Many colleges and universities offer study abroad programs, where students have an opportunity to spend a semester or more studying in a foreign country. For many, this is a great way to continue college coursework, while at the same time be able to travel and experience another country. It's a great way to make new friends, see new places, and discover yourself along the way. Traveling, however, comes with some very unique challenges. We can't prepare you for every unexpected experience, discovery, or mistake you might make. You wouldn't want us to. After all, that's part of the adventure! However, there are some tips we can provide to make your travel abroad go as smoothly as possible.
1. Passports and Visas
If you do not have a passport or have not yet applied for one, now is the time! Depending on workload, it can take up to 6 months to get your passport. You can submit your application at many Post Offices. Some locations will take your passport photo for a fee, others will not. There are plenty of options though; many stores offer passport photos. You'll need to submit two with your application. You will also need to mail in some documentation to prove you are who you say you are. It can feel a bit weird mailing your original birth certificate off with your passport application; but rest assured they will mail it back in a few weeks. If you are already a world traveler and have a passport, take a look at it. Most countries require that the expiration date on the passport is not within 6 months or a year of your travel date. If your passport is expiring soon, likely you'll have to renew before you go. This process can also take a while, so start now.
When traveling to some countries, you'll need a student visa. Check with the country you are traveling to and be sure you know the visa requirements. This is also one of the first things you should do when you decide to study abroad. Visas don't usually take as long as passports, but you will want to make sure everything is in order before you go.
2. Bank and Credit Card accounts
To prevent fraud, most bank and credit card accounts will flag charges that come from outside of the US and often decline such charges. In order to avoid the embarrassing situation of being unable to pay for your cappuccino in the cute little Italian Café, make sure you contact your bank and credit card companies before you leave and let them know you'll be traveling. You'll want to tell them how long you'll be gone and where you'll be traveling - including any flight layovers in countries where you might want to purchase something.
Many students who study abroad are part of foreign language programs. In these cases, students have already familiar with the language of the country in which they are studying. If this is not the case for you, and you do not have any background in the language, take some time to learn some key phrases so that you can at least do things like order some food, tell someone you are lost, and find a bathroom.
Spending money in a foreign country can get confusing pretty quickly. Make sure to take the time to understand the value of each coin and piece of currency. You'll need to be able to give people exact change at some points. Also, the currency you are using will have a different value than the US dollar. Make sure you understand the conversion rate so you understand how much you are actually spending.
5. Not everything will go as planned. Relax!
Traveling, living, and studying abroad comes with complications. You could have a flight delay or reschedule. You will probably get lost in a foreign city at least once. You might misunderstand the culture and embarrass yourself. There will be miscommunication and confusion. Relax. It's all part of the experience. Things might be frustrating or scary at times, but you'll grow and learn from these times. You'll also have experiences you'll remember for the rest of your life.