What does one pack for a semester (or year) of to study abroad?

The Christmas before I left for Spain, I received two large purple suitcases. In those suitcases, I had to fit all the contents on my life for the next four months, a task I thought impossible. But guess what? I succeeded and you will too.

Know the Culture
Take into account the kind of culture you are going to live in. For explain, in Spain it was not acceptable for men to wear jeans out to discotecas or nightclubs; slacks and a button down were the norm. Pack clothes that you can mix and match. I packed only a couple of pairs of pants and different tops to wear with them.

Check the Weather
Find out what the weather going to be like while you are abroad. In Spain, it was pretty cold for the majority of the semester, but started to warm up towards the end. Therefore, I packed mostly warm, winter clothes. Packing clothes you can layer is always a good idea, too.  One thing you don’t want to skimp on is the number of socks and underwear you bring.  I was lucky enough to have a host mom who did our laundry, but that is not the case for every program.  If you know you aren’t going to have time to do laundry at least once a week, make sure you have enough undergarments to get you through your traveling.

Stick to the Basics
The key lies in the mentality of simplicity. Ladies, I will tell you right now, you will not need to bring all 37 pairs of your high heeled shoes. Guys, you know that t-shirt collection you have? You might have to narrow down the v-necks as well.  A friend of mine studied abroad in Australia, and when he flew back to the U.S., his suitcase was too heavy. He had to start putting on all the clothes from his suitcase. On the plane, he and his friends looked like giant marshmallows with their 15 layers of shirts and sweatshirts and three pairs of jeans.

Forget the Excess
Only bring things with you during your time abroad that you have deemed necessary. Don’t bring any shampoo or soap or things like that, just buy it once you get to your location. Ladies, if the voltage of your host country isn’t the same as it is in the U.S. – DO NOT BRING YOUR OWN HAIR APPLIANCES. They will fry and break. My roommates and I just went in on a hair dryer and straightener and shared; it was cheap and worked out nicely.

Pack Some Essentials

  • an umbrella
  • alarm clock
  • smaller backpack/duffel (for weekend trips)
  • towel wrap (for traveling; some hostels charge you for towels)
  • sleep sack – it’s essentially a sleeping bag made out of a sheet that folds up really small and protects against bed bugs (yes, they are real!)
  • camera/charger
  • scheduler

Helpful Reminders

  • Rolling your clothes takes up much less space (Don’t forget, you most likely WILL buy clothes, gifts, etc. during your time abroad. Shipping things home gets very expensive, so don’t forget to leave room for your new purchases).
  • If you take any medication, make sure you get enough for the entire time abroad, trying to refill prescriptions abroad is a hassle and the host country may not have the same type/dosage as in the U.S.


Home Away From Home

When people ask me where I’m from, they’re usually asking what place I call home. Ever since I studied abroad in Madrid, this question becomes a little more complicated. While I am proud to say that I am from Kansas, as this is where my family still resides today, there is a part of my heart that will forever consider the beautiful apartment overlooking Calle Arenal in Madrid, Spain my second home. The reason I say this isn’t because of the wonderful location of my residence abroad, nor was it the magic of living in the middle of Madrid, but rather, what made this place my home away from home was my wonderful host family.

All the Comforts of Home

Sure, the idea of living with complete strangers in a foreign country is a little bit daunting. Speaking from experience, however, I can assure you that living with a host family was one of the best aspects of studying abroad. My host family consisted of a host dad, a host mom, a grandmother and a housekeeper. They were all more than welcoming, and really enjoyed having us around. I lived with six other girls in our apartment. That sounds like a lot of people for one apartment, but the accommodations were very spacious. We lived two to a room, but the rooms were so large that we easily could have fit three beds into a couple of them. My particular family had hosted up to nine girls in previous semesters, so we were very comfortable.

For the Madrid program, the host family provides two meals a day (breakfast and dinner), bedding and linens. Our host mom did our laundry and cleaned our rooms weekly and moreover provided us with a warm and homey environment. Talk about being pampered! Living with a host family put living in a dorm to shame.

Authentic Food and Fun

Living with a host family really forced me to immerse myself in the Spanish culture. Not only was living in an authentic Spanish residence a great way for me to practice and improve my Spanish, but I learned more about Spanish customs and traditions through my own personal experiences in my Spanish home.

The food was outstanding. My host mother made a different dish almost every night. I tried paella, tortilla de Espana, all different kinds of fish and some delicious Spanish desserts. My host parents really made an effort to share their lives with us. Dinner was the time during the day when we all came together and sat as a family to eat, talk and just enjoy each other’s company. Dinners were always so entertaining and fun. Some nights, dinner would take up to an hour and a half just because we had so much fun talking and laughing with our host parents. They were always around to answer any questions we had. They helped us figure out how to buy our metro passes, told us about neat places to travel to and encouraged us to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and get lost in the magic of Madrid.

Relationships That Last a Lifetime

I knew about a week after living in Spain that my relationship with my host family would continue past just my semester there. I still keep in contact with them via email and Facebook. The day I left Spain, I left a piece of my heart in Madrid. Living with a host family truly was a highlight of my semester abroad. My experiences only lasted a semester, but the memories I have I will cherish my entire life.



Madrid is the capital city of Spain, and the population of its metropolitan area includes more than 6 million people. Madrid is known for its art, architecture, cuisine, sports and music. It is home to several renowned museums, including the National Museum of the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia National Museum and Art Centre.

Madrid is home to the largest bullring in Spain, Las Ventas, established in 1929 and thought by many to be the center of bullfighting. It is also home to Real Madrid, a prestigious soccer team who has won a record nine European Cup championships.


Buen Retiro Park is one of Madrid’s most magnificent landmarks. Home to sculptures, monuments and the lake shown in this photo, it’s a retreat within the city.


Founded more than 45 years ago, the Madrid campus of Saint Louis University was the first foreign university to be officially recognized by Spanish higher education authorities. Classes are available in English and Spanish in more than 45 subject areas, ranging from international business to physics. Students live with host families, which helps them become fully immersed in Spanish culture.


To learn more about our campus in Madrid, Spain, visit their website.


The most difficult part of the study abroad process is applying. While there are numerous forms to fill out and things to do before you go, the Study Abroad office is here to help and make the process go a little bit more smoothly. However, two of the most important documents you will need to study abroad are your passport and visa. If you don’t already have a passport (it must be valid for up to six months after you return from being abroad) apply for one as soon as possible. After age 16, passports stay valid for 10 years so there is no need to wait to apply for one. Sometimes it can take a few months to get your passport, so the sooner you get yours, the better.

A visa is a stamp or sticker added to your passport that gives you permission to be in the host country for an extended period of time. You must have a passport in order to get a visa. If you’re studying abroad for less than 90 days, a visa isn’t required, but majority of the SLU-approved programs are semester-long and therefore require a visa. Visa requirements vary by country. It’s important that you check with the consulate of your host country in order to ensure that you have everything you need to make the appointment to get your visa. If you’re studying abroad at SLU’s campus in Madrid, you’re allowed to use SLU’s visa service and the Study Abroad office will go pick up your visas for you.

The Study Abroad website provides much more information on how visas work and what you need to do to apply for one.



Heidelberg is one of Germany’s most beautiful cities, known for its friendly, relaxed approach to life. It hosts a wide range of cultural activities such as theater, dance and music, and all types of shops, pubs and sports facilities. Heidelberg is on the Neckar River in southwestern Germany, one of the sunniest and warmest corners of the country.

Heidelberg is the site of the earliest evidence of human life in Europe; A fossilized jaw was discovered there in 1907, and scientists dated it from 600,000 to 200,000 years old. The library of Heidelberg was founded in 1421, and is the oldest intact public library in Germany. The city is also home to Heidelberg Castle, which dates back to the 11th century, and the University of Heidelberg, which is one of Europe’s oldest educational institutions.


Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair. It is held annually in Munich, attracts more than 5 million people and lasts 16 days. This year’s Oktoberfest began on Saturday, Sept. 22. Festival participants consume Oktoberfest beer, sauerkraut, sausages and other German foods. All beer served at Oktoberfest must be brewed within the city limits of Munich.

Every year, young people who attend the festival tend to overestimate their ability to tolerate alcohol, and forget that Oktoberfest beer has high percentages of alcohol and sugar compared to other German beer. Those who pass out due to intoxication are referred to as “Bierleichen,” which translates to “beer corpses.”


The program is administered by the American Junior Year at Heidelberg College in Ohio in cooperation with Saint Louis University. All instruction is in German. Students live in a dormitory or in a shared apartment (Wohngemeinschaft) with German students, and choose to spend a semester or a year in Heidelberg through this program.


To learn more about our study abroad program in Heidelberg, Germany, visit our website.

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