I like lists. They help me stay on top of everything I juggle. Here are two that may give you a sense of the work it takes to study abroad (the reward will be sweet, though, I'm sure!):
Things I've done in prep for Cork:
- Applied to study abroad with SMC. That included a bunch of research on programs (there are about 5 U.S. programs that SMC has approved that offer study abroad in Cork...and I'm VERY indecisive), getting lots of signatures and a few letters for recommendation, writing a personal statement, etc. Basically a few meetings with SMC's study abroad advisor, Peggy Imai, a few phone calls to programs, a lot of running around, and some writing.
- Applied to the study abroad through API (Academic Programs International, the program I finally selected). Perks of this program include a trip to Paris -- obviously couldn't turn that one down. API helped me then apply to study at UCC (University College Cork -- it actually has a longer name that states it's part of the national university system), the 14,000-student school I'll be studying at. They have about 2,000 international students each year -- that's the number of kids at SMC.
- Filled out a billion and one forms: health forms, flight forms, housing forms...sign this, print that, send this one in, get a notary to stamp this, etc. etc. Lots of things to complete, but API mapped it out pretty well. Technological errors screwed me up a bit, but the staff was nice and helpful.
- Completed online orientation for API and UCC. I think I've done this...there are parts that I can't finish till I get there (i.e. I don't know my address yet -- normally not knowing exactly where I'm living would freak me out, but I'm actually excited that I won't know details till I'm there). This was just some reading to help me prepare for the trip and for UCC.
- PACK. I need to clear a place in my room where I can spread everything out and then cut out all of the unnecessary items I may or may not use. My plan is to start this process this afternoon.
- Open a (better) bank account. In Ireland, Americans don't need visas, but we do need Irish Identification Cards. To get one, I have to fork over about 300 Euro and prove that I have more money on hand should I need to stay in the country longer than expected. The bank system is much more limited over there too; there aren't a whole slew of banks to choose from. The economy in Ireland isn't so hot right now, so I'm going to stick to an American bank and rely on ATM access if I need it. My current bank has a bunch of processing and international fees attached to it, so I need to switch.
- Shop for essentials I don't have. I don't want to get stuck in Cork without sunscreen (apparently pretty expensive over there).
- GO. Say my goodbyes and get on that plane.
The flip side of this Irish genealogy search is my German heritage. My grandmother came to the U.S. to marry my grandfather after WWII. All of her family members, most of whom I have never met, are still in Germany. (This will be my first trip to Europe.) After my program is over, I'm flying to Munich to (finally!) meet some of my great aunts and uncles, and second cousins. I haven't spoken much German lately, but I think I know enough to carry a conversation. I'll also hopefully be visiting a friend in Wegberg (outside of Duesseldorf). My main goals in spending a few weeks in Deutschland are to get to know my mom's side of the family better, buy fun Birks, eat breakfast pretzels to my heart's content, and buy a dirndl (just to say I own one).
Other trip ideas/plans include: all over Ireland (definitely the Republic, though I may make a trip up to Derry in Northern Ireland), Paris (at least once with my program, hopefully again to visit my roomies!), Rome (for Easter! -- a Catholic's dream), and the Greek Isles (the only place I absolutely HAVE to go while I'm in Europe; I'll regret it if I don't go). We'll see how realistic these plans are...my family and friends shouldn't expect any souvenirs -- sorry, but my money will be spent on travel! I've heard that's the best way to do it.
I should get going. It's great to plan things out, but now I need to get cracking!