Cuisine

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Sure, by this point we know what documents we need to go abroad, how to mentally prepare, how to pack, how to get around, and even specific places you should visit.

But…. I’m sure you’re all wondering one very important thing: how’s the food?!

Well, I’m not here to burst your bubble, but not all European food blew my socks off. It wasn’t all made of dreams and rainbows. However, there were some really great dishes I had! It’s sort of like anywhere else you’d go in America – some places are awesome, and some places are less awesome, or not awesome at all. As always, let me start with the place I spent the most time, my beloved Italia.

Italy

Italy foodThese are actually pictures of the food that I would make at home, but you get the point – try some pasta. The spinach and ricotta filled ravioli was actually my favorite dish, but tended to be a little pricier than your average plate of pasta at restaurants. The kind I bought was from a grocery store, and I sprinkled cheese and truffle sauce on it! Yum! Of course, bread, butter, and olive oil are staples. It is pretty mandatory to try pizza, too. I don’t have a picture, but it has very thin crust, and I preferred to eat it folded in half. Also, their fresh fruit was so good!  I could not get over the taste of the apples in Italy. Most obviously, get some wine – cheap, expensive, white, red – it doesn’t matter. Have wine, have wine often.

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Some other staples in Italy are gelato, tiny coffee shots (café), and unexpectedly, kebob shops. I never knew there would be so many kebob shops, but you can find some pretty good ones that are really reasonably priced (at least throughout Florence). The coffee pictured above was a Nutella café, as Italy is famous for Nutella and coffee, what a delicious combo! The little coffees are actually pretty bitter (pure caffeine in a shot?), but the larger cappuccinos are tasty. Finally, gelato must be consumed nearly as often as wine if you want the best experience possible. (Actually, I heard once that gelato has four times as much sugar in it than American ice-cream! Scary!) My favorite flavors were cinnamon and pistachio.

England

IMG_1253While in London, my friends and I ate at the same mom-and-pop breakfast place both mornings we stayed there. It was so cute, called Frank’s, and dirt-cheap-yet-delicious. Also, as you can see, large portions of food! Not to mention free coffee refills included with the price of breakfast. All that for just £5! The traditional English breakfast included either toasted or un-toasted bread with butter, hash browns, baked beans, sausage, bacon, and an egg over easy. You also had some other options, such as steamed tomatoes. 

For dinner we went to a fancier restaurant closer to the city center and both of my friends got fish-n-chips, while I had a large salad, due to my general distaste for seafood. I tried some of their fish, though, just to have the experience, and I really regretted not ordering it for myself! It was definitely tasty, and part of the England experience. Eat the fish-n-chips!

Germany

germanyfoodNow this gets into a little bit of a grey area, because I only went to Germany for one day – in Munich, for Oktoberfest. Also, I attempted to order something from a menu that was supposedly in English, but we all got something completely different than what we thought we ordered. So, I actually have no idea what I was eating.  We had a great potato dish, and the meat was good, though I’m not sure what type it was. We thought the white thing on our plate was some sort of sauerkraut, but it ended up being very dry and extremely spicy. I opted out of that one after I gave it an initial taste (I don’t do spicy, either). The donuts were actually moist and had bits of apple in them! Very tasty. Finally, as a cool souvenir and treat all-in-one, I got the gingerbread Oktoberfest heart necklace. It was awful. Only buy them for decoration, not to eat.

Spain

spai nfoodAlthough I only stayed in Barcelona for four days, I definitely fell in love with their food. If you just go to a tapas restaurant, or only order tapas items (appetizers), you will be just fine. You can order a couple and it will fill you up. They are super tasty and generally inexpensive. The top left item, the Spanish omelette with small pieces of bread, was my favorite by a long shot. Next to that is the Spanish dessert, flan. It is good, but may not be for people who have food consistency peculiarities. On the top right was a California salad, which had avocado, ham, cheese, corn, and bow tie noodles served cold. That was probably my second-favorite tapas. The bottom left are sautéed potatoes with a special sauce (a crowd favorite in my group). Next to that is a spiced rum cake, which actually tasted very strongly of alcohol. These people are not messing around! Finally, it is almost required to have a sangria while you are there. They are delicious, but don’t try to share a pitcher like that with less than four people, or you might be in trouble! (Notice our three glasses. Yes, we were in trouble after three of us finished the pitcher, and trying to catch a flight. Live and learn, they say!)

France

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When I travelled to France, it was the week of Thanksgiving. My hostel in Paris served the residents pumpkin pie, candy corn, and crepes. It was really nice to have a taste of home, and you definitely can’t leave Paris without trying their crepes! A tried a crepe from a street vendor as well, who put Nutella and banana in it and wrapped it up. It was to die for. I also tried French onion soup at a fancy restaurant, which was the best French onion soup I’ve ever had! I guess the French really know how to do it. I tried a macaron as an obligatory dessert option, but it wasn’t as good as I hoped (it was a bit too dry for me). French baguette bread was tasty and made their sandwiches supreme. Pictured above were some of my friends trying escargot for the first time. They weren’t sure what to make of it at first, but they ended up loving it! The thought still disturbs me, but I wish I would’ve tried it just for the experience.

So there you have it, my food experiences from five different countries. Not being able to stay long in most of them, I’m sure I’m missing out on tons of other great cuisines! What are you favorite international dishes?

Transportation

In Europe, as most visitors do, I travelled extensively. I probably won’t even remember all of the plane, train, bus, car, taxi, etc. rides that I took in those four months. Here are some methods of travel that might make your journey a bit easier.

Plane

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Obviously, the easiest way to go abroad is by airplane. It is also one of the easiest ways to get from country to country around Europe if you are going a far distance, or are on a time press. Flying around Europe can be insanely cheap. Look at airlines such as RyanAir or easyJet.

Train

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Trains are great and usually pretty cheap when trying to get around from city to city. Most places I went in Italy was by train – from Florence to Pisa, Siena, Milan, Venice, Verona – anywhere. The train pictured here was actually in Germany, so trains are definitely a main transportation vehicle in most European countries. (By the way, does this look like the type of girl who gets motion sickness? Nope! I prepared for my problem by buying four tubes of Dramamine motion sickness pills before leaving America.)

Bus

 

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The bus was my second-most-used form of transportation. As pictured on the right (on the outside window, so it looks backwards) the Terravision bus is an awesome option for getting from an airport to a city center. I used this when going to London and Barcelona, since the airports were so far away from where I was staying! It’s an easy and cheap option.

 Car/Vespa

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If you are lucky enough to make local friends, you might be able to catch a ride in a car or a vespa for a joy ride through the city! I actually had a professor at my university abroad who was nice enough to drive some students to her house for dinner, too. So you can always try to butter up your professors, host family, or anyone else you might know with a vehicle.
Warning: European cars are very small!

Gondola/Water Taxi

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If you make a trip to Venice, there is no way around it – you must travel through the water somehow (and not by swimming: apparently that water is at least 20% of the city’s waste)! Venice is the most amazing place I have ever seen, though I did feel trapped after about a day. To get around, you can pay the big bucks to ride a gondola, which is about 120 euro/hour. You can split this price if you have some friends who want to ride with you. The cheaper alternative is a water taxi, which will actually transport you around the water-filled city.

Subway

In larger cities, like Paris and London, the subway is a must. My friends and I tried to walk to the sites in London and our legs nearly gave out. So we gave in and got some subway passes. They might be crowded, dirty, full of homeless/odd people, but stay surrounded by friends, keep your belongings close, and you will be just fine!

What is your favorite way to travel?

Must-See Places of Italy

So if you are like me and travel abroad to Italy, you will probably be overwhelmed by how much there is to see in such little time (yes, four months will fly by in no time!). If you are going to another country I’m sure there is just as much to see, but I am only focusing on Italy here, since that is where I lived throughout the program. I will start with the places that I saw firsthand, and then move on to some other locations that I heard were great, but had to miss out on (hey, it’s hard to see a whole country in that amount of time).

Places I Saw That You Must See

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1. Florence
This is where I lived so there is a lot to include here, but I am going to sum it up by saying GO AND VISIT THIS CITY FOR A LONG TIME. Check out other places to go from a Florence local’s blog. Here are my must-sees:

  • Piazza Michelangelo, where you can stand in a rose garden or outlook over the city while musicians play romantic music in the background. The hike is worth it.
  • The Uffizi, The Accademia, and other famous museums to see some of the greatest artwork ever created.
  • The Duomo di Firenze (the Florence Cathedral) and the baptistry, as well as the Basilica of Santa Croce and Santa Maria.
  • The top of Fiesole to see another great view above the city, a Franciscan church, and thousand-year old city ruins.
  • The Ponte Vecchio gold bridge and the Palazzo Vecchio square.
  • The Pitti Palace, Medici Palace, and any other palace!

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2. Rome

  • The Colosseum.
  • The Trevi Fountain.
  • Saint Peter’s Basilica
  • The Vatican.
  • Galleria Borghese.

 

3. PisaIMG_0602

  • The Leaning Tower and basilica.
  • The Keith Haring Wall.

 

 

4. MilanIMG_2393

  • Duomo di Milano.
  • The fashion district.

 

 

5. VeniceIMG_2629

  • Piazza San Marco
  • Basilica di San Marco
  • The Frari.
  • Gondolas and water taxis.

 

 

6.  Cinque Terre Beaches

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7. Perugia during the Chocolate Festival

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8. Verona

  • Roman Amphitheater (Arena di Verona).IMG_0924
  • Juliet’s house and balcony.

 

 

 

 

Places I Wish I saw

1. Amalfi Coast

2. Pompeii

3. Sicily

4. Naples (Naples is said to be dangerous, but it is the birthplace of pizza, after all).

I also wish I had seen a more country-side area of Italy, as I mostly saw cities. I went through country areas on buses and trains, but I wish I would have done a wine tasting in the rolling Tuscan hills. They are beautiful!

Obviously I have a bias towards Tuscany and Florence, but it truly is a beautiful place. Do you have any hidden gems for people to visit? What places are on your must-see-list?

Kent State University: CCI, Study Abroad, and PR

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If that looks like a pretty small group of people to you, you are correct. Here we are missing only one member of our CCI cohort, making just six of us during my semester abroad.

When I applied to study abroad, I was so nervous that I wouldn’t get accepted. I was worried there would be too many applicants and that some students wouldn’t be able to go. I asked the woman who ran the program how many students usually went per semester from the College of Communication and Information (that’s my college!). She told me maximum was around 18 students. I expressed to her my fear of not being able to go, and she confidently assured me not to worry.

But I did. I worried for about two months until I finally received the email confirmation that I was definitely accepted into the program. I was elated! I was so happy that I had made the cut! Well, I was feeling pretty until the first CCI small group meeting came around. It was a meeting so that the students could meet one another as well as the CCI coordinator. It was also a the first of multiple brief informational sessions. I arrived and wondered where everyone was but… that was it. There were six of us total. In fact, at the first meeting one girl didn’t even show, so originally there were five of us, and the sixth came later.

I quickly felt much less special about being chosen, seeing as next-to-no-one even applied! When the coordinator had told me not to worry, she had really meant it. Apparently, over the last few years applications for study abroad in CCI during the fall semester had declined critically. We were 1/3 the size of a normal group. This was even more surprising because the university had seen this decline, and had tried to implement a plan to raise the number of students going. Unfortunately, it did not seem to work. This is my perspective of a possible public relations plan they had implemented to raise student registration for study abroad, and how it could have worked better.

In a nutshell, this is again my own perception of what happened last spring when recruiting for CCI study abroad began.

1. CCI Identified a problem: The number of students registering to study abroad in the fall were quickly decreasing within their college.

2. They created some sort of goal that they would like to see higher numbers of CCI students register for the fall 2013 trip to Italy. They most likely were shooting for somewhere closer to their maximum allowance of 18 students per trip.

3.  They came up with a strategy to make the trip more affordable, and therefor more attainable and desirable.

4 . They used a tactic of offering a $2,000 scholarship to anyone who would go on the trip through CCI, and advertised it through their website, social media pages (see below), and throughout the school with flyers. The student had to maintain a certain (lower-end) GPA to qualify, and that was it. Typically CCI offers $1,000 to each student, so the value of the scholarship was doubled for the fall semester only. On my trip, everyone received this scholarship.

While this sounds like a fantastic plan for gathering more recruits, it didn’t pan out as well as you would think. The main problem with this incentive was that it was too late. By the time I had turned in my application, this news had not been released. I believe the original application due date was April 1st. This news was published after the original deadline (to my knowledge, and I was really watching for news!), and the application deadline was extended into May.

While this was great news for me and the others who had already signed up, it was too late for a student who hadn’t planned on suddenly studying abroad the next semester.  By April in spring, students have already registered for there fall classes, or signed an apartment lease, or agreed to take over a friend’s lease, etc. By that time in the year, plans were already made for students in the fall.

You can see on the CCI CCI Facebook page and CCI Facebook page pages how late this offer was made – April 4th and April 15th. Yikes! Spring semester is almost over by then!

I believe more students would have taken advantage of that incredible opportunity had they had more advance notice about it. I was asking friends if they’d sign up after the scholarship was doubled, and just too many of them had already planned their fall schedules. Students who wanted to go abroad were set on going during the spring as they had been planning. So the notice just should’ve been released earlier.

However, the six of us who went benefitted and it was a nice helping-hand from Kent State University. It made the school look good because they were doing good. Unfortunately, it seems that the numbers fell short of what CCI had hoped for. During the measurement phase of their PR plan, we were still just a fraction of what it should have been. I’m not sure if it is due to these results, but the doubled scholarship does not appear to be being offered for next fall – then again, they could just be waiting to spill the beans!

What do you think CCI could have done differently? Do you think another approach could have increased the number of students who went? 

Pointers on Packing

So I am sure many of you are worried about what to bring with you to another country for a four-month-long trip, and how you will fit it all into your limited luggage. Well, I have to tell you – you probably don’t need to bring as much as you think.  Luckily, a girl who had gone on the trip before me had made a great packing list for the new group of travelers to reference.  I will be using items from her list and supplementing with what I brought for myself, what I should have brought, and what I probably could have left at home. I will provide the packing list towards the bottom, but first a few tips on packing.

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As you can see here and from my About Me page, I took a purple luggage set with me to Italy: a large suitcase, a small carry-on suitcase, and an accessory laptop bag. Both the carry-on and accessory came with me on the plane, while the large suitcase was put below (check your own airline for luggage requirements). In my case, flying with AirFrance, my large suitcase was allowed to weigh 50 pounds, the carry-on was 25 pounds, and the accessory laptop bag did not get weighed.

Wait, what? The accessory you take doesn’t get weighed? That’s right! So fill that baby up with your heavy stuff! I put my Italian tour book in there, my Italian language textbook, all of my important papers and documents, my purse/money, my phone and charger, a scarf – really anything I could fit in there – oh, yeah, and my actual laptop. It’s the best place to keep your important stuff, where it is easily accessible and securely on your person.

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While filling my large suitcase, I filled up some make-up bags that my luggage set came with. It’s a great idea to also secure liquid items in ziplock bags. They were great for organizing my things and keeping them locked up tight. One was designated for medicine, the other was for hair/makeup/shower/other supplies.  I was lucky I used these bags because when I opened my beauty bag in Italy, one of my nail polishes had exploded! It was easy to get off my bottles of shampoo and things, but it would have been much worse all over my clothes!

When packing clothes, think of items that you can mix and match and comfortably wear again and again. Make sure you check the average weather reports for wherever you are visiting and for what time of year you will be there. A lot of students who came to Italy definitely overpacked on summer clothes and under packed warmer clothes for the fall season.

folding shirt

A space-saver when packing clothes is to roll them instead of fold them. Trust me, my former-Girl-Scout-grandmother taught me this years ago and it works like a charm!

Also, as strange as it may sound, bring clothes that you won’t mind throwing away in four months. As often as you wear them, they will get worn out, and this will also leave you space for the new things you buy to bring home!

Another thing to consider is bringing an empty suitcase if you plan to shop a lot abroad (or to buy one there to fill up). It costs extra, but it might end up being worth it to save your stuff. Coming home, most students had to pay for overweight charges on their luggage and even throw some of their things out at the airport. It is easy to get carried away and buy tons of souvenirs, but make sure you have room for them all!

Finally, here is the basic packing list! Check out Rick Steve’s packing list and Traveller’s Point packing list too!

Packing List
• A couple pairs of jeans
• Sundresses
• Sweaters (it does get chilly! Don’t pack only for summer weather!)
• Shorts
• Socks (I took probably ten pairs since I lived with four other girls and had to wait my turn to do laundry)
• Underwear (10-15)/bras (my nude strapless bra was priceless there for everything I could wear it with)
• Nice dress/skirt (to go out in)
• Nice tops/skirts (something for events such as formal dinners or an opera/show/etc.)
• PJ’s/comfy clothes (pajamas can easily be re-worn at night, so don’t waste much space on these)
• Tennis Shoes and workout clothes if you want
• Flats (comfortable ones that are okay to get beat up from the cobblestone street!)
• Walking shoes other than Tennis shoes (I took an awesome pair of Sperry’s that held up wonderfully. I still wear them!)
• House Shoes (flip flops – the apartment floors will turn your feet black!)
• A warm jacket! I did not take one and had to buy one, which was nice if you want to spend the money, but they can be pricey so pack one if you want to save some cash

Accessories
• Passport/Visa COPIES (put one in every piece of luggage/bag/purse that you take)
• Empty water bottle (reusable bottle saves tons of money)
• Box of plastic baggies (snack size/ sandwich size is fine)
• 2 boxes of tampons/and or pads
• Small bottles of shampoo, soap, mouthwash, toothpaste
• Face wash
• Makeup remover
• Makeup
• Nail polish (3)
• Hairbrush
• Toothbrush/toothpaste
• Straightener/hairdryer (my straightener did not work in Italy, and they can be ruined by the power outlets. I bought my own hair dryer there for about ten dollars)
• Medicine/supplies (cold/flu, Tylenol, Motrin, cough drops, antibacterial cream, band-aids, pain killers… etc)
• Beach towel for first week
• European ADAPTER (make sure the voltage is appropriate for laptops, phones, straighteners/hair dryers… etc) find one at Radio Shack
• Laptop/phone/camera – all with chargers
• Money holder/wallet/purse
• Money for the first couple days (I started by transferring 500 dollars into euro at my bank)
• Planner for school, folders, pens, pencils, and school books (school supplies can look slightly different from ours abroad)
• Masking tape/double sided tape
• Photos from home to put in your room

What items would you add to the list that you can’t live without?

Preparing for a New Culture

Mentally preparing yourself for your trip is a sure way to get even more excited and to have an easier transition going abroad. In my case, I wanted to learn more about the culture of Italy, get ideas on places to visit, and learn some common useful phrases.

While I know that I cannot fully trust movies and books to be completely realistic, I turned to literature and film to get inspired. I did a quick Google search to look up books and movies based in Italy, but I also looked for stories based in places that I knew I wanted to visit (such as Paris, London, Barcelona, etc.).

Movies

Most of the movies are in English, but I did watch two that were in foreign languages with subtitles, just for the fun of it. I think a movie created in its home country in the native language offers more value than an American-made film. You might as well start getting used to the dialect difference now, anyway! 

My list included a couple of popular young-adult movies that I enjoyed when I was younger, so it was exciting to re-watch them as a college student. When I was ten-years-old I never dreamt I would see these places in real life! (It turns out a lot of the girls on the trip had watched these movies, too!) I found these at my local library but they can also be purchased at Amazon.

  • The Lizzie McGuire Movie
  • Letters to Juliet
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
  • The Cheetah Girls 2
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary
  • Under the Tuscan Sun
  • Roman Holiday
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • Paris, Je T’aime

Books
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A couple of the books I read were for entertainment, but more importantly I bought informational books about Italy to take abroad with me. These included a conversational book and a guidebook to Italy from the Bam! bookstore . The guidebook was great for places to visit, places to stay and eat by price, methods to travel, routes to see different cities within a short time, a fold-out map was included, and so much more handy information was in this thick text.The Fast Talk Italian was great to learn some key phrases since I had never taken an Italian language class before. It shows pronunciations, too, which is probably the most helpful part. It was tiny and compact so it could even fit in my purse to go everywhere I went.

    • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
    • The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper
    • Frommer’s Italy 2013
    • Lonely Planet’s Fast Talk Italian

Apps

Another great tool to use for language is your smart phone! Prior to my trip, I installed multiple free apps on my phone from iTunes. I had an Italian phrasebook, dictionary, “tutor”, and translator. These were even better than the book pronunciations because you can listen to them being said from your phone. You can also type in any sentence or work that you want to know and have it translated from English to multiple other languages.Another app I installed was an Italian radio app, which was cool to listen to. It is another part of the culture to experience, and you won’t hear much of it unless your apartment has a radio. Surprisingly, most shops and bars in Italy play American music, so get the app and get yourself out of the American mindset!

Going Abroad: The Pre-Fun Work

Note: If you are already done with the paperwork and are ready for the fun stuff, skip this post and read the next one!

So you’ve made the leap – you’ve decided to study abroad. While this is quite possibly one of the most wonderful decisions you will ever make, prepare yourself for some pre-travel work. This is assuming you’ve already done the work to get accepted (which may change from school to school.) In the case of the Kent State University’s College of Communication and Information, I had to complete the application form, provide two letters of recommendations, write a letter to the dean of my college, have at least a 2.7 GPA, and reassure the school that I was financially capable… all before I was even accepted. You can check the requirements of KSU College of Communication and Information study abroad here and even more abroad opportunities at this KSU page.

Now after you get notified that you have been accepted, do your happy dance, call your mom, and maybe cry a little. Then it’s time to jump through some more hoops. Here is a list of things you will need from this point forward.

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  • A Passport: This is the most important thing you will need – you cannot leave the country without it! As soon as you get accepted into your abroad program, apply. Mine took three weeks to be approved and sent back, but it could take up to a few months to get approved and returned so give yourself plenty of time. To print the application, go to this government page.
  • Passport Photos: When you submit your passport application, you must include a passport photo. These are usually professionally done rather than taken at home because they require a white background and exact dimensions. These requirements are here. The photo can be taken at most places that offer photo services such as Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS. I got mine done at CVS, and was surprised at the cost. It is a bit expensive, so I had one passport photo taken and printed, then I used the CVS photo copier to make my own copies – this was a much cheaper option. To be safe, I printed eight copies.
  • Student Visa: The student Visa was an easier process. This ensured that I could stay in the EU for four months without getting kicked out of the country. After I had my passport approved and returned, I gave my passport to the student director of global affairs and she submitted it for Visa approval by the Italian government. You will need to submit a couple of extra copies of your passport photo with your visa application. If you aren’t sure how to get yours, ask your abroad advisor, but make sure you get this! It will be put directly into your passport and returned to you.
  • Copies, Copies, Copies! I made copies of all my important documents, and I made a lot of them. Put your passport, student visa, driver’s license, insurance cards, social security card – everything you are comfortable copying and might need- into a scanner and print out copies on computer paper. I had copies for each of my suitcases, my laptop bag, travel bag, purse, book bag, apartment, etc. Anywhere I went I had copies of these important documents so I was never without identity. Of course, be careful with these. Keep track of them and keep them somewhere safe.

While there may be other documents your advisor asks for, these will be the most crucial to have. It may seem overwhelming, but they are actually pretty easy to obtain (especially with the help from an advisor). So go get them and make sure you pack them away in your suitcase so they don’t get lost in the months leading up to your trip!