7 Ways to Prepare for Study Abroad
Studying abroad is one of the most exciting and challenging experiences that you can have in college. It will allow you to experience new cultures, learn new languages, make new friends, and ultimately increase your sense of confidence and independence.
However, it can be quite a daunting task, starting from the application process and continuing all the way to the end of your experience. Fortunately, there are ways to make the transition to studying abroad easier.
1. Pack for all weather
Depending on where you’re going, you might arrive in your host city to find freezing temperatures and be experiencing a heat wave by the time you leave. Pack some essentials for all types of weather — a few sweaters and a heavy coat for the winter, for instance, plus a raincoat and some light summer clothes make a good mix.
While you can always buy the essentials when you arrive, you’ll feel better knowing that you’re already fully prepared. If you’re planning on traveling during your time abroad, research the weather in the countries you plan to visit at various times throughout the year to make sure that you won’t be caught off guard.
2. Make a list of everywhere you want to go
While spontaneity can make for some exciting adventures, you don’t want to get to the end of your semester abroad and suddenly realize that you never visited your host city’s most iconic monuments. When you’re studying abroad, it can be easy to become ensconced in your own routine and forget about the more touristy activities that you had hoped to do.
To avoid missing out, make a list before you go or early on in the semester of everything you want to do and see. This way you can plan out your trips and ensure that you won’t return to the U.S. regretting everything you forgot to make time to do.
3. Scope out your neighborhood before you go
To minimize stress when you arrive in your host country, Google Maps is a great resource for doing some research on your neighborhood ahead of time. You can find the nearest grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants before you even leave the U.S., which will help your move to a foreign city go far more smoothly.
It will also allow you to get a feel for the kind of neighborhood you’ll be living in — whether it’s lively or quiet, for instance, or if there are any great parks or museums nearby. You may also want to look into the public transportation system in your host city so you know how to get around when you arrive.
4. Start your visa application process well in advance
If the country you’re traveling to requires you to have a visa, plan far in advance and start the application process as early as possible. Obtaining a visa is often the last step to finalize your semester abroad, and you certainly don’t want to be worrying about whether or not you’ll be approved one week before you’re supposed to leave.
The process tends to be long and visa appointments are sometimes booked as far as six weeks in advance, so you should start thinking about getting a visa as soon as you are officially accepted to your program. For certain countries, you’ll have to apply and be approved to study there before you can even begin the visa application process, so do some research and allot yourself extra time if necessary.
5. Bring good walking shoes
Wherever you choose to study abroad, you’ll be doing a lot of exploring — which means a lot of walking. To make sure you don’t end up with sore feet at the end of every day, come prepared with good walking shoes. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to wear gym shoes every day in order to be comfortable, avoid heels or shoes that don’t provide you with any support.
6. Research cultural norms
Every country has its own set of etiquette that, even with the best of intentions, you may find yourself unknowingly shirking from time to time. To avoid any uncomfortable moments at restaurants, stores, or simply when talking with locals, look up some information on cultural norms in your host country before you go.
Even if you do have slip-ups once in a while, the fact that you have some basic knowledge of the expectations concerning your behavior will probably mean that others will be more understanding and sympathetic when you make mistakes.
7. Know that you’ll need to make an effort to learn the language
When you’re studying abroad with other students from your school, you’ll probably find yourself speaking English the majority of the time. If part of your goal for doing study abroad is to improve your language skills, you’ll likely need to make a conscious effort to practice speaking.
It’s surprisingly easy to get by only with English in many foreign countries, so speaking the native language may not naturally occur often enough for you to grow comfortable with it. Try joining a local club or volunteering in the community, as this is the easiest way to meet locals and to practice your conversational skills. You can also use apps such as Bilingua, Tandem, and HelloTalk, which help you meet up with locals who want to learn English, giving you both the opportunity to practice speaking.
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