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Bring Your Hobby to Study Abroad (Especially if it's Ukulele)


Most study abroad packing tips focus on effectively cramming as much stuff into your bags as possible. If that’s the goal for study abroad packing, I have failed miserably. Rather than maximizing the opportunity to bring a carry on full of essentials and necessities, I opted to pack my checked bag extra strategically and I brought only one thing as carry on: my ukulele. It’s amazed me how many study abroad students forget to bring their hobbies with them abroad. Bringing my ukulele to study abroad in San José, Costa Rica, is one of the best packing decisions I made. You might be asking, "why?" Why would I dedicate my precious little space to a hobby? Won’t I be so busy having fun that I won’t have time for my hobbies? How would I transport my hobby with me to my study abroad site? Let me answer those for you.

Firstly, why should you pack a hobby? Whether it’s culture shock, the language barrier, or just having a bad day, there are going to be bad days during study abroad, and that’s okay! For me, when I got to Costa Rica, I was miserable for the first 24 hours. My flight was super delayed and I was exhausted. When I got here, I wanted nothing more than to feel like I was at home. I unpacked my ukulele and played a few songs in my room and it was so helpful in making me feel more at home. It became a ritual to play ukulele whenever I was feeling a little blue, a little lonely, or even just a little bored. Doing something that I would normally do at home in my new environment helped me transition smoothly by making a connection between the two.

Aren’t you going to be too busy having fun to spend time on your hobbies? Yes and no. You will be doing a lot of fun stuff on the weekends with friends and with CEA, but you will have plenty of downtime on weekdays and on the off days when you either can’t or don’t want to go out. If you’re feeling homesick or culture shocked, you will likely not want to go out. Whether your hobby is social or solitary, it will help you cope with those feelings. If it’s a little more social, you and use it as a tool to make new friends and connect with your host family.

 Tablets and phones are great options for taking your book and music collection with you.

So how are you going to transport your hobby with you? For me it was easy, but it did mean sacrificing some packing space. I planned this from the beginning, so I didn’t feel like I was actually losing any space. I packed my regular checked bag, and a backpack as my personal item. I packed my ukulele in a hard shell case and counted it as my carry on. This will be different depending on what your hobby is.and which airline you choose. If your hobby is drawing, you will probably be able to pack a sketchbook and pencils in one of your bags. But if your hobby is guitar, you will need to check with your airline about their rules for traveling with a guitar. The airline that I used for instance said on their website that you either need to check your guitar or buy an extra ticket and put it in the seat next to you. Maybe you can tweak your hobby slightly to make it more travel friendly, if you’re an avid vinyl collector or book reader, you could consider digitizing your collection or downloading some content before you go. Ebooks and MP3s don’t take up any space.

So whether your hobby is violin or needlepoint, I hope you’ll consider bringing it with you on your trip. My experience in studying abroad with my ukulele has been overwhelmingly helpful and positive. It’s arguably the best packing decision I made.

Cailin Hodgins Guentz is the Spring 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a senior at University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.

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