. Two, the backup software to my computer, as well as the manuals and warranty information for it and my digital camera. When my computer crashed I had exactly what I needed, this is definitely one of those instances where preparing for Murphy’s law worked out. And finally, my duffel bag. It was my carry-on for the plane and since it’s an old volleyball bag, I’m not too concerned about it getting beat up on weekend excursions with my mountain climbing class.
Things absolutely will go wrong while studying abroad and your possessions will get lost, stolen or broken. It’s not material possessions that will help when something goes wrong, especially when that something is a problem with a material possession. What has helped me is getting to talk to my parents on the phone, seeing my host mom and sister smile and tell me everything will work out, and making new friends. The thing is, you can’t pack help like that, it just happens.