Pre-Departure Tips 101
Editor’s Note: As summer will fade away really soon, the season of studying abroad in the fall will start immediately. Going to a foreign country could be very daunting, but you can certainly have more preparations while at home. In this article, Indonesia Mengglobal’s contributor is keen to share valuable tips that you can consider doing prior to your departure date.
Imagine that you have your student visa and flight ticket ready, and you’re filled with enthusiasm and excitement to start a new chapter in your life. Usually, during this time, a certain anxiety will creep in and you will start to worry: Have I prepared everything? What else do I need to prepare?
Knowing that you will stay in a new city for one or two year(s), there are some essential things that you need to prepare to make your life easier in your new home. In this article, I want to share my experience in preparing my move to Boston for my master’s study back in 2015.
This might be the most important thing to prepare. In my opinion, it is not just a place or a room, but it will be your sanctuary, your home away from home. Usually, the university offers some prospective place to stay: either the university dorms or other recommended housings.
In my case, the dorm was expensive and did not quite match my budget. So, I got my first housing through Craigslist (https://boston.craigslist.org). It might need a while to find a suitable one since that site offers various kinds of places (so please start early!). Here are some tricks that might be useful in finding a place to stay if you are using websites:
- Do research in advance on which area you prefer to live. Make sure that it is within walking/biking/public transport-distance to your campus (thanks to google map!).
- Write an email or message template to contact possible landlords so that you can reach them out as many as possible efficiently
- Don’t be embarrassed to ask more detailed questions, such as: how many people are you sharing the place with? Are they also students? What are some of the house rules (how often do they party? Do they allow guests to stay over? Are smoking inside allowed?) Do they have pets? What facilities are available (wifi, cable, parking space, etc)? If they don’t provide many photos, you can always ask for more photos. Also, if you have friends in the designated city, you can ask them to go check out the house for you.
- You should only pay the deposit only when you are absolutely certain that the house is a good fit for you. Keep in mind of your housing agreement date and plan your flight accordingly because in most cases, your landlord won’t allow you to move in earlier than the agreed date. Always keep (and make copies) of your receipt and housing agreement.
Besides through online market, you might also consider using the available networks for Indonesian student. For example, contacting Indonesian student community (e.g. PERMIAS in my case) might be useful. If you are lucky, some Indonesian students might be graduating and you would be able to rent the spaces they vacated.
If you have information regarding other incoming Indonesian students, you can also contact them to ask if they already find housing and perhaps you can join forces to rent a house together, if that’s what you’d prefer.
Luckily, I knew someone in Boston (a friend and a friend’s friend) who kindly shared a place to stay for the first week before I could move in to my housing. If you haven’t found your housing or apartment by the time you land, Airbnb is also a good option for a temporary stay until you secure a housing.
- SIM Card
This might be the first thing I looked for after landing in Boston. There are several providers that you can choose, with each provider offers different plans. The services usually cover data plan as well as calls and SMS fees. Do a little research to compare their services and whether it’s compatible with your specific needs to connect with friends and family both at your school and at home. In my experience, I did not need many minutes as a student, so I opted a plan which allowed unlimited data instead.
I bought AT&T right away since it is known to have a good coverage across the USA. There are also some other options that offer good package, such as T-Mobile and Verizon. In my opinion, to choose which provider you want to use, make sure that it has strong coverage at your place. Sometimes certain providers don’t work very well in certain areas. In addition, you might also be interested in obtaining a family plan, which is a shared phone bill that you can join with a couple friends (or family), since it will offer you a better deal.
- Bank Account
Which bank should you choose? Please consider your needs and assess which bank’s services would be suitable for you. For instance, if you think you would travel often, it would be good to select a bank that has branches in various states in the USA. If you would need to use money transfer services to send money from home or vice versa, then you would look for a bank that offers the best rate for this particular need.
In my case, I chose the one whose branch is located near my campus so it would be easy to access. I was also looking for the one that did not charge exorbitant admin fee. In my case, I chose Citibank (unfortunately by the time this article is written, Citibank has closed the branches in Massachusetts). Some other options were Bank of America and Citizens Bank. The options might differ to many cities in the USA; depending on the location. I did not really need an ATM machine at that time, since all transactions were usually cashless (using debit or credit card). It’s very common in the USA to buy even USD 2 worth of coffee with card, and we could even withdraw some money in grocery stores. I also chose Citibank because we could get a credit card after 3 months of living in Boston, which offers me a good deal of discount, cash back and others things.
- Clothes and carry-ons
Depending on where you will be going to study for the next couple of months or years, your clothing needs will be different from one season to another. It is good to prepare for the long term, but at the very least you need to be prepared for when you first arrive in the location. You don’t want to be freezing the moment you step outside the airport. In some parts of the world, it will be cold while others will be hot. Make sure you know how it is like in your area.
I moved to Boston in January 2015, and at that time it was not only winter there, but with a blizzard as a bonus. I bought some winter coats in Jakarta, but unfortunately they weren’t made for Boston winter (yes, winter is coming!) and thus I treated them more as a spring jacket. So, there’s a chance that you might find more appropriate winter coat in your destination instead of in Indonesia. It’s possible to find affordable clothing if you need to buy winter clothing in the US, typically in second-hand stores (usually available near campus areas), or in large retails such as Target or TJ Maxx. I’d suggest to just bring some clothes that are more basic to wear (and make sure you like them) such as thermal wears (like long johns) and windbreakers jackets.
Also, be prepared to bring some business attire (that might be useful for attending seminar, presentation or job interview) and some Indonesian clothing (batik, ulos, ikat) to represent Indonesia during cultural events.
It is also recommended to also bring several souvenirs from Indonesia (key chains, fridge magnets, batik sandals/scarves, etc) that would be easy to carry for you to give as presents. The university typically hosts several international students gatherings during orientation week, and sometimes students exchange gifts from their home countries. It would be a good way to introduce Indonesia while making new friends. You will also be getting a lot of help in your first couple of weeks (and throughout your study) that it would be useful to have small presents in hand to show that you are appreciative of all the help you are getting.
- To-Buy List
There are several things that you might buy immediately (in your first week or so) that will make you feel like home, but that you won’t necessarily want to bring them from Indonesia. For such cases, I would recommend preparing a to-buy list for your first week of arrival. In my case, rice cooker was one of the top lists. Once you’re there, you can ask around to see where you can get those things in the list. Depending on the location that you will be staying, the ease of getting certain things might vary so you may consider using the e-commerce sites. You can also buy it second hand from the Indonesian network, as graduating students will normally sell (or give) away things they don’t want to carry home.
If you arrive in Boston (or any other cities) in fall, and the city is bike-friendly, getting a bicycle can also be an excellent investment to make at the start your journey. I bought a bike in the beginning of summer break during my first year. You can look for an affordable bike through online market or visiting some bike shops. Buying a bike in Boston was the best decision in my student life as I was able to explore the city while also staying healthy.
Through my experience, I learned that you don’t need to have everything before you leave. Unlike securing a housing, opening a bank account and buying sim card are typically only done within your first couple of days of arrival. However, this doesn’t mean that you couldn’t start preparing for it beforehand: you could already start browsing different phone pricing packages or locating the nearest provider’s office in the comfort of your home.
Ultimately, the best preparation would be to start contacting people who might be able to help you transition easier such as contacting PERMIAS in your city. If you don’t know anyone living in your designated city, you can start asking around your friends if they know anyone (who knows anyone) there. Once you get contact info of these people living in the area, do not hesitate to contact them so you can ask more details what items and other preparation you can do before you leave. You can ask for help, and in exchange you can carry items for them from Indonesia. Just remember that the ancient old saying of “you will get lost if you are shy to ask” is a golden rule for a reason. Good luck!
All photos are provided by author.
Andrea Adhi currently works as a research associate at J-PAL Southeast Asia. Prior to joining J-PAL, she worked at the Republic of Indonesia’s National Team for Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K). She was a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellow in 2014. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree from Universitas Gadjah Mada in 2012 and a master’s degree from Boston University in 2016, both in economics major. In her spare time, Andrea enjoys watching art and music performance, playing piano and ukulele, or wandering around with her adventurous mind.