College life has been made all the more exciting with overseas exchange programs, and you may have the privilege to ask how to prepare for a college semester abroad. The experience of being abroad for studies widens your outlook, as you would be in a foreign land by yourself. You would need to learn to turn to others for help and not to your own family members or friends. You will learn social skills you probably never have a chance to learn. When you are older and look back on those days in a foreign land, you would be thankful for the experiences abroad, good and bad, that have put you in good stead.
Here is a checklist on how to prepare for a college semester abroad.
* Travel documents.
Ensure that your passports, visas, documents, copies of passport size photographs and photocopies of travel documents are all up-to-date and have the valid travel periods endorsed. You do not want to be refused checking in at the airport simply because your passport is due to expire a few days before you return home.
* Find out as much about the country as you can.
You are not going on a holiday trip, but a learning journey. It is good if you can get to meet some people there before you actually fly overseas. Get to know their language, culture, customs, places of interest that you might want to visit and telecommunications facilities. Interesting pointers can be used as icebreakers in conversations. For example, you might find it a great idea to have computerised sprinklers in Dubai parks and strike up a conversation about modern watering holes in desert lands.
Learn enough customs to avoid social blunders. If you are going to an Asian country, for example, be prepared to be frowned upon for using your left hand to eat with, having been born left-handed. Learn to overcome this problem by training yourself to use cutlery and tissue to hold your bits of food with, for example.
* Learn some important vocabulary in the country in the common language or dialect used
These are common words and terms you might want to learn: restrooms, how much, greetings, please and thank you, alphabet and numbers. It never fails to tickle citizens of your host country and helps open up opportunities for further communication. However, do not be too perturbed over the language and spend too much time on learning the language before you actually land there. You can just buy a tourist language guide and learn the phrases on your flight over.
* Find out about the weather, clothing and dress code.
While you may be allowed to wear jeans and Tees in your own college, there is usually a dress code in the colleges abroad. You may want to borrow a few sets of uniforms in your host college to don during your semester there. You may be having winter in your own country, but it may be spring elsewhere in the world. You do not want to turn up in class looking like Santa Claus.
* Electrical and electronic supplies.
Find out whether your electronic equipment will need adaptors to work. Many countries have pay-by-use phone card systems that will definitely be much cheaper than having autoroam services on your local hand-phone. Establish what electronic equipment you are allowed to bring over right down to spare batteries, socket and plug supplies.
Make sure you bring along a digital camera and/or camcorder. A picture speaks a thousand words. You will want to capture experiences of your college semester abroad you will probably never experience back home. Include these pictures or video clips in a travel blog that your family and friends can read and catch up with you. It will keep you busy and feeling less homesick.
* Accommodation and provisions.
If you are on an exchange program, you are likely to stay with a host family. Bring along an appropriate gift for the host. If you are staying in dormitories or rented apartments, find out about the provisions in them. You might want to start communicating with the local students there as they are probably pleased to be your hands and feet before you actually meet them, and they will be able to supply you with the details you need. You might even want to get in touch with any senior student at your college who has been to the same country and who would be able to share with you his firsthand experience in that country.
* Banking and financial needs.
You don’t want to find yourself begging off the streets in an unexpected turn of events. Ensure that you have access to easy emergency funds. You do not want to be stranded penniless in an unknown country. Find out what you would need to spend on while there. Carry along spare cash or a credit card that you will use only in consultation with your parents – they are probably the ones footing the credit card bill.
* Embassy or consulate of your country.
Establish contacts with the people of your country working in the embassy or consulate in your host country. Pay them a courtesy call when you arrive. Make sure you have your presence felt in case you get into unexpected trouble. They will be the first people you have to call on for assistance.
Get your insurance for emergency evacuation, accident and hospitalisation, illnesses, and death purchased and settled in advance of your flight. Make sure you have the necessary telephone contact numbers with you to call when you encounter an emergency.
* Learn to be emotionally strong.
You do not want to be in a state of euphoria when you arrive there and feel extremely homesick even before the week is up. Prepare yourself mentally to face those times of loneliness. Tell yourself a semester is but a few short weeks. Bring along family photographs, your favorite belonging, perhaps a toy, a doll, a blanket, to help you feel at home in a foreign land.
Talk to a counselor if you have feelings of fear or apprehension whenever you think of the pending trip. Remember that it may be your once in a lifetime opportunity to study abroad, and you should try not to miss it. Talk to people who can teach you to think positively about your trip.
In the twinkling of an eye, you will soon be flying off, and in another twinkle, you will be home wishing that you had another semester abroad. Face your college semester abroad with childlike faith. You will learn much, reflect much and be a better person than the one who left a few months back when you return from your college semester abroad.