College is the perfect time to travel abroad and earn credit at the same time! Study abroad programs are designed to bridge the gap between travel and education. However, some programs require a bit more legwork than others and students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the process to ensure a smooth transition.
The most important thing to do when preparing to study abroad is to make sure you have a current passport. Without a passport, you won’t be able to leave the country, which in turn means you’ll sacrifice your tuition payments and likely default on the credits you would have earned while abroad. To prevent such tragic mistakes, visit a passport kiosk and be sure to visit very early on in the process. Passport kiosks are often located at US Post Offices or an embassy. Be sure to ask how long it takes to process the application and if necessary be prepared to pay the expedited shipping. Again, no passport means no study abroad.
Once you’ve secured travel, do a little research on the culture of the country that you will be visiting. Beyond landscape and language, familiarize yourself with some of the local customs and traditions. Be sure to go into the process with an open mind and don’t be surprised if some of the societal norms differ significantly from yours. Studying abroad is about earning college credits, but it is also about expanding your horizons.
The next step in the process is to prepare yourself for when you get homesick. Even if you are independent and eager to go, there is no place like home. The best way to prep yourself for these feelings is to pack a few items that have a calming effect. Maybe you have a baby blanket from your mom or a picture of your family at the last family reunion. Whatever your items, be sure to pack them and once you get to the new country, display them around your living quarters. Pictures are great because they take up very little luggage space and they offer free decorations in your new space. Hang them on the wall so that when you start to feel homesick all you have to do is glance around the room to feel secure.
Another thing that goes hand in hand with beating homesickness is providing yourself a way to communicate with everyone back home. Most cell phones don’t work abroad and those that do tend to be outrageously expensive. Even the Internet might be difficult to reach. Buy some stationery and visit the post office to purchase international stamps so that you can send old-fashioned snail mail. Many times the Internet in other countries is readily available at cafes and delis, so be sure to sign up for a Skype account and a few instant messenging programs (i.e.., Yahoo Messenger, Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger). However you plan to communicate, be sure to arrange it well in advance and inform friends and family of the preferred method.
As far as electronics go, many countries have different electrical currents. If you plan to bring your laptop from home, be sure to visit your local computer store and purchase the correct converter cables that will allow you to power your electronics on the electrical current in the new country. The same goes for hair dryers, iPod chargers, alarm clocks, etc. If you plug your items into the wrong outlet, chances are your electronics will wind up broken.
Communication is key when traveling abroad and that extends into the sphere of communicating with the local population. If you are traveling to a country where English is not widely spoken, be sure to pick up a few English-to-local-language dictionaries. Most book retailers sell a variety of dictionaries in a range of prices. Be sure to buy an unabridged dictionary, a book of common phrases, and a pocket-sized edition for on-the-go conversations. Also available are electronic language dictionaries, which cost a bit more than traditional print version but are a lot easier to use.
While you’re abroad, you should plan to make the most of your experience. Maybe you’re interested in art, history, or literature. Research a few local galleries, poetry slams or battle sites that you could visit on your down time. You will need to research modes of transporation, too, as these two steps go hand in hand.
Money is always an issue when traveling abroad. Most credit cards will work abroad if you notify the bank or lender well enough in advance. But, always have a backup plan. Sometimes credit cards get flagged when used internationally, which could lead to account suspension. You will want to have a backup plan in place. Cashier’s checks and local currency are both available at most banks, especially if you give the bank some advance notice so that they can get the funds and make them readily available to you.
Last but not least, you’ll want to ask all questions in advance. Nothing is worse than finding yourself stranded in a foreign country with nobody available to answer your questions. Above all, be prepared to embrace the culture and plan to learn both inside and outside of the classroom. Study abroad programs often offer orientation periods, printed and online resources, and presentations by students who have previously participated in the program. Be sure to utilize all available resources prior to your departure so that when you land, you can delve right in and focus on the experience.