True Story: I spent the day before I left for my first year at university haphazardly hurling clothing at my mother from the top of the stairs. My family had been begging me to pack for weeks and to this day my mother thinks that my refusal to do so indicated some deep-seeded tension about leaving my family, friends, and significant other to go away to school. The reality, of course, is much less scintillating... I just hate packing. Since that sunny August day I've packed up my life more times than I can count. Between school, studying abroad, and jobs I haven't lived in the same place for more than 10 months since that first trip up to school. . It's a life-style that I've picked for myself and for the most part I enjoy it; however its forced me to become an expert in something I still hate... packing.
Packing up your life in preparation for study abroad is different from most packing because it's more like packing for an extended trip than anything else. Still, it's easy to get sucked into the idea that you need to bring the entire contents of your apartment with you in order to be happy. Take it from a girl who has both spent her last dollar paying for overweight luggage and traveled Sub-Saharan with only a carry on sized bag; there is a big difference between what you want and what you need:
What you want: Your entire wardrobe and everything from your dorm room
What you need: To not be naked and to have something to read
It can be really difficult to pare down one's wardrobe to the bare essentials, but that is what you have to do when you're packing for study abroad. When it comes to clothing the two most important considerations to make are:
1) what season(s) will you be there for, and
2) is it possible to buy clothing there.
There are many locations where purchasing clothing will just not be possible (for one reason or another) but if you are not studying in one of those locations, it is impractical to assume that you won't go shopping and add some local flavor to your wardrobe.
When it comes to entertainment the important thing to remember is to strike a balance. Bring one or two books and for the rest rely on your fellow study abroaders and learn to love reading from the e-reader app on your iPod (sounds horrific, I know). Bring your dessert island DVDs and explore the rest of the world of entertainment through tips from friends and people like us.
Think "What's the worst that can happen?"
Before you decide to pack anything take a moment to contemplate what the worst thing that could happen if you don't have that item is. If its "I'll be stuck with only 2 blue shirts" you might be fine leaving it at home. On the other hand if it's: "I might go into anaphylactic shock and die" then by all means fill your suitcase with that bad boy.
Do your research and know what your "must haves" are
No, this doesn't mean your own personal must haves, this means figure out the things it will be impossible to buy in your host country. In some places floss just isn't available and all of the sunscreen has skin whitening cream in it (I'm looking at you China!) so accommodating a year long supply in your luggage is actually necessary (bonus: even though it will suck on the way there, you'll have a whole lot of extra space on the way back).