Item 1: Passport
Don’t have one? Get one. Have one? Check the expiration date. If it will expire while you are abroad, take care of the renewal now. Passports can sometimes be rush-delivered if you pay an extra fee, but it is best to have this item checked off of your list as early as possible.
Pro tip: Make copies of your passport to leave with a family member or friend at home. (You can also pack a copy in each of your travel bags.) This can expedite the replacement process should your passport be lost or stolen.
Item 2: Health
While medical care in Germany is top-notch, it is a good idea to visit your doctor before you leave and to stock up on any prescription medications you will need while you are away. Take care of any routine appointments—like a visit to the dentist—before your trip as well. Unless you are excited to try out your doctor’s office vocabulary, these appointments will be less stressful to navigate in your native language.
Item 3: Paperwork
Depending on your exchange program you may need to book anything from your own insurance to a plane ticket. Check with your program to make sure you know what they are taking care of and what you are expected to handle.
Item 4: Luggage
Packing for a six to 12 month journey can be daunting—especially when airline luggage limits restrict what you can bring. Prioritize before you begin packing by making a list of items you use everyday. Then make a second list of items you would like to bring but that you can live without or that can be bought when you arrive. Don’t forget to leave room for the presents and souvenirs that you will want to bring home at the end of the trip!
Designate a table or space on the floor of your room and put out all of the items you want to bring several days before you have to finish packing. This will give you a chance to think about what you may have forgotten and to put items back that you won’t need after all.
Pro tip: Be sure to check the weather before you pack so you don’t end up with a heap of sweaters when Germany is in shorts and sandals or vice versa.
If you’re stressed about packing, just remember: anything you forget can be replaced with a purchase once you arrive. Consider budgeting some extra cash specifically for this purpose. You might prefer this method; even German shampoo can feel like an exotic souvenir during that first trip.
Item 5: Mind
Going abroad can be mentally jarring: the constant flood of new impressions, the cultural differences, and the distance from familiar friends and family. Mentally preparing yourself for the experience can help you cope with the transition.
Read up on your destination both online and off. Talk to friends and family about what you (and they) can do if you’re feeling overwhelmed or sad during the initial transition and how you’ll communicate. Apps like Skype and What’s App make international communication easy, but check with your host family on whether you will be able to use your phone and/or laptop when you arrive.
Most importantly keep an open mind. There will be things that delight you and things that annoy you about the German culture. Enjoy the good, and try not to dwell on the bad; both will make great stories once you go back home.