Preparing to Study Abroad: Tips and Advice

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    Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity. That said, it can feel overwhelming. From financial aid and budgeting to navigating culture shock and homesickness, studying abroad requires some serious planning and reflection. Many students find themselves wondering at some point in their career: is it necessary to study abroad? should I study abroad? and when should I study abroad?  

    Typically college students study abroad during either the fall or spring of their junior year. Several factors can affect whether a student chooses to study abroad either during the fall or spring semester. Usually, these factors include graduation requirements when particular courses are offered, and even climate— depending on the country they’re visiting.

    There are many reasons why students should study abroad in college. That said, studying abroad is a big financial, emotional, and logistical decision. Everyone has different preferences and goals. If studying abroad won’t help you reach your goals, don’t feel pressured by your peers to do so. Remember, everyone is different.

    Make a list of questions to ask a study abroad advisor and schedule a meeting with them so you can thoroughly discuss your thoughts, feelings, and questions. Plan to do this as early as your freshman year. In the meantime, read on for some valuable study abroad tips!

    Is study abroad affordable?

    Study abroad programs can be expensive. Some schools don’t offer financial aid while students are abroad while others do. It all depends on your college. This is why it is important to sit down with someone in the financial aid office to discuss your options thoroughly and ensure that you understand your financial aid package

    This is also a great time to learn more about financial planning in college and personal budgeting strategies. Get a summer and/or on-campus job and start saving early. This is key to knowing how to budget for study abroad. You will also want to research and apply to study abroad scholarships. 

    How to approach culture shock

    Knowing how to manage your anxiety at college takes on even more importance while studying abroad. You will likely experience moments of homesickness. You may also, however, experience culture shock, especially if you are traveling somewhere outside of Europe. 

    The best way to navigate culture shock is to keep an open mind and be respectful. One of the primary benefits of studying abroad is cultural enrichment. Allow yourself to approach new experiences with curiosity and a willingness to learn and ask questions. Step outside your comfort zone and try to make some local friends. 

    How to navigate language barriers

    One of the most important tips for studying abroad is to familiarize yourself with the local language. If you are studying the language while you are abroad, challenge yourself to limit your use of English. This will be especially helpful if you are living with a host family. Keep in mind, that foreign language immersion is a valuable opportunity. Do your best to make the most of it!

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    There will likely be times while you are abroad when there is a language barrier. Always be respectful and display a willingness to try to speak the local language. A little effort can go a long way!

    5 key steps for planning your trip

    The best way to know how to prepare for study abroad is to plan ahead and start early. This will help you avoid scheduling and logistical conflicts, like rushed passports, late visas, and last-minute flights. Consider some of the following study abroad advice to help you get started.  

    01

    Research the country before arriving

    This one might seem obvious, but always research the country you are visiting prior to your arrival. Not only will this help you feel more prepared, but it will also help you know what opportunities and experiences may be available for you. It is also a sign of respect. You don’t want to arrive in a new country without any background knowledge. Conducting research ahead of time will also help you gain a better understanding of the social and political climate, as well as any relevant health and safety tips you should be aware of before your departure. 

    02

    Get your passport and visa early

    A passport application takes 8-11 weeks to process. Shipping times vary. An “expedited” passport takes 5-7 weeks to process and costs an additional $60. That said, it’s best to plan ahead and aim to get your passport at least three months before your date of departure. The earlier, however, the better! 

    Depending on the country you are visiting, you may also need to apply for a visa. This can be a lengthy process and processing times can vary greatly depending on the country. Conduct your initial research early. Find out how long a visa usually takes to process and go from there. Remember to give yourself plenty of time! Not having your visa means not entering the country. 

    03

    Know what to bring

    Now, let’s consider some packing tips for study abroad. Your study abroad program will likely provide you with a study abroad preparation checklist. Each program and each country is different so ask lots of questions and read all of your study abroad documents and materials carefully. 

    Pack according to the weather and climate. Depending on the country you are traveling to, you will likely be able to buy items such as toiletries and school supplies upon arrival. This is not always the case, however. That said, try your best to pack light. After all, you’ll most likely end up returning home with a much heavier suitcase!

    04

    Don’t buy your return flight right away

    If possible, don’t schedule your return flight right away. You may end up wanting to extend your stay after the semester is over so you can do some independent travel. Also, emergencies do happen and if you need to return home early, it’s better not to have to buy another ticket. 

    05

    Buy a local SIM card

    Communication will be important while you are abroad. The most cost-effective solution is to buy a local SIM card

    upon arrival. Some students will try to only use WIFI on their phones while they are abroad. That said, there may be moments when you do not have WIFI and will need to make a call. Rather than be charged large fees for emergency calls, plan ahead and buy a local SIM card.

    Debit cards, credit cards, and exchanging currency

    While you are abroad, be aware of exchange rates. It can feel confusing to stick to a budget when you are not familiar with a currency. Monitor your spending and periodically calculate your spending into dollar amounts. Depending on the country you are visiting, you may also want to arrive with some local currency. 

    Typically, currency exchange shops at the airport are not the best place to go, as they charge high fees. Visit your bank before departing and ask about exchanging currency there. If you need a significant amount, you may need to wait a few days for your bank to secure enough of said currency. You will also want to get a debit and/or credit card with minimal to no foreign transaction fees. This is crucial and will require you to plan ahead. 

    Health concerns while studying abroad

    Health and safety tips are the most important advice for studying abroad. Let’s take a look at a few health concerns to start: Be aware of food poisoning. Are there certain foods you should try to avoid? Is the water safe to drink? Do you need a special filtration system? If the water isn’t safe to consume, you will want to avoid eating raw vegetables and fruit. You will also want to avoid getting ice in your drinks. 

    Meet with your study abroad advisor. Are there any recommended vaccines or medications you should be taking? For example, do you need a rabies shot? Do you need to take an antimalarial medication? This answer will vary greatly depending on what country you are visiting. It’s also important to remember that travel vaccines can be expensive. Keep this in mind as you budget for your trip.

    While preparing to study abroad, visit your doctor for a wellness visit. If you take any prescription medications, ask your doctor about the best way to proceed. Some countries may not have access to your prescribed medication. If this is the case, you will need to travel with enough pills to safely make it through your time abroad. 

    Safety concerns while studying abroad

    Now, let’s discuss some basic safety tips. First off, keep your passport safe! American passports are incredibly valuable. Keep your passport safe on your person; a good option for this is to wear a travel pouch around your neck that you tuck into your shirt. Otherwise, keep your passport in a locked suitcase. Also, always be mindful of who you let handle your passport. 

    Finally, have fun but be responsible. Many students abroad will choose to drink, especially if the drinking age is 18. Drink responsibly! You are in an unfamiliar location and should avoid putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Always travel in pairs. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Avoid drinking to excess. 

    And remember, this is a new country with different laws. You do not want to get in any legal trouble on account of drinking! Respect the local laws and be aware of the local culture and customs. 

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    There is lots of advice for study abroad. Some of these tips are logistical and deal with visas, flights, and exchange rates, and some of these tips concern safety. It’s important to be prepared and to prioritize your safety while you are abroad. But don’t forget to have fun! 

    Yes, you should continue to take your classes seriously, but don’t spend all of your time studying. Purposefully take a lighter course load. It’s also okay to occasionally miss a class so you can make the most of the cultural opportunities available to you. 

    You will also want to keep a journal, write letters back home, and take lots of photographs! Many students even decide to start a travel blog. Enjoy your time abroad and do your best to make the most of every opportunity. If you have questions or concerns about studying abroad, reach out to learn more about our services

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