Studying abroad was a life changing experience for me. My perspective on the world shifted, slowly over those months. I returned to the U.S.A. with a different understanding of who I was and how I, and my home country, were seen by the outside world. Studying abroad is something I highly recommend, but there is a lot of preparation work that goes into it. Here are five things you should do before studying abroad. This article assumes you have already applied and been accepted to a program.
- Notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling and living abroad. This will prevent them from flagging your credit or debit cards as stolen and freezing your account (leaving you without access to your money). They will want to know how long you’ll be abroad and where you will be traveling, that way they know what activity is yours, and what isn’t. Make sure you know how to contact them while abroad in case your cards are stolen or lost. They may also have partner banks with which you can avoid a foreign transaction fee when using their ATMs (this can save you about $5 per withdrawal).
- Suspend your phone plan if you won’t be using an international plan. Many times you can get a very cheap phone abroad to use (not a smartphone, but useful for texts and calls to your friends in the program). When I was living in Rome, I only paid a small fee to suspend my plan for the four months I was gone, instead of having to pay for the plan I wasn’t using. I set it to reactivate at midnight the day I flew back, so I was able to use my phone right after landing.
- Plan ahead to get your visa and other paperwork in order. Usually, these processes take quite a while to complete and you don’t want to be stressing about even being allowed in the country when you should be packing for your trip! You may even have to travel to the country’s official embassy, so keep that in mind! Most embassies have very informational websites that can help you with everything you need to know. Make sure you understand how long your visa is for. I had friends who were doing the whole year abroad but their visa was only for one semester, so they almost had to fly back to the U.S. then go back to Italy! An expensive mistake!
- Research the place you’re going to be living. Find out about the local culture, language, way of dressing, attractions, transportation situation. These are all things you will want to know when you are there and some things are just easier to know before you arrive (like how to get from the airport to where you’re staying). Plus some things (like cheap rail passes) can only be bought from outside the country.
- Parring down what you really need to live. I’m not suggesting wearing the same pants every day, but maybe you don’t really need to bring fifteen tops or five pairs of shoes or whatever. Just give minimalism a try. I mean, is it worth it to lug two fifty pound suitcases everywhere (and pay the extra bag fee)? Nah.
Now get out there and make the most of your own life altering experience!