Congratulations! You made it through the winter break blues. You might have spent your entire break like me, binge watching Grey’s Anatomy, or maybe you actually made good use of your time. Either way, you’re probably a little excited to go back to school. However, unlike many of your friends, you’ll be moving to another country for a couple months…not just returning to the same old college. For most study abroad students, going to school in a new country could easily be the highlight of their college career. In just a few weeks, you’ll experience new cultures, make new friends, and grow as a person as you learn to navigate your way in a foreign country. But before you embark on this trip of a lifetime, I have 10 pre-departure tips for you to consider in order to make your trip chaos and stress free.
1. Research your destination
It’s important to read up on the local culture, customs, cool sights and current events of your host country. Official government websites contain resourceful information. They serve as a great starting point for up-to-date information on your destination. Also, ask your study abroad advisor about any critical incidents that might have happened to past study abroad participants, and how you can prepare accordingly. Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.
2. Develop a communication plan
You might not be able to communicate frequently with your family and friends, so it’s important that you write down the phone numbers and email addresses of those you want to stay in contact with in case of an emergency. Setting up your U.S. cellphone with an international plan could be an option, but it could also be very expensive. Some students opt to purchase a local pay-as-you-go phone when they arrive. Another option to stay in touch with those back home is through social media or blogging. Apps like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp etc. can also be very handy.
3. Make copies of important documents
To be on the safe side, make copies of your passport. Print out a couple to bring with you, and email a scanned copy to yourself and your parents. That way, if something happens, you can easily access your travel information. This applies to every other essential travel document you’ll travel with.
4. Ditch the bling
There is no need to bring your most expensive jewelry with you. As a foreigner, chances are you’ll stand out from the locals. Items such as a family heirloom, diamonds etc. can and should be left at home to prevent becoming a target for thieves.
5. Visit your doctor
Before you leave, make an appointment with your doctor. Get a physical before you leave to ensure you’re in tip-top shape. If you have a critical medical condition that requires a prescription, try packing as much medication that will last you your entire time abroad. These prescribed medications should be left in their correctly labelled containers, in order to avoid it been mistaken for an illegal drug.
6. Call your bank
Notify your bank before you leave and let them know that you’ll be going abroad. This will prevent you from getting stranded with an un-useable card. It’s advisable to exchange most of your money at home, as the exchange rates will be much less favorable when you arrive to your destination.
7. Get familiar with the language
If you’re going abroad to a place where English is not the official language, it will be helpful to learn how to make small talk with the locals in the foreign language, rather than the usual “hello” and “do you speak English?” This will save you the time of looking like a lost tourist and also help you engage more with your surrounding.
8. Pack wisely
Don’t over pack. I know it’s tempting for us females, but you’ll eventually realize you’re creating unnecessary, excess luggage. Look up the weather for the months you’ll be abroad so you can choose what you really need to take, and what you don’t. In your carry-on, keep a change of clothes, toiletries, passport, visa, ID card, and any medications. Take as little as possible, but still have everything you need.
9. Plan ahead
It might seem too early to have an idea of places you plan to visit, or things you want to do, but the earlier the better. Make a list of all the things you plan to accomplish at the end of your time abroad. If you’re a little worried that you might not know who you could go to events with, do not worry because at the end of the day you’ll meet a lot of people that will have similar interests as you. Plus, the earlier you plan, the more deals you can take advantage of.
10. Be prepared in case of an emergency
It’s good to be armed with as much knowledge as possible, but at the end of the day, things that are out of your control happen. Prior to departure, consider registering your trip with the State Department through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that assists U.S citizens and nationals traveling abroad.