In 88 days I will be hopping on a plane on my way to Germany. I can’t believe it is so close now, since I have been waiting for my study abroad semester for what seems like forever. Like the planner I am I have been trying to do as much as I can to be prepared before I leave. I never realized how much there actually is to do before going abroad. My family isn’t big on traveling outside of the country so I probably wouldn’t have even thought of doing most of these things. Luckily, I have amazing friends who are abroad currently and giving me a ton of advice on how to have the best semester. I thought I would share the things they suggested I do before I leave on here that way everyone can be prepared for their study abroad semester. In the post I explain the specifics of each to do item and then at the bottom I have a cute checklist of everything that you can download, print, and checkoff as you go.
1. Make sure that the classes you plan on taking abroad will transfer over to your home university. If you’re spending money to take the classes and you’re actually studying in hopes of passing them then you and your parents will want you to get credit for them. Along with this, make sure that you’re on track to graduate when you get back. I have heard of several people who went abroad thinking they would be able to finish their degree in the time they had planned, but then came back to find out that was not the case. There’s a lot of easy fixes to this, like possibly taking a class over the summer, so it’s good to know about it ahead of time so you can figure out a plan to graduate.
2. Figure out how you are going to get to your university from the airport. Usually in Europe the best way is by public transportation, but if you’re lucky your school might offer a shuttle. This would be a great thing to ask your program coordinate or abroad university advisor. You know, that person you feel like you should ask a question to and introduce yourself, but have no idea what to say.
3. Make three photocopies of all important documents that you are taking with you. This includes your passport, credit cards, school acceptance letter, license, and proof health insurance. Leave one set at your home in the US, carry one set in one of your bags, and leave the last set at your home abroad. Also make sure to bring a copy of your birth certificate and social security card just in case of anything.
4. Create a Google doc with information about your flights, contact information for people you would need to contact there and at home, school information, health insurance information, and anything else you feel like is important. A key thing to have in this document is the contact information for your program coordinator. There will bound to be things that come up that you will want to ask them about and it will be good to have their information in a place you can access on any device. You can then share this with family members so they aren’t all asking you for the information and they have it in case of an emergency or anything.
5. Money, money, money. First of all you will want to figure out if the country your going to tends to be more cash friendly or credit card friendly and plan accordingly. If it is cash you will want to make sure that you will be able to withdraw money easily and without too many fees. If you plan on using a credit/debit card most of the time look into if the cards you currently have, have high foreign transaction fees If they do there are some credit cards that are perfect for a traveler. Also make sure to let your bank and credit card companies know that you are going abroad so they don’t freeze your account. Along with all of this, I think it’s a good idea to create a preliminary budget for your semester. You will probably have to change it once you are actually there and buying things, but it’ll be a good idea to have an idea of how much you want to spend.
6. Apply for an international student identity card (ISIC). It’s basically a card that allows you to prove your student status worldwide. I know it doesn’t sound all that exciting, but what is means is that since you are recognized as a student worldwide, you also get student discounts worldwide which means happy times for broke college students. There are a lot of discounts for hotels and tourist attractions, which will be perfect for your weekend trips. You can easily apply for your card online, but keep in mind that it takes about 3-4 weeks for you to receive your card so don’t wait until the last minute to do it.
7. Download Duolingo and start learning the language if you are going to a country that doesn’t speak your language. I downloaded Duolingo a few weeks ago and I have really enjoyed learning German so far with it, since they kind of make a game out of it. I already know how to say more in German than I ever though I would including apple, bread, and dog (apfel, brot, and hund in case you were wondering).
8. Book your flight. Fun fact: One-way tickets are waaayyyyyy more expensive than round-trip tickets. When I was looking up flights to Frankfurt last weekend they were $1500 for a one-way and I ended up paying $1200 for a round-trip. I honestly can’t figured out why this is a thing considering I saved money by flying double the amount of miles. Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. So anyway I suggest booking a round-trip even if you don’t know when you’re coming back because even with a change fee it will be much cheaper.
9. Visit the doctor and get a physical so you are ready for any adventures that life may take you. Also check to see if there are any vaccinations or immunizations that you need for the country you’re going to. If you take prescription drugs this would be a good time to figure that out. Before you leave it also would be a good idea to go to the dentist, get a hair cut from your favorite hair stylist, and everything else you won’t have time to/want to do abroad.
10. Fill out a change-of-adresss form to have everything sent to your permanent address. You don’t want your issues of Vogue going to your old apartment while your abroad.
11. Figure out what phone you are going to use while abroad. Something that my advisor told me that I think is really good to keep in mind is that while your traveling there is a good chance you will get pick pocketed, so you might want to leave the latest iPhone at home. Do your research though and figure out the best option for you. Personally, I plan on taking my iPhone4 since I have awful luck with electronics anyway and if my phone doesn’t get stolen it will probably end up in a fountain. I have also heard that getting a cheap phone while there to communicate with people there is a really good option.
12. Make a packing list with everything you think you will need abroad. I am a huge fan of packing lists and putting literally everything on it. One time my friend was using a packing list that didn’t have pjs on it and she forgot pjs for our vacation and so ever since then I always triple check my list. Think hard about some of the things you put on your list though because several of the items might just be easier to get there and then you have more room for clothes! I recommend the follow posts for packing list inspiration (aka porn for type a people): Watch Shelbie Blog, Flatclub, Bustle, and Infinite.
13. Get coffee with people who have already studied abroad. Ask them all of the questions you have been concerned about and see what advice they have to offer you. Almost everyone I have talked to have been so excited to talk about their experience and offer their advice, so don’t be worried that you’re bothering them. Most of them have been looking for someone new to tell all of their abroad stories to. Try to talk to your program coordinator to see if you can get the contact information for people who have been to the same university as you so you can get advice that is very pertinent to you.
14. Research the culture and the politics of the country you’re going to. I really like Culture Crossing for this. They have the basic things you will need to know, how the country does business, and the best part for us is the section on students. They go over class rules, how students socialized, and other miscellaneous things you should know. Also make sure to research laws, especially if you have an irrational fear like me of going to jail while abroad and not being able to get out and then having to explain to all future employers of why you want to jail in Germany because you didn’t realize it was illegal to climb a statue.
15. Check out The Official Pre-Year Abroad Guide. It has packing lists, tips, advice, a how to for creating an essential medical kit, and everything else someone going abroad would want.
16. Get ready for an amazing semester! Everyone I have ever talked to have said you only regret not going abroad. Make sure to enjoy the semester, and by preparing ahead you will have even more time to enjoy yourself.
P.S. You can find more tips on my study abroad Pinterest board!