Preparing for a Study Abroad Program
Preparing for a study abroad program can be exciting, but it can also be stressful
if you’re not prepared. The number of things to do that you’re responsible for may
seem overwhelming at first, but if you start early enough, you should feel confident
and self-assured by the time the day comes to leave your home campus behind. We’ve
come up with some tips below on things you should remember when preparing for study
abroad, but remember that you can’t do enough research before starting your program.
Your intended program’s staff of advisors will also be your best sources of information
if you have questions specific to your program, so don’t be afraid to ask about
anything you don’t know the answer to.
Leaving for a study abroad program isn’t something you do last minute. There are
a number of things you need to do before you’re really ready to leave your home
state for your adventure – and educational experience – abroad. Here are the most
important tasks you’ll be responsible for:
- The Passport: You’re not going anywhere unless you have one and it’s up to date.
If you’re applying for a new passport, give yourself at least three months (even
more if you like being on the safe side) before you’re set to board that plane.
You’ll be applying for the travel document through the U.S. Department of State,
and it isn’t strange for there to be a backlog of applications during busier times
of the year (months before holidays and spring breaks, for example). Give yourself
a few months even if you’re just applying for a renewal passport. While you can
expedite your request, we’re certain you’d rather not pay that $60 fee, plus overnight
- Immunizations: Make sure you know whether you should be getting any immunizations
before leaving for your study abroad program. Your study abroad program directors
or advisors should provide this information for you, but it’s not a bad idea to
check what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Don’t procrastinate
on this, as you may need to make an appointment with your doctor to get the required
- Insurance: Does your insurance cover you while you’re studying abroad? You don’t want to find
yourself in a situation where you’re forced to pay for a medical emergency out of
pocket in a foreign country! If your existing coverage won’t help you much overseas,
considering exploring travel insurance policies. Your program may even offer comprehensive
coverage plans for students studying abroad.
- Additional Documents: Depending on the program, where you’ll be traveling, and the
duration of your stay, you may be required to apply for a student visa, a document
you’ll need a passport for. Check with the embassy of the foreign country that you
are planning to visit for up-to-date visa and other entry requirements, because
you won’t be allowed entry into the country if you’re required to show a visa and
you don’t have one.
Do Your Research
By the time the day comes that you’re leaving for your study abroad program, you
should be an expert about your chosen destination. If you do your research, there
won’t be many surprises once you get off that plane in your new home for the next several months. Here is a sampling of things you should know before leaving for
your program, although the more research you do, the better off you’ll be:
- Weather: Knowing the kind of weather to expect will greatly inform your packing
decisions, a topic we explore in detail below. If your chosen program will require some
travel in different regions, make sure you know how the weather will vary.
- Money: What’s the exchange rate in your destination? What kind of money will
you be using? You should also know the best ways to handle your money and your spending,
as ATMs may be a good go-to source in one country while traveler’s checks would
be more useful elsewhere. You should have a good idea of what things cost, and look
into what it would run you to communicate with friends and family back home. Make
sure your bills back home are taken care of, too.
- Language: What language do they speak where you’re going? The most well-informed
traveler will have a few useful phrases in the native language ready to use, as
you won’t be surrounded by program staff that will be able to help you 24 hours
- Culture: Learn about the country you’re planning to visit and the behaviors that
may be inappropriate overseas. Dress accordingly – what may work for you in the
United States may be inappropriate overseas. Know how your intended country feels
about your home country, the kinds of foods you’ll be eating, and things like greetings
and gratuities. Your program’s advisors won’t give you all of this information,
so a lot will be up to you in terms of making a good impression.
Smart travelers are smart packers. Since you’ll be spending a decent period of time
abroad, the pressure is on you to make the tough decisions on what to bring and
what to leave behind. Here’s a tip: pack only what you absolutely need. Leave the
things you “may” need behind to save space, especially if your program is one that
requires a good deal of moving around from location to location. If you’ve done
your research, you should have a good idea of the kind of weather to expect while
abroad. If you can’t live without electrical appliances like that favorite hair
dryer, make sure you know whether you’ll be able to plug it in while abroad. Most
countries will have different outlets than you’re used to, so you’ll need to pick
up adapters. Better yet, find an inexpensive model while you’re overseas and leave
it behind when you’re done with your program abroad.
Expect the best, but prepare for the worst. Keep your valuables in a carry-on, along
with a change of clothes and toiletries in case your checked luggage is lost for
some indefinite period of time. Make sure your luggage is easily identifiable, especially
if you have that black roller suitcase most travelers own. Make copies of all of
your important documents and prescriptions in case you lose anything abroad. If
you’re bringing any electronics, consider taking out insurance policies, or checking
into whether your existing policies cover travel abroad.