As an international student, I’ve learned what’s needed at university the hard way. When I needed something urgently and I didn’t have money, I couldn’t easily run to my parents and ask for some quick cash. Throughout my semester at the University of Pennsylvania this happened a lot of times – a truly embarrassing amount.

So here’s a complete list of things I forgot about to help save you from making the same mistakes.

Clothing for all weather

This might seem obvious, but I come from a country where temperature outside = temperature inside. I assumed it would be the same at university. I was going during the winter, therefore I only needed winter clothes. As it turned out buildings feel like summertime indoors, and winter clothes would never work for days spent indoors. Pack for all occasions, even if you don’t think they’ll happen. Bonus Tip: If you come from a place where it doesn’t snow, buy snow shoes. You will fall without them.

Use your dining hall

I spent an embarrassing amount of money on groceries like salt, honey and fruits until I realised that I could go to an (already paid for) dining hall and grab a few things from there. You might have to sneakily grab some things depending on your university’s policies, but it’s worth it. Save your money. Being a student is hard enough without being completely broke.

Food from home

Adjusting to a new place is already tough. Make your life easier by packing in a few things that remind you of home. Personally, I packed Rooibos Tea and a few of my favourite spices that are only made at home – I can recommend Flippen Lekker for all of my South African friends. This means that every now and then you can indulge in something that’s familiar and comfortable as well as give your friends a chance to try. If you can’t take food, try taking recipes if you have facilities to cook.

If you focus on these three things, you’ll definitely not have the struggles that I did. Make no mistake – you’ll experience your own obstacles! However, that’s all part of the fun of learning independence and self-sufficiency. Take it in your stride.

Written by Gabrielle Coetzee