Studying abroad provides U.S. students a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to attend classes at first-class educational institutions, get a first-hand look at the lives of peers across the globe, and gain a new perspective on life.
This opportunity is one that many students are taking advantage of, highlighted by 2015 statistics that show the number of U.S. students studying abroad doubled over the previous two years.
If you’re one of the many students considering a study abroad program, here are some valuable tips to keep in mind.
How to Choose a Study Abroad Destination
The success of your experience depends partially on choosing a suitable destination. In making your choice of where to study abroad, you should consider:
If you despise the winters at home, you’re not going to love Sweden during the cold months. Just because you’re in a new country doesn’t mean your personal preferences will change. Choose a place and term (summer, winter or entire year) where you’ll be physically comfortable.
If you’re a beginner or partially fluent in another language, consider studying in a location where that language is spoken. Learning a language in an immersive environment will speed up your rate of fluency and give you a satisfying extra benefit from your studies abroad.
On the other hand, if you don’t understand one word of German, don’t put added pressure on yourself by studying in Berlin. You’ll have enough challenges while studying abroad without having to figure out what everyone is saying.
If the study abroad program in one country will advance your career path, while another one will delay it, choose the former over the latter. Studying abroad should add value to your curriculum, not detract from it. Save the other destination as a victory trip after you’ve graduated with your chosen degree.
- Civil/Political Environment
Many places that boast accredited study abroad programs are safe for U.S. students – but not all. Even popular places like Paris and London can pose threats to U.S. students studying abroad.
Be sure to check in with the latest State Department travel advisory list to see if there are travel warnings posted for your destination. Carefully read any warnings for your destination and the surrounding countries, then make your decision accordingly.
Steps to Take Before Your Departure
Once you’ve decided on your destination, here are some steps you should take before leaving for your study abroad program.
- Study the Culture
To prevent a faux pas in another country, study up on various cultural differences. There are many articles and publications available in print and online that can detail your destination’s social customs and governing laws.
While it’s not necessary for you to change who you are while living abroad, you will need to respect the culture of your destination.
- Cover Your Medical Needs
It’s essential – and often mandatory – to purchase international student health insurance to cover your medical needs while studying abroad.
Even students who are healthy as a horse can experience unexpected illnesses or injuries. Your U.S. health insurance plan might not cover your medical care in a foreign country, so consider getting specialty international student health insurance that provides coverage while you’re studying abroad.
Additionally, if you need certain prescription medications, contact lenses or have other medical needs, make sure you have what you need before you leave for your program. You may need to get a certified doctor’s letter to allow you to bring certain medications into a foreign country. Bring ample medicine and replacement contact lenses to last you during your trip. Other countries have very different over-the-counter-medicines, and their availability may be limited.
- Make Copies of All Your Documents
Photocopy your U.S. documents, including your letter of acceptance to study abroad, your driver’s license, your passport and your visa. Give these to your parents, a teacher or another trusted adult to hold onto while you’re abroad. Also give them contact information for your host family or landlord where you’ll be staying. If for any reason there’s a problem, you’ll feel better knowing there’s someone “on the other side” who has all your pertinent information.
It’s amazingly freeing to lift off on a plane and fly to another country where you know you’ll be staying for a while. You may like the feeling of being “off the grid,” and away from parents. But resist the urge to “disappear” off their radar. Remember that you’ll be returning after the program, and you don’t want to alienate yourself from friends and family while you’re gone.
Also, keep in touch with parents and friends on a schedule that’s comfortable to you. The more routine you can make it, the better because if the routine varies, they’ll know as soon as possible that something is amiss. Chances are, you’ll be perfectly fine, but it doesn’t hurt to put extra safeguards in place. This will help you, as well as comfort your parents, who are likely concerned about your well-being and happiness.
As you embark on this amazing adventure of studying abroad, remember the big picture. It’s an experience of learning, sharing and growing even more toward adulthood and independence. Have fun, be safe and make friends that will last a lifetime!