How are these study abroad tips going to help you?
Study abroad is a rite of passage only a few number of college students in the U.S get to experience. For most, it’s their first taste of solo travel. Not only is it a great learning opportunity, but like an internship, it’s a great way to make any resume stand out. In fact, employers are more likely to pick a resume with travel experience than one without it!
Clearly, study abroad can be crucial stepping stone for your personal–and professional–well being.
And since you might only get one chance, it’s important that you make the most of your semester abroad.
That in mind, we’ve created a master list of study abroad tips that’ll make your trip both enjoyable and constructive, no matter what your location.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about studying abroad for the first time, including:
- How to prepare for the trip
- What to do when you’re there
- What to do when you return
These study abroad tips will tell you about everything you need to know about studying abroad for the first time, and how to do it right.
Study Abroad Tips: Before the Trip
Tip #1: Try to study abroad during the summer.
At most U.S. universities, you can start enrolling for your next semester around half-way through your current semester. That means that if you enroll in the spring, you’ve got roughly 3 months to prepare for the upcoming summer semester.
Giving yourself this window of time will allow you to prepare what you need and research what you need to know. That in mind, here’s the next tip.
Tip #2: Book your flights and accommodations ASAP!
In some cases, you might be expected to pay for your flight and make your own living arrangements. To find the best possible prices, try booking as soon as you’ve enrolled in the course.
Want to give yourself a head start? Research the area you’d like to live in months before enrolling. If you find hostels, hosts, and hotels that catch your eye, bookmark them and visit them closer to the enrollment period.
Interested in getting good tour tickets in advance? Check out official tourist pages for the country or city your plan on visiting to find out when is the best time to purchase tickets.
Tip #3: Research your new country.
This one should be obvious.
For one, this’ll help you plan out what to explore once you get there. Sure, you can Google ‘sites’ and ‘attractions’ and print out a list of tourist hot spots. Or, you can use the time you have to ask advisors from the study abroad department for their suggestions. Online forums are another great resource for travel ideas.
Check out a couple of books about your country and read up! You don’t have to become a history buff. But try to learn about the state of the country as it is today, or even some of its pop culture.
It never hurts to learn about the place you’ll be living in so be sure to keep these study abroad tips in mind.
Tip #4: Learn to talk the talk.
Like the previous tip, this one should also be a no brainer.
Don’t be the American foreigner that only speaks English. Even if the country is tourist friendly, try your best to learn the language before the trip.
Here are some basics phrases you should write down and practice for the trip:
- My name is…
- Nice to meet you.
- What’s your name?
- How are you?
- I’m fine. And you?
- Where are you from?
- I’m from…
- Thank you.
- Excuse me.
- I’m sorry.
- You’re Welcome.
- How do you say…?
- I don’t speak…
- How do I get to…?
- What time is it?
- How much?
- Can I use your phone?
Another great way to fit in is by learning the customs of the country. The last thing you want to do is offend anyone!
Tip #5: Get insured.
Travel is full of surprises, some good, some bad. There’s always the chance of valuable equipment going missing or someone getting injured. That’s why it’s important to get insured while you study abroad.
Most likely your school will have a group policy that’ll insure you. If you have your own insurance, double check with a representative to see what type of coverage they’ll provide on your trip.
The key is to make sure that your provider can offer you emergency service at any notice with no deductible or little co-pay. If you can get coverage for lost or stolen possessions too, that would be best.
Tip #6: Make sure your documents are in order.
Don’t wait till the last minute to get your passport ready! It takes anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to get a passport processed with a fee of $110.
Visas are not required for Americans traveling to western and most eastern European countries. However, if your studying abroad in Brazil, India, Vietnam, or Africa, you might be required to get a visa in advance.
Heard of the International Student identity Card (ISIC)? It’s a student ID card available to full time students that offers discounts in transportation, hotels, restaurants, shopping, as well as many other benefits around the world. It costs $25 and takes between 3-4 weeks to process and deliver. Check out ISIC for more information.
Lastly, remember to make photo copies of your documents and be sure to email yourself copies also.
Tip #7: Learn to read a map.
You won’t have a wi-fi hotspot available everywhere you go. Learning to read a map is actually pretty empowering. Buy one and study it for a couple of hours, circle destinations you plan on visiting, where you’ll be staying, and transportation checkpoints.
And because technology isn’t always reliable make sure to write down your itinerary in a small notebook that you can carry around with you. This includes your departure times, arrival times, when your expected to check in, your flight number, host number, etc. If your phone dies, you’ll have all the information you need ready.
Tip #8: Create travel checklists.
Don’t make packing anymore stressful than it has to be!
Start by creating separate checklists:
- Things to pack from home
- Things you still have to buy
- Things to pack in your carry on
- Things to pack in your personal bag
- Things to buy over there
By organizing your items into different checklists you can better determine what you need to bring and what you can go without.
There are many packing lists out there, but here are a few rules of thumb that’ll make your packing efficient and easy:
- Bring two weeks worth of clothes. That’s all you’ll need, trust us. You’ll have access to laundromats close to where you’ll be staying.
- Bring clothes that are low maintenance. Dry-cleaners are expensive so try your best to bring clothes that are easy to wash. Clothes that you can layer easily are also great for changing weather conditions.
- Stick to the rule of one. One pajama set, one swimsuit, one sweater, one jacket, etc.
- Pack versatile wardrobes. Save space by bringing clothes that you can dress up and dress down. For the ladies, this includes a black leather jacket, dark jeans, dressy sweatpants, and the little black dress. Guys, this means a dark sports jacket, a blue button down, and dark denim.
- Remember TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. That’s only if you’re flying with a carry on, in which case you’ll be limited in how many liquid toiletries you may bring. Skip out on the shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, and lotion, which you can buy when you get there. More important and probably more expensive is your contact lens solution, for instance.
- Bring a backup pair of glasses. Prescription glasses can be expensive abroad!
- 3 pairs of shoes. You only need three types: Durable (walking/running/hiking), Comfy (flip-flops/sneakers/sandals), & Fashion (pumps/ boat shoes).
- Pack duct tape. That’s all.
Study Abroad Tips: During the Trip
Tip #9: Journal and document your experience.
Out of all the study abroad tips, this one is the most important.
First of all, journaling allows you to look back at your memories. There will be moments you’ll want to remember and unless you write them down you won’t have much luck.
The key is to write descriptions of people you meet, people you want to keep in touch, the routes you take, and the best moments you experience, be it a meal, view, or hilarious moment.
If you plan on taking pictures, add a description, piece of dialogue, anything that’ll contextualize the moment. Why just write? Try your hand at drawing a building, a beautiful country side, even just a sketch of your room where you’re staying will bring back great memories.
Avoid writing down what you had for breakfast, or lists of things you did that day. Try instead to put aside 30-minutes of writing at the end of the day.
At the end of your study abroad, you’ll have great material to turn into a blog or to simply talk about with your friends back home.
Tips #10: Take trips by yourself and explore
Afraid of taking solo trips or of study abroad in general?
If safety is your concern, have no fear. Fortunately this is an area that is well vetted by universities, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs, and previous study abroad participants.
Foreign schools hosting study abroad programs must prove that their facilities are safe. Otherwise the partnering US universities are not going to take a risk of sending their students to those schools. The US Bureau of Consular Affairs also keeps an updated list of travel alerts and warnings.
Another way to prevent yourself from getting into a bad situation is by registering with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP. This is a free service through the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Simply enter your personal information and travel plans to the bureau. This allows the proper officials to locate you in the case of a natural disaster, family emergency or personal crisis. It’s an added level of security that can help you overcome your fears of safety when traveling.
And remember, solo travel doesn’t mean you have to backpack 100 miles. A quick trip downtown, or having lunch at a nearby cafe constitutes as solo travel also. Just ask around for recommendations and you’re likely to find a great place.
Keep these study abroad tips in mind especially if your family is concerned about your traveling alone.
Tip #11: Take risks and say yes more.
There’s an old saying: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and try new things. Try bizarre foods, partake in local nightlife, or drop in on a house party. Make friends with the locals because they will be your ultimate guide.
Don’t forget, this is your opportunity to conquer your fears. No one will know who you are so go ahead and be someone else. If you’re an introvert at home, try being the social butterfly abroad.
One more thing, allow the mistakes to happen. So what if you missed a stop, went in the completely opposite direction, and forgot your map. Having the chance to improvise and think on your feet is a great learning opportunity.
Tip #12: Disconnect from technology.
Of all the study abroad tips, this one might be the most difficult.
School is school and you’re going to have to write papers and turn in assignments. But other than that, try your best to limit using computers and cellphones.
Of course, take as many pictures as possible! Shots of monuments, attractions, land marks and selfies are okay, but sprinkle in a few group shots of new friends, the locals, and food.
Study Abroad Tips: After The Trip
Tip #13: Update that resume!
Once you’ve returned from the trip make sure to add a study abroad section to your resume. This section generally requires the name of the institution where you studied, the city and country, and a brief summary of your experience.
If you’ve kept a journal, you’ll have all this information and so much more.
We hope the study abroad tips have helped give you a better understanding of what to expect from this trip. Have fun and best of luck!