7 Books to Read Before You Go Abroad

by Rachel Simon
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This September, I'm heading off to Prague, where I'll be living for three months during study abroad. There are a thousand things I should be doing to prepare — shopping for clothes, learning about the Czech Republic, figuring out what's up with that exchange rate — so, naturally, I'm choosing to ignore all that and read a lot of books instead. To my happy surprise, though, I've discovered that my procrastination is actually paying off; while it may not have been my intention, it turns out that a fair number of my recent reads are actually pretty good preparation for my upcoming trip overseas.

None of these books were travel guides, and most of them weren't even about studying abroad. Still, they all have definitely helped me get ready for my semester overseas, whether that meant figuring out which countries to visit or learning how to say "will you please pass the pasta?" in Italian. And sure, reading a bunch of novels isn't quite as crucial to travel preparation as learning about currencies or buying a new peacoat, but hey, it's something. At least, that's what I'm telling my mom every time she asks me what I've done so far to get ready for Prague. Seven books to read before studying abroad:

Abroad by Katie Crouch

It may seem odd to call a book about murder a must-read list for study abroad, but hear me out: Abroad is actually a great "what not to do while studying in Europe" read, thanks to its main character a) not living with her program b) making friends with drug dealers c) generally forgoing rational decision making and d) getting killed. Nothing like a book told from the perspective of Amanda Knox's victim to make you think twice about whom you befriend during study abroad.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, your time abroad will (probably) not include traveling the world on an unlimited budget, discovering your sense of self, and falling in love with a Brazilian businessman. Even still, there's nothing wrong with going into your trip filled with optimism of things to come, and that's where Gilbert's inspiring memoir comes in handy.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Zimbabwean girl moves to the Midwest. Talk about culture shock.

Rosie Dunne by Cecilia Ahern

The second novel from Cecilia Ahern (P.S. I Love You), Rosie Dunne isn't about being abroad, per se, but the change in relationships that's bound to occur when close people move away from one another. As Irish schoolmates Alex and Rosie deal with the former's relocation to Boston, they confront all of the issues you'll undoubtedly face when leaving to go abroad — can long-distance relationships truly work? How much communication is enough? What do you do when two best friends live on opposite sides of the world?

Going Abroad: The Bathroom Survival Guide by Eva Newman

My first thought upon finding this book in a Google search: There is no way I am putting this on the list. My second thought: Well, actually... This unique guidebook teaches the reader everything she would ever need to know about foreign toilets, from etiquette to function, trenches to bidets. Weird, but helpful.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

This 2007 novel by acclaimed British author Guo explores the themes of language, love, and extremely harsh culture shock. It's a beautiful and original book, relatable to any person who's ever felt awkward and out of place — meaning everyone, so get your hands on a copy and start reading.

Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo edited by Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick and Christina Henry de Tessan

One of the biggest pieces of advice I've gotten from friends who've studied abroad is to do at least a few days of traveling on my own. Plan trips with friends, of course, but make sure to leave a bit of time just for yourself, because this might be the only time in your life you get to travel wherever you want, when you want, completely alone. This essay collection features the tales of 23 women who've traveled solo, in places ranging from Borneo to Uzbekistan. Their stories prove that "alone doesn't have to lonely," as the book's jacket says, but more than that, they provide smart, experienced encouragement for those of us considering venturing off for a few days by ourselves.