Preparing to study abroad can feel pretty daunting. What should you pack? Which immunizations will you need? Will your credits transfer?
Chances are you’ll have tons of questions because there’s so much that you need to do to prepare to travel overseas. Lucky for you, there are tons of people who can help as you get ready to study abroad. From finalizing your abroad class schedule with an adviser to getting the 411 from students who have already studied abroad, in order to be completely prepared for your trip, reach out to these seven key people.
1. Your study abroad program adviser
You should definitely talk to your study abroad program adviser, whether the program is affiliated with your school or an external organization. Study abroad advisers are experts about what your program offers, so they can give you a better idea of what to expect.
Emily Whalen, a program manager at the Boston University study abroad office, says students should ask in-depth questions about what their program includes. “Students should know what courses are going to be offered on their proposed program, how many students participate [in] the program, what type of housing is offered and how likely are they to get it,” Whalen.
Find out if your program offers orientation to help you meet others in your program and get accustomed to your new city, if linens are included with your housing arrangements or if you should bring your own and if your professors are natives of the country or if they are from your home institution.
Whalen also advises that you ask, “Does the program have on-site staff? Does the program include excursions, or are these extra? Does the cost of the program include housing, meals [and] airfare?” You’ll want to get a complete picture of all that your program offers.
2. Your academic adviser
Unfortunately, the credits you take abroad don’t always automatically transfer to your college back at home. “Each college has slightly different rules regarding transfer credit,” Whalen explains.
Will you be taking your courses for a grade, or are they pass/fail? Will your grades be factored into your GPA or merely be listed on your transcript? These are all important questions to ask your academic adviser. Talk to him or her about which classes you want to take abroad and which requirements the classes you want to take will fulfill. “[An] adviser can verify that the courses they have had approved fit in with their degree and that the student isn’t violating any transfer credit rules of the college,” Whalen says.
Be sure to find out if there are certain classes that your university or major won’t accept as transfer credits so that you know which classes to avoid! Sort this out before you go abroad—you don’t want to end up taking classes that will set you off track without realizing it. It might be hard to reach your academic adviser via email while you’re overseas, and the last thing you want to do during your first few days abroad is flood your adviser with emails and international phone calls in a frenzy because you don’t know which classes to register for.
“It was important for me to talk to my academic adviser to get my future straightened out in terms of classes,” says Megan Shuffleton, a sophomore at Emerson College who studied abroad in London. “I talked with him about what classes I needed to take to fulfill major and gen ed requirements and where I would pick up when I returned. I switched majors during my second semester at school, so it was important for me to find a program that offered classes that would fulfill some of my course requirements.
3. Your banker
Ensuring that your finances are in order before going abroad is an absolute must! If you head abroad and make charges on your credit card without notifying a representative at your bank first, your credit card will likely be canceled because your banker will think your card has been stolen.
“It’s always a good idea to talk to your bank and let them know that you will be traveling outside of the country so that they do not put a stop on your credit card,” says Nicole Gartside, a senior at NYU who studied abroad in Spain. “Nothing would be worse than being in a foreign country and having no money.”
This is definitely something to avoid, so be sure to talk to your banker before you leave. Let him or her know the exact dates when you will be traveling abroad and the countries you may visit while you’re there.
While you’re talking, don’t forget to ask about what type of ATM fees you may run into abroad. Some banks have international partners, so you may be able to use a partner bank—whether you use their services or ATMs—without incurring any additional fees. For example, if you have an account with Bank of America, you can use include BNP Paribas in France, Barclays in the United Kingdom, Deutsche Bank in Germany, Westpac Bank in Australia and New Zealand and Santander in Mexico. Knowing where you can take out money without being slammed with fees will be a major relief when you first arrive and are completely jetlagged, and it will help you save money in the long run!
4. Your doctor
One of the most important people to contact is your doctor. If you regularly take medication, you should ask your doctor if you can get a prescription for enough in advance to last your entire trip. From a unique allergy medication to a specific birth control prescription, it may not be feasible for you to get what you need in a foreign country. Since it may be difficult to get it shipped to you, stock up ahead of time for the essentials that you’ll need.
“There were a lot of steps to take in order to get just three months’ worth of medication,” Nicole says. “I was on the phone with my health care provider for a long time, and we needed to pay future balances in order to get future medication.” Since it can take a while to go through all the proper steps to get the medication you will need, do not put this off until the last minute!
You should also ask your doctor if you are up to date on all of your immunizations and see if he or she recommends getting any additional vaccinations before your trip. You can also talk to a representative at the country’s embassy that you are visiting or consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further vaccination recommendations.
Additionally, don’t forget to make sure you’ll have health insurance while abroad! Talk with your provider about the coverage you have; some offer health care abroad and others do not, so you may have to get coverage on your own. You can also talk to your program adviser about this, because you may even get health care coverage through your study abroad program.
Once you have coverage, look over what options you’ll have if you get sick. This way, you will be well on your way to staying healthy while abroad!
5. Your employer
Before you hop on a plane to a foreign country, check in with your current employer. You’ll need to give him or her plenty of advance notice that you will be leaving your position, and if you’re still interested, ask if you’ll be able to return to your job once you get back. “When you’re abroad, you won’t have much time or energy to communicate with employers back home, so it’s best to sort things out with employers before you leave,” Megan says.
It’s best to be honest about how long you’ll be gone for and know what date you would be able to start working again to give your employer as much information as possible.
“Sorting [work-related] things out before I left definitely has taken the pressure off of communicating now when it would be much more difficult,” Megan says.
6. A representative from your phone carrier
If you have a smartphone you want to bring with you, double-check with your phone company’s representative to ensure that you know what setting to put your phone on so you won’t be slammed with roaming fees! Even if you don’t want to use your smartphone’s “phone features,” you can still use it to take pictures and to connect to Wi-Fi as long as you know how to put your phone on the proper setting.
7. Students who have gone on your program before
One of the best ways to learn about what to expect when abroad is speaking with someone who has already gone on your program. If you don’t know anyone who has studied abroad with your program, your study abroad program adviser may be able to connect you with a student who did your program.
Once you’ve found someone who’s done your program, ask her to go out to coffee so she can spill the beans about her time abroad! Chances are, she misses it so much that she secretly—or not so secretly—loves to constantly remind people that she studied abroad, so she’ll definitely be down to talk to you.
Ask who her favorite professors were and what their grading scale was like, what condition the school buildings were in and where she went when she needed Wi-Fi or a printer. Ask about her housing accommodations as well as packing. What did she bring that she didn’t need? What did she wish that she’d brought? How much money did she spend? What did she wish she did when abroad that she didn’t do?
Get lists of the best local restaurants and cafes. Which clubs did she go to? Which stores did she shop at most frequently? It will be so much easier for you to navigate your first few weeks if you already have a list of places to check out.
“Before I studied abroad in Spain last summer, a friend of mine sent me a list of great locations she had found while previously studying abroad there,” Nicole says. “She recommended some great locations I would have never thought to venture into and steered me away from some places that sounded fun, but would have been sketchy or disastrous.”
Another way to learn about studying abroad is by heading to the blogosphere. Tons of students journal their day-to-day experiences when traveling, and you can learn a lot about what to expect just by reading those firsthand accounts.
“I did a lot of my research through other students’ blogs,” Megan says. “A lot of study abroad students keep a blog throughout the semester, and looking at past students’ blogs gave me a really good idea of what goes on during study abroad, what I’d need to bring, things to keep in mind.”
Tips and tricks from someone who has been there will help give you a picture of what to expect and make your adjustment to living in a new foreign country that much easier!
It’s important to make sure that you’re as prepared as possible before you study abroad. Don’t be afraid to constantly ask questions—you’ll be traveling to a new country, and by reaching out to these key people, you’ll be well on your way toward being completely ready for your trip!