So you're getting ready to jet off for a semester abroad; congrats! It's one of the most fun, life-changing activities you can do as a college student. You get to explore new places, make friends from around the world, and learn to live independently.
But before you hop on the plane to your new home, there is a lot to do! Choosing classes, getting a visa, and other housekeeping items might be at the front of your mind. With all the excitement, though, there are some smaller things you might forget to add to your to-do list.
Girl, I'm here for you! Save this list of things you need to do before you study abroad and you'll be ready to say “bye-bye” to your hometown and “hello” to a new country!
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1. Get The Right Clothes and Shoes
There are lots of things you need to do before you study abroad, but packing the proper wardrobe is super important. First, you want to avoid a lot of flashy items, especially fancy jewelry and designer clothes and bags. These will definitely make you look amazing but will also attract the attention of thieves. Plus, leaving them at home will reduce your risk of losing them somewhere on your adventures.
Even wearing clothing that clearly identifies you as a foreign student can make you a potential target for scams and pickpockets. When I studied abroad, they told us to avoid wearing clothes with our university name, other typically American things like brand logos or vacation destinations, or even bright colors. Instead, pack a smaller wardrobe of simple patterns and muted hues. This article here shows how to make a travel-friendly capsule wardrobe.
To make it easy, pack just a small number of pieces you can mix and match. Laundry is notoriously expensive in other countries, so you won't want to have tons of clothes to wash. Plus having fewer bags will make the process of moving in and out of your new place way easier. With multiple planes, buses, and cabs to take, the fewer bags you have to drag around the better!
That's not all.
Don't forget about the shoes! As a student, you'll probably be walking A LOT. Going to class, exploring your new home, and going on weekend trips means you will be logging a ton of steps. That's why you need to invest in a good pair of walking shoes.
Speaking from experience, test out your shoes first. Take long walks (preferably up and down hills) to see how comfy they really are and where the shoes rub your feet, if at all. Taking at least one pair of super comfortable and sturdy walking shoes will save your feet, back, and legs a ton of pain.
If you want shoes that deliver on both style and comfort, check out Toms. They are so cute and surprisingly amazing for walking. I've done vacations to Walt Disney World and big cities with them and never felt sore. You can buy an adorable pair of Toms here!
2. Call Your Bank
Have you ever had your credit or debit card frozen because you had weird activity on your account? Chances are you had just gone on a shopping spree or something, but this can cause a major annoyance for study abroad students.
Why does this matter?
When your bank sees that you've been making a bunch of purchases in a foreign country, they will flag that as suspicious. And rightly so! But since it really is you and not some rando who stole your identity, this can be super annoying.
To avoid having to call a helpline at weird hours, call your bank before you leave. Tell them where you'll be studying and for how long and they will overlook those charges on your card. You can even ask them to ignore transactions in nearby countries, too, since you'll probably be venturing off on weekend trips while you're abroad.
For an even easy transition into your semester abroad, you might want to remove secondary security measures from your online bank account. If your bank texts or emails you every time you log in from a new IP address or device, the bank is bound to get worried and you'll get annoyed! Just remember to put them back on when you get home.
This is definitely one of those things you need to do before you study abroad that you might never have thought of!
3. Connect With Fellow Students
One of the most fun parts of studying abroad is making new friends! Seek out fellow students in your program and connect with them on social media. This is a great way to find a roommate if you need to and to just get to know your peers before you actually meet in person.
If you're the organizing type, start a Facebook group for your program and invite other students to it. Just make sure that you confirm the people are actually in your program before adding them to avoid an awkward encounter! My study abroad cohort did this and it was a great way to ask questions before and during our time overseas as well as stay connected once we got home.
Once you get to your destination, make sure to exchange emergency contact information with your new friends or roommates. This is key in case anything goes awry. If you stop answering your phone or don't come home some night, your pals can contact your family to let them know. And you can offer to do the same for them!
You might also want to connect with someone who has completed your program before you set off on your study abroad adventure. She can let you in on the secrets that they won't tell you in the brochure like the best bars to go to, which restaurants have cheap eats, and tips for navigating the city.
Ask your university's study abroad advisor for help or skim alumni lists for your program. You'll get some amazing intel and might even make a new friend! Nothing bonds people together like a shared experience. While connecting with other students might not be one of the most essential things you need to do before you study abroad, it's one of the most enjoyable!
4. Learn About The Culture
Cultural sensitivity is so, SO important when studying abroad. In other countries, Americans often get a bad rap for being loud and rude. Don't feed into that stereotype! Instead, take some time to learn about your destination's culture before you leave home.
A major part of this is your behavior in public. Every culture has its own rituals and norms, so try to fit in as best you can. On a similar note, closely study the laws in the country you're going to. You don't want to get arrested and put in prison for something just because you're allowed to do it at home!
Another way to show appreciation for your new country is to learn some of the local language. Even if it's just a few phrases, the locals will appreciate your effort. They will honestly be more willing to help you than if you just start jabbering to them in English. Learning at least basic manners (like “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me”) and how to ask for directions will get you far!
To get you started, try a subscription to Rosetta Stone. This language software company has been helping people learn new languages for decades and now you can study anywhere! Simply hop online and jump right into your lessons, which are designed to work with the way our brains naturally learn languages. You can even download your lessons to any mobile device! This makes it easy to study anytime, anywhere that works best for you.
Rosetta Stone subscriptions come in 3, 6, 12, and 24-month packages. So whether you know the language and want to become fluent or you're a total newbie who has a lot to learn, there's an option for you. Brushing up on your language skills is definitely one of the top things you need to do before you study abroad!
5. Make Copies of Your Documents
When you're a whole ocean away from your home country, you want to make sure that all of your paperwork is in order. If you lose something or forget it at home, you might have to face major consequences. To avoid any mishaps, take the extra precaution and make copies of your important documents.
This includes everything that can help identify you and give you access to services you might need while you're abroad. Think your passport, visa, credit cards, insurance cards, and any other IDs you might have. It takes just a few minutes to scan and print these things but doing so can save you a world of trouble.
Of all the things you need to do before you study abroad, make sure you definitely do this one! Bring original documents as well as copies along with you, but also leave a copy with your family back home. You could also give a copy to a roommate or friend in your program. If something goes wrong, they can help vouch for you.
For more advice on this and even more things you need to do before you study abroad, check out the video below.
6. Familiarize Yourself With Your New City
Before you ever leave home, you should research your destination city inside and out. Figure out your route to school, find the closest grocery store to your apartment, and search for nearby pharmacies and hospitals. In addition, you'll want to know where your study abroad staff's office and the embassy are in case of an emergency. It's better to know ahead of time than have to figure this stuff out in a stressful situation!
Researching which are the “bad” parts of town is also a good idea before jetting off. But don't let that stress you out! Instead, focus on all the fun stuff in your new neighborhood and don't be too worried about the seedy places.
What's the point?
You might be wondering why this is on a “things you need to do before you study abroad” list and not something to do when you get to your destination. Well, it's both.
Having lived in four cities in the past decade, I can tell you that doing your research ahead of time is key. Once you get there you'll probably feel nervous, jet-lagged, excited, and overwhelmed all at the same time. You'll barely remember your own name, let alone be able to magically navigate a new place!
Before I started my grad program in Toronto, I literally “walked around” the neighborhoods of my school and apartment using Google street view. I have a terrible sense of direction so this made me feel more comfortable with my surroundings by the time I moved in.
There are so many things you need to do before you study abroad!
Just like when you started college, there are tons of things you need to do before you study abroad. Moving to a new place, preparing to live and work in another country, there are so many aspects to consider! That's why it's best to be prepared before you leave.
From meeting new friends to getting your paperwork in order, make sure you check off all of these essential actions! You and your family will be glad you did.
What did you do to prepare for a semester overseas? Did I miss anything? Which tip surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments below!