On every college student’s bucket list, a spot should be reserved for the study abroad experience. You get to live, eat, study, and completely immerse yourself in a different culture and hopefully look back on this time as one of the best you’ve ever had. But traveling to another country can be a nerve-wracking, frustrating, and even scary experience if you’re not fully prepared for it before you leave.
Make sure you heed the following tips before your study abroad adventure.
Read up on where you’re going
Know the country, city, town, and place you’re staying in. You should know as much as you can about your area so you have an idea of what to expect when you get there. If you’re going somewhere with cultural ideals and customs, know about them before you arrive.
For instance, in the Middle East, it’s customary to always use your right hand, as the left is deemed unclean and disrespectful. In other areas of the world, eating noisily can be considered a compliment. Don’t run the risk of insulting anyone with improper greetings or bad table manners. Read up on cultural customs and memorize them.
Experience the culture
You decided to go abroad for a reason. Hopefully, it has something to do with your love of traveling and your adventurous spirit. While it’s great to be able to hop on a train and discover new countries and areas around you, don’t forget to experience the culture of the area you’re staying.
Don’t slack on your studies
It is called “study abroad” after all. Many students get so caught up in the party aspect that they completely forget about exams and grades. The last thing you’ll want to hear when you return to school in the fall is that you’ll have to retake the same classes next summer. Taking your studies seriously can sharpen your international IQ and help prepare you for foreign work experiences in the future.
Make sure you understand the country’s currency. Research your credit and debit card options before your trip, and make sure you call your bank and let them know there will be foreign charges on your card for a certain period. You don’t want to feel stuck or strapped for cash at a time when you need it.
List of contacts and emergency assistance
For American support, it’s important to know where the embassies and consulates are located in your area. It’s also wise to carry a list of emergency contact numbers like the local police and any hospitals in the area. Hopefully, you’ll never need it but it’s comforting to know you have it. Also, make sure you leave a copy of your passport and travel documents with your parents on American soil—just in case they need it.
Be sure to register your trip online via (The Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP). Registering with STEP allows the State Department to better assist you in case of emergencies. By providing an email, they can send you alerts for the area you’re staying in and other information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Know the language or enough of it to get around
Communication is essential to getting around safely. Prepare yourself by listening to recordings and reading translation books. If you’re planning to study abroad next year, take useful courses like language or cross-cultural studies at your college.
Blend into the culture
Every year there seems to be a study abroad horror story that makes parents second-guess sending their kids overseas. Avoid becoming a potential target by mirroring the social behavior of locals. Look at what the people around you are wearing and mimic them.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun! It’s easy to get caught up in the stresses of balancing your studies by trying to do as many activities as you can in a limited timeframe. Before leaving for your trip, have ideas on where you’d like to go and what things you’d like to do.
When you finally reach your destination and meet up with any flatmates or friends, plan it all out. Buy a large map of the area, mark places of interest, and create a schedule. Having a plan is much easier than playing it by ear.