Going on a study exchange can be daunting. To make the process slightly less overwhelming for future exchange students, I have compiled this list of tips (in no particular order) for those going to the United States. Of course, I am only speaking from personal experience at the University of South Carolina, so my advice should only be used as a guide… Not that anyone takes anything I say as gospel anyway.
1. Pack minimal pyjamas
That sounds a bit risqué. We are talking about college, after all. But in all seriousness, if your host college is anything like mine, you will get a ridiculous amount of free t-shirts. These serve as wonderful pyjamas. In fact, I found that I rarely wore the ones that I had packed. So, maybe save yourself the space.
2. Open a US bank account
From person experience, it is such an easy thing to do and you should not have to pay any fees. I decided to go with Bank of America, just because their ATMs are everywhere. Yes, you can get by just using a travel card, which many of my friends did, but you are restricted from purchasing/booking anything where you need a US address linked to the card. This turned out a bit of a hassle for some of my friends.
3. If you are from Australia, get a mobile plan with a GSM network provider
In Australia, all mobile phones use the GSM network. However, in the US, there are two networks – GSM and CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile are the two main providers that use the GSM network, while Verizon and Sprint use the CDMA network. As far as I have been told, most Australian mobiles will only work at all with a GSM network provider. Some of my friends decided to go with Verizon and had to buy new phones in order to do so, which made absolutely no sense to me. Why waste the money on a new phone just for your time in the US? I had no issues with AT&T whatsoever.
4. Focus on making friends with local students
All of the best memories I have of my exchange involve the friendships I made with local students. I was extremely fortunate to have met so many lovely and generous South Carolinians. Yes, it is also wonderful to befriend many other exchange students, but local students will be able to give you much greater insight into the way of life at your host college. There are many experiences you simply cannot have without a local. Some of my personal favourites included tailgating at the Carolina Cup and spending a night lighting bonfires on a cotton field. That said, you will find that other exchange students will probably be more beneficial as travel buddies, as they have the same interest in exploring the country as you.
5. Buy appliances in the US
To save yourself a bit of luggage space and from having to buy too many adapters, I would recommend buying some appliances once you are in the US. By this, I mean things like hair dryers, hair straighteners and irons. You can get all of these for a very low cost at places like Walmart. I bought all three for around $15 each. Were they the best quality? No, but they were more than adequate for five months. It also saves you from worrying about losing or damaging your good quality ones from home.
6. Bring at least one power board from home
There will be some appliances/electronics that you will have no choice but to bring from home. Therefore, bring a power board from your home country. You will be able to plug in multiple things (like all of your phone/laptop/camera chargers!) and only need one adapter.
7. Budget more money than you think you will need
Maybe it was my addiction to shopping at Victoria’s Secret, but I ran out of money while on exchange. Fortunately, I could borrow some from my parents. I would recommend giving yourself quite a bit of leeway when budgeting for your exchange, as there will probably many unexpected expenses and also experiences you will not want to miss.
8. Do not be afraid to bus it
Following my point above, I had to be very thrifty with my end-of-semester travel around the US. This meant that I found myself using cheap bus services like Greyhound and Megabus. They have plenty of routes and almost always work out to be cheaper than flying or catching a train. From my experience, they are great value-for-money. Some interstate bus fares are as low as $2! The quality and amenities of the buses ranges greatly (even within the same company), but they are adequate for budget-conscious exchange students.
So, there you have it! If I think of any more tips, I will continue to add them. Just remember that all of the stress and endless paperwork will be worth it in the end! Going on exchange is seriously the experience of a lifetime.