How to Prepare for a College Semester Abroad

Many colleges offer the option of traveling to a foreign country for a semester and taking part of your coursework there. A semester abroad can be an exciting time, but it’s not something that you decide to do on the spur of the moment. A little bit of preparation ahead of time will help ensure that your time in a foreign country is enjoyable.

Study the Language

More than likely, the first step that you will want to take in preparing for a semester abroad is to learn the language. If you have taken the language in the past, but are a little rusty, you will want to brush up on the language before you go. By taking college classes in the language of the country you will be traveling to, you will probably be able to fulfill your college’s foreign language requirement. If you already have some familiarity with the language, you may want to use programs like Rosetta Stone to re-familiarize yourself with the language. There are also Internet chat rooms that you can visit to practice speaking (or at least typing) in that language.

Seek Financial Aid

The next step in studying abroad is to seek financial aid for your trip. If you are already receiving financial aid, your estimated family contribution (EFC) will not change, so it is likely that you will end up receiving more financial aid to study abroad. You may have to take out more loans, but the financial aid should be available. Make sure that you meet all of the deadlines, or you may have trouble getting the financial aid that you need.

Gather the Correct Travel Documents

In order to study abroad, you will need to acquire the correct travel documents. Depending on what country you are traveling to, this could take some time. The first step is to get your passport. Once you have your passport, you will need to obtain a visa to the country that you are traveling to. For travel to some countries, obtaining a visa could take up to three months, so this is not something that can wait until the last minute.

Learn the Culture

When you travel abroad, you are representing the United States. As such, you want to leave a good impression of your home country to the people around you. By learning about the culture, you are less likely to offend the people around you. Many hand gestures are different from ours, so it is particularly important to learn what is offensive in this area.

Health Insurance

Since you will be living in a foreign country, it is particularly important to pay attention to your health and safety abroad. You will need to have health insurance that will work abroad. Your college may require you to purchase their health policy. Before you go, understand how your health insurance policy works. If your insurance policy reimburses you after you pay the doctor, you (or your parents) will probably want to have some money set aside for health emergencies.


When you pack for your semester abroad, make sure that you account for all types of weather. Although the weather may generally behave in one way, there will always be variations. It sometimes snows in April in Venice, for example, when the weather is supposed to be nice. Be sure to keep the cultural norms of your host country in mind when you pack. You may want to leave your grubbiest clothes behind. Although much of the world is becoming more casual like the United States, they still dress up a lot more frequently than Americans do, so you want to include several dressier outfits.

Most of your electronics will need a voltage converter to use overseas. Alarm clocks, hair dryers, and other electronics will all need to use a converter. However, most computers are able to work with multiple voltages, although you will need to purchase a compatible power cable for it. IPods and electronic devices that recharge through your computer will not need any special converters.

Living in a foreign country is an experience that you will never forget. It is also not impossible to prepare for. Many students make the journey abroad every year and have a great time.