Studying abroad is a quintessential part of the undergraduate experience. Those who are lucky enough to do it speak volumes about their time overseas, and would do it all over again if given the opportunity.
Welcome to Part II of our Tips For Studying Abroad Series. Follow these tips and tricks and you will be well-prepared for an exciting and safe time! You can read part I here.
Plan Trips and Excursions in Advance
You’re studying abroad. ABROAD. Meaning, in a country (possibly even on a continent) that you do not live in. Take advantage! You don’t study abroad simply to go from home to class every day; you go abroad to experience a new place and culture! Figure out what you would like to see that is in reasonable proximity to your school and plan your weekend trips. The earlier you plan, the more you will save and the more you will have to look forward to. See the world! You only live once.
Find Out What’s Supplied and What Isn’t
Whether you are boarding in a dormitory or apartment provided by the university, or you’re shacking up with a host family, you need to know what you will be provided with and what you will need to bring or buy yourself. Chances are your accommodations will come fairly furnished, but it would be a major bummer to arrive only to find that you should have packed that set of sheets that mom recommended! Toiletries, cooking supplies, dishware, bedding, bath towels; you use it all! Contact your study abroad leader to find out what you will and won’t need so you can factor it into your budget.
Make Copies of the Important Stuff
Before you catch your plane, make copies of your important documents just in case you lose your baggage or are the unlucky victim of theft. This includes your passport, driver’s license, university acceptance letter, your itinerary, and your emergency contacts. Keep copies on your person, in your carry-on, and even with your parents back home. You should also have your credit card company’s contact information and your account details either memorized or kept in a safe place, should you need to call and put a hold on your card.
Be Spontaneous and Say “Yes” To Every Opportunity
No, this doesn’t mean say ‘yes’ to the creepy guy who invites you to a sketchy party in a notoriously unruly neighborhood. This means say YES to safe opportunities that are going to allow you to experience something new while making new friends! The last thing you will want is to regret saying ‘no’ because the plans sounded cheesy or out of your comfort zone. This is the time to do what you normally wouldn’t! Seek adventure and experiences that you will remember for the rest of your life.
This can be so difficult to do, especially when you’re traveling for a sizable chunk of time, but try to be a minimalist! Think of all those times you went on a week-long vacation but packed as though you were going away for a month. How many of those outfits did you REALLY wear? Now, think about dragging that luggage around with you while you’re trying to get settled into your study abroad program. Don’t forget you are going to a place where people live. If you really need something, or forgot an important item… you will be able to find a way to buy a replacement. Less is more.
Make Sure Your Insurance Covers You
It is super important that you have medical coverage while overseas, so work with your parents to make sure that your current insurance will have your back while you are studying abroad. Hopefully you will never have to use it, but it will be comforting to know that should something happen that requires medical attention, you will be covered.
Befriend the Locals
You may have roommates and you will definitely make friends in class, but it’s important to put yourself out there and make friends with people who live where you are essentially vacationing. Bring your laptop to a local coffee shop for the afternoon, visit museums, go on tours, hit up a small concert, say hello to the person dining alone next to you. Bonding with people who are not from your homeland is an essential part of the study abroad experience. It won’t hurt to have a free place to stay next time you want to visit!
Take TONS of Pictures
Be sure to photograph everything, from your weekend excursions to your favorite neighborhood hole-in-the-wall. This is not only so you can show your friends and family what you are doing and where you are living, but so you can remember your home away from home forever. It’ll be an experience you’ll never want to lose sight of!
Learn Some Language Basics
The goal is to not seem like a tourist. While you are bound to stick out – even just a little – you should do your best to blend in with the locals so you aren’t a target for theft. Unless you are visiting a country after going through a foreign language program in high school or university, you should at least learn the basics to help you get through the semester. Grab a language guide and go beyond “hello” and “thank you”; How can you ask for the restroom? How do you order a meal? Do you know how to ask for basic directions (north, south, east, west)? The more you learn, the easier it will be to truly immerse yourself in the culture. Chances are you will pick up a good deal while abroad, especially if you are living with a host family, but you will be better off if you go in with some knowledge of the language.
Stay tuned for Part III of Study Abroad Tips!