5 Things To Do Before You Leave to Study Abroad

Preparing to travel abroad can be one of the most exciting yet stressful experiences for any collegiette—there just always seems like there’s too much to do. However, once you get those pesky logistics out of the way (passports, visas, vaccinations, etc.), the real fun can begin. From planning all the places you’ll see to learning more about the culture and the language, before you know it, you’ll be feeling stress-free and too eager for words about your adventures to come. We’ve laid out a list things you must do before you jet off that’ll have you feeling ready to rumble the moment you land in your destination.

Make a Bucket List

Whether you’re in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, or Australia, there will no doubt be hundreds of different things for you to try, eat, hike, or take a goofy Facebook picture in front of (the debate is still up if this applies to Antarctica—I heard the penguins are really friendly, though). However, when it comes down to it, it’s impossible to see absolutely everything—but there’s no harm in trying!

But how can you possibly go about this without feeling completely and totally overwhelmed? Simple—plan it out with a bucket list! “Before I left for Europe, I sat down with a map and a list of the countries I wanted to visit, and then I divided the list based on how much I wanted to visit each place,” says Lauren Biscaldi, a graduate of Emerson College.

Like Lauren, you too should figure out what your top places to travel are before you leave. It’s not only one less thing to worry about once you’re there, but also, with your list already created, you can start tackling it ASAP.

Marissa Marano, a graduate from UNH, took her bucket list one step further. Before leaving for Barcelona, she planned out the sights she wanted to see, such as the Trevi Fountain in Rome, instead of just the cities. “It was fun and we made the most out of everything because we loved crossing off things! The last one we did [was] on our last day and it was just really meaningful,” Marissa says.

Not sure of your destination’s must-sees? Not a problem—we’ve got you covered. From TripAdvisor to guide books to plain old Google searches (“best things to do in X” or “bucket list ideas for X”), it’s easy to come by lists—and lists and lists and lists—of every hot spot. But your research shouldn’t stop there. Ask your friends and family about places they’ve traveled to and their recommendations. Their firsthand experiences are sure to be helpful and just about everyone loves talking about their travel stories, so don’t be nervous asking.

Bonjour, Hola, Shalom, Ciao: Learn the Language

It’s obviously impossible to become fluent in a foreign language in a month before jetting off overseas. While no one will ask you to translate War and Peace while you’re gallivanting through another country, knowing a few words and phrases here and there will definitely be beneficial no matter where you are.

“Before I left for Israel, I learned how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ in Hebrew,” says Mallory Korol, a graduate from University of Arizona. “I didn’t think much of it at the time because I knew most Israelis spoke English, but I figured a few basic words would be good to know. All I can say is thank goodness I learned to say ‘slicha,’ which means ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’ in Hebrew. I’m pretty sure I said it at least 50 times a day trying to navigate through a crowd. Knowing a few words definitely made adapting to a new place that much easier.”

Knowing a few simple words and phrases is also respectful to the natives and helps when it comes to mixing with the locals. Even if your accent isn’t perfect, they’ll appreciate your effort.

“I went [to Jordan] not knowing any Arabic and that was a huge mistake,” Melanie Dostis from Northeastern University said. “I would definitely recommend at least knowing how to say ‘thank you.’ ‘please,’ and ‘hi’ or else you risk being looked at as disrespectful.”

Here are some common words that you may want to consider learning:

  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Please
  • Thank you
  • You’re welcome
  • How much?
  • Bathroom
  • Where is…?
  • One, two, three, etc.
  • Do you speak English?
  • I’m sorry, I don’t speak (language) fluently

(Side note: If you have any food allergies, learn how to say those, too. One of my friends from my study abroad program had Celiac disease, so she figured out how to say “no gluten” before we got to Tel Aviv. I’d say it saved her from a lot of allergic reactions.)

I’m a huge fan of Googling how to say certain words in another language with Google Translate, Bing, or FreeTranslation.com, but if you prefer something a little more instructional, there are tons of pocket translators that you can buy at almost any bookstore or electronics store. Best Buy sells some of the best rated electronic dictionaries from $10 to more than $200, depending on what exactly you’re looking for. For the tech-savvy, smartphone-obsessed collegiette, there are plenty of iPhone and iPad translation apps. For no charge, you can download the Google Translate app, and for just 99 cents, there’s the iTranslate Voice app.

And while some countries do speak English as their native language, there are always different slang words to discover. Because, honestly, is there anything more awkward than thinking the loo is just a nickname for your building’s handyman named Louis?

“I tried to brush up on my British slang before I left so I wouldn’t say the wrong thing, and so that I would know what everyone else was saying,” Hannah Anderson, a collegiette at the University of St. Andrews, said.