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A Student’s Reference Guide to Studying Abroad

Study Abroad Guide

To be honest, I was initially skeptical about studying abroad.

Everyone I met who had studied abroad previously insisted it was “the best experience of their life,” but I was positive I would be the one person who would have a less than delightful time.

Fortunately, I was wrong, and became one of those annoying people who could recount their time studying abroad with nostalgia and enthusiasm.

Studying abroad in London gave me the chance to explore much of Europe including Italy, Scotland, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Although in many ways, England is similar to the United States, the country opened my eyes to another culture and way of thinking.  Living in such a cosmopolitan environment allowed me to interact with people from all over the world everyday and to gain new perspectives on how people viewed  politics, sex, and of course, the United States government.

Furthermore, my time abroad affirmed the fact that I wanted to be a journalist, and even offered me a subject I wanted to specialize in: travel writing.

Why study abroad?

  • It looks great on your resume.
  • It gives you an excuse to travel the world for a semester.
  • It offers you a chance to improve upon or learn a new language.
  • It allows you to meet new people and learn about a new culture.
  • It provides you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and proves that you can handle being more than three hours away from your parents for an extended period of time.
  • It is enjoyable.

Advice for those before studying abroad

The best advice I can give to those pondering studying abroad is to plan ahead, and if you have any doubts, to just do it. Even the most adventurous may, at first, have some reservations against venturing to another country where they may not know anyone or even speak the native language. But by the end of your study abroad adventure−no matter where you study−you can be sure that your life will be changed in some way as a result of your experience.

Where to go and when? Some questions to ask when planning your study abroad adventure:

  • Research your school’s study abroad requirements. For instance, must you have a 3.0 GPA and be a junior or senior?
  • What is your school’s policy about transferring course credit? Will you get full or partial credit and what courses will you be allowed to take abroad?
  • What do you want to get from your study abroad experience? Do you want to learn another language or are you particularly interested in Italian art or Japanese history?
  • How “safe” do you want to play it? It goes without saying that studying abroad in Ireland, while definitely an adventure, will be less of a culture shock than living for an extended period in Ghana.
Some things you may want to do before studying abroad:
  • You may want to research the history and culture of the country you are going to beforehand. For instance, if visiting England, it might be useful to know just who the current prime minister is.
  • It would also be advisable to know the basic laws of the country you are visiting in order to avoid any unforeseen problems.
  • Research how the country’s school system works. For example, a 70% on an exam in the U.K. is the equivalent to a 95-100% in the United States.
  • Have on hand extra copies of emergency phone numbers and the contact information for the U.S. embassy
  • Research your airline’s baggage policy such as how many bags you can take with you and how heavy they can be. If possible, weigh your bags before going to the airport to avoid any additional fees.
  • Make sure your bank knows you are going to be out of the country several months ahead of time so they are not alarmed by charges on your account from a foreign country.
  • Plan ahead as to whether or not you want to update your cell phone plan or want to buy a pay as you go phone while abroad.
  • Figure out how you plan on getting around the country. Most cities will have a metro or subway system in place. Plan ahead for any transportation fees.
  • Know where you are staying and whether or not items such as sheets and kitchenware are provided.
  • Keep mementos such as ticket stubs and programs. You may want to use them in a scrapbook about your travels later.

What to bring (and not to bring):

  • Pictures from home of friends and family.
  • Proper power plugs and electric converters for each country.
  • Favorite books, CDs, and DVDs.
  • Your laptop computer and charger.
  • A diary to write down your experiences abroad.
  • A “passport emergency kit” including two passport sized photos, extra copies of your birth certificate, and driver’s license.
  • Digital camera and charger.
  • Avoid bringing items such as toothpaste, shampoo, and other toiletries. They only add unnecessary weight to your baggage and can be bought while abroad.
  • Repeat after me. You DO NOT need that tenth pair of high heels. You DO NOT need to bring that sweater that goes really well with that one pair of pants. Remember, you will want to have room in your suitcase to bring all of your souvenirs back.

Traveling around Europe:

Once you are in Europe, travel is relatively cheap from country to country, and you will no doubt want to take advantage of this opportunity to explore the continent. To make the most of your visit consider the following:

  • Book your flights ahead of time. The earlier you make your travel arrangements, the cheaper your getaway will cost.
  • Take advantage of hostels. They often offer rates as low as 20 Euros a night. Just make sure to keep all your valuables on hand, and do not be fooled by the “continental breakfast.” The free breakfast generally means toast, with no butter.
  • Many companies may cater specifically to study abroad students, and generally offer good deals including transportation, lodging, tours, and some food expenses.
  • Make sure you know the exchange rate before traveling, and try to have both cash and credit cards on hand.
  • Research what sites you want to see beforehand, and remember that museums, zoos, and tours often cost quite a bit themselves. Check out tourist websites to see if they offer student discounts.
  • Learn how to say simple phrases such as “thank you,” “please,” and “I don’t speak ____ (insert language).”

If you get homesick while abroad:

  • Keep busy to avoid homesickness. You are in another country, so use your time abroad to explore everything you can while you have the chance to be there.
  • Make new friends whether through classes or by joining a club or a sports team.
  • Keep in touch with friends and family via Facebook, AIM, and Skype (allows free phone calls with Skype to Skype users using your computer.)

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