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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.

Plan Ahead

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 delivery costs.
  • 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 immunizations.
  • 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 a day.
  • 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.

Pack Smart

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.

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