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5 Things to Do Before Leaving to Study Abroad

by Lauryn Long
One person handing a passport to another

So, you’re studying abroad and it’s a few weeks before you embark on the journey of a lifetime! You’re filled with a mix of emotions: excitement, curiosity, and disbelief that it’s actually time to leave soon. There’s likely also a small pit in your stomach that you’re not ready — so now what? Follow this checklist to reassure yourself that you’re prepared for your new adventure.

Although the final list of things to do before you study abroad can feel overwhelmingly long, these main five will get you moving in the right direction!

1. Do in depth research on where you are going.

What are the customs and traditions? What should you wear? Is there anything that may seem normal to you that could offend locals? These are all things that you should think about, because culture shock is a real concept that can potentially leave you feeling somewhat lost.

Think about it: Don’t you want to start off with your best foot forward when you settle into a new place? My suggestion is to do a thorough Google search and learn a bit about where you are headed — and more than just the frivolous or touristy stuff. Better yet, if you have the time, read a book or blog by a traveler who has been there before and can help you based on their experience. Overall, it’s a good idea so that you will have the ability to get a feel for what life will be like when you arrive and to assist with the acclimation process.

2. Get your money right.

We’re college students. This means that we are often living off ramen and cereal, studying like there’s no tomorrow, and trying to keep our heads above a sea of debt. A good number of us don’t have money to lose.

For that reason, it’s in your best interest to not become a victim of those pesky foreign transaction fees, confusing exchange rates, and oh-so-slick pickpockets. You’re going to want to understand your experience from a financial perspective, like the exchange rates and the way that they are applied to the purchases that you make. Exchange rates can differ from country to country, which is why it’s a good idea to talk to your local bank, others who have traveled, and trusty ol’ Google.

I suggest committing to not walk around with loads of cash in your pocket, no matter where you are studying abroad. In any country or city — even ones at home in the United States — it’s important to be mindful of pickpockets in popular tourist locations. Imaging losing that large sum of money you decided to carry around — what a lousy way to kick off your travel or study abroad experience! So, think ahead before you leave! Remember that it’s okay to have some cash on you, as many vendors in other countries do not take credit cards, but as a general rule it’s a good idea to consider bringing a major credit card that you know will be accepted in your host country. Be sure to square that away before you leave to study abroad! Pro-tip: Try to find one that doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees to save some extra money!

3. Spend some extra time with your loved ones.

You likely won’t be seeing your friends and family for a while. Let’s face it, FaceTime just isn’t the same. Your last few days at home are going to be so busy, you won’t even know where the time went. Try to find a few days the week before you go abroad to spend some quality time with your loved ones. Break out the board games, capture some funny videos to keep in your back pocket when you are feeling homesick, and just enjoy their presence. You’ll thank yourself later.

4. Pack sooner rather than later.

Don’t put it off. Procrastination tempts us all, but you will be so grateful when you have everything you need for your study abroad experience tucked away in your suitcase. Imagine the relief you’ll feel when it’s down to the wire.

Additionally, airlines require that your bags weigh under a certain amount and meet the dimension requirements, so remember to reach out to your airline(s) to see what is acceptable. You might even want to try to weigh your bag before you contact the airline, or go to the airport . Remember to leave a little space to account for souvenirs that you may want to take back home with you.

5. Don’t forget your cell phone.

It’s so ridiculously easy to get swept into the planning, flights, packing, and excitement of your study abroad experience that you’re sure to forget at least one small thing. Don’t let that small thing be your cell phone!

Sadly, our current plans don’t typically transfer with us wherever we go. I’ve heard the horror stories of cell phone bills that were thousands of dollars for only a few weeks overseas because cell phone companies’ data, messaging, and calling rates are much higher when the phone is used internationally.

Preventing this means you have to figure out how important your phone is to you and where it fits into your experience. If you value your phone and won’t be able to live without it, my best suggestion is to reach out to your cell phone company and find their international plan. It will be costly, but if it’s worth it and if it will give you a sense of comfort, then that plan should definitely be for you!

If you don’t plan to rely on your phone very often, then the better option would be to buy a SIM card from the country that will become your temporary home for the next few months and put it in your current phone. Another option is to buy a Tracfone in that country and use it to talk to your new friends (you won’t be able to call home only those within that country). In this instance, you would be solely relying on WiFi to connect you with your loved ones back home.

Check with your AIFS Resident Director or Admissions Officer if you have questions about the process of acquiring or using a cell phone overseas.

No matter which you choose, don’t forget to live in the moment of your trip and enjoy yourself!

This post was contributed by Lauryn Long, a student from St. John Fisher College who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Australia.

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