You're about to take advantage of one of the greatest opportunities of your college career. By studying abroad, you'll learn more about another culture in the most fundamental way possible - by actually living it. There are plenty of Web-sites and books that can give you detailed advice about what to do during every moment of your time away, so we'd like to keep our advice brief and stick to a few main points.
1. Think about what you want to get from the experience.
You know yourself better than anyone. Aside from having a great academic experience - which you may already know how to accomplish - what do you want to gain from your time away? Are you hoping to make life-long local friends? If so, how do you plan to make them? Do you plan to make a difference in the community through service work? Think about what sort of work you'd like to do, and where you might do it. We're not suggesting that you need to write out a day-by-day plan, just encouraging you to take stock of what's important to you, then seriously consider ways to make sure those things happen.
2. Consider traveling less.
Returning students often tell us that they wish they'd traveled less. Wherever you're going, whether it's Accra or Prague, don't lose track of the wonders that surround you in your new "home" city. It can be tempting to try to see all of Europe or to try to make it to Timbuktu, but those experiences may make it difficult to get to know your actual study abroad home. And chances are, you'll catch the travel bug while you're away, so you'll get a chance to see the places you missed someday soon.
3. Make a budget before you leave. Then really try to stick to it.
Study abroad can be expensive. And if you travel a lot, it can be really expensive. Here's a simple plan for making sure you’re ready.
- Figure out how much money you have. That sounds simple, but it's harder than it seems. For example, you may not be able to work abroad, whether because of legal, time, or other restrictions, so how much money can you save beforehand?
- Think carefully about what you plan to do while you're away. How much do you plan to travel? How do you plan to get there? Where do you plan to stay? Are you comfortable staying in hostels? You get the idea. Also consider everyday expenses, like food, toiletries, etc. - they can add up very quickly when you're not used to your environment.
- Be realistic. You're going to be very tempted to spend lots of money during your first few weeks abroad - you may make new friends and want to go out a lot, especially at the beginning. If possible, allow for "splurges" (especially souvenirs!) when you consider your budget.
- Try to break down your budget by week or month, then make a solemn vow - or at least a quick promise to yourself - that you'll stick to it. One way to make sure you do is to keep track of how you spend your money once you get there. It can be easy to forget where it all goes, but if you write it down, you'll find places here and there where you may be able to save. Good luck!
4. Make preparations for your physical and mental health before you leave.
Any physical or mental health concerns that you have here in the US will still be with you when you're abroad. That sounds obvious, we know, but it can be easy to forget to consult with your health care providers about things like prescriptions, medical treatment, and counseling abroad. So when you make an appointment for your study abroad physical, go with a list of questions about the sorts of services you'd like to have when you're away. If your physician can't help you, please don't hesitate to give us a call.
5. Research the program and city before you go.
You're always welcome to call us with any questions you have, but you may also want to check out books and Web-sites about your new home. We'll say it again: things will be different in your new home city. That's one of the reasons you're going, we hope, but knowing what to expect can often make it easier to accept the differences - some of which may be challenging - that you'll experience. Though we'd like everyone to read up and learn as much as they can especially about staying safe in your new city, we particularly encourage young women, students of color, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning) students to find out more about how they may be perceived in their new city. If you have any questions for us, we can assist you or put you in touch with a study abroad returnee who can help out as well.
6. Keep an open mind.
You're going to hear this over and over again, but it's the most important advice of all. Things will be different abroad, and not just in ways you expect. For example, you obviously know that people speak the same language in London, but do you know what a "cuppa" is? Did you know that Italian law limits the number of hours that heat can be turned on each day? In short, ask questions of our staff, students who've been there before, and locals—that's one of the easiest ways to find out what's up - and keep an open mind about things that are different and may, at first glance, seem strange or worse than what you're used to.