Archived Articles
 Archved Information
 Sinclairification by Grant Sinclair

Preparing To Study Abroad

01 May 2008

So youíve decided to go on a Study Abroad trip with your university.  Excellent!  This article should help you get a few things in order that may not be covered elsewhere.

By now youíve probably reviewed your course curriculum and know where youíll be studying

If youíve never left your home or country for an extended period of time before, it can be an intimidating experience.  To help the transition from your culture to your new experience, try the following:

- Get a guidebook of the place youíll be visiting.  Youíll learn some of the history of the place as well as get an idea of the architecture, colors and sights.  Youíll also have ideas for places to visit if you get some time to yourself to explore.

- Get a language tape (or CD or MP3 or whatever) and learn some of the local language, even if youíll be studying the language as part of your curriculum.  Youíll be surprised how it will come in handy.

- Make a photo album of your friends, family, home, car, pets, school and favorite places to bring along.  This is not meant to be a large, heavy photo album, but the small, 4x6 photo albums that hold about 24 images.  Bring two or three if you think youíll need them.

- While you might bring along a laptop computer, bring along physical, tangible photo albums anyway.  Youíll want something your new friends and host family can pass around without being concerned if it gets dropped or something spilled on it.

- When taking photos for your album, be aware that where you are traveling may be in a poorer part of the world.  Try not to show off too much.  To be safe, have someone look over your album before you pack it.

- Bring along some of your favorite music to share with your new friends and host family.  Bring the music on CD-R, NOT just your portable music player.  This way, you can put your music in a CD player for everyone to enjoy.  CD-Rs are good because if something happens to the disc (it gets lost, scratched, etcetera) you wonít care.

- When you are choosing the music for your CD-R, please be conservative.  More melodic music by musicians usually goes over better with new people in a different culture than harsh, loud tones and yelling.  It all depends on what kind of music you enjoy, but if you really have any questions, bring the CD to the Study Abroad advisor or the professor running the trip to get a better perspective.
When you get to your new country and play your music for your new friends, donít be surprised or insulted if they donít like it, or even tolerate it.  It may not be a cultural thing; they just might think you have horrible taste in music.

- Bring a gift for your host family from your city/state.  Nothing gaudy, elaborate or heavy, but sincere.  If youíre traveling to a Catholic country, a Christmas tree ornament is a good idea.  Refrigerator magnets, picture frames and other items along those lines generally work.

- Before you leave, sign up for an online storage account.  This way youíll have a secure place to store photos and homework assignments online.  You may have to pay for the service, but it might be worth it to not have to worry about your important information.  That being said, you should still make CDs/DVDs of your photos regularly.  Click here to see online storage choices.

- Before you leave, tell your friends and family what youíre doing and where youíre going.  See if you can get a mailing address for where youíll be while youíre away.  You may get a care package from home if youíre lucky!

Some Latin American countries have had issues with sending parcels to and from their countries using standard post (Iím looking at YOU, Mexico).  If you want to insure your items get to and from their locations safely, consider using a private courier service, like Federal Express, UPS, or DHL.

- At some point during your stay, try to have a group photo taken with you and your host family.  It would also be cool if you could print it and put it in the frame you brought with you as a gift right before you leave.

FYI: Most countries outside of the US, Canada and England use the Metric System.

So now that youíve packed some things for your trip, here are some things to know once youíve arrived.

1) Laptop safety
We all love our laptop computers (except for when we hate them), but be cautious about where and when you use yours.  To be safe, you should just leave it at the house or in your room.  You donít need to bring it with you every day.  If you need something for taking notes in class, use an inexpensive $2 paper notebook.  You should only use your laptop to store your photos, do homework and other various school work.

While your laptop could be used as an entertainment hub, donít use it for that while youíre away.  You shouldnít be up in your room watching DVDs on your computer while the rest of the family is together downstairs.
On the same token, you donít need to bring it along on long bus rides or other trips.  Use this time to get to know the other people who are on the trip with you.

Yes, we all like our down time, but use it wisely.
2) Your camera
Bring your camera with you everywhere, all the time. You may not get many chances to take pictures and you never know what youíre going to see.

Take too many pictures.  You donít know what will turn out and what youíll end up liking.  Itís better to not use a picture you have than to want a picture you never took.

While you should take a lot of pictures, please do so politely.  Do not take pictures of things when asked not to, learn to turn off your flash and ask permission before taking pictures of people.

3) Passport-size photos
Bring along a couple passport-sized photos of yourself.  For more information, click here.

4) Get an ISTC (International Student Travel Confederation) card! (  ISTC cards can help you save money on certain types of admission (usually at museums), but can also help you save on rail passes and other travel essentials.  Visit their web site for more information.

5) Insure all your items
Camera, laptop, etcetera. Contact who ever provides your auto insurance and ask if they cover personal articles. Also inquire if renterís insurance covers personal articles if outside the apartment, or outside the country. You may also be able to add your things to your parentsí home ownerís insurance, but be sure to ask them first.

6) Scan Ė do not photocopy Ė the first page of your passport. Save it as a jpg and E-mail it to yourself or store it online. Now you have a clean, color, portable, back up of your passport page should you need it.  Print out at least two copies to travel with, separate from the original.

7) Before you leave home, empty your laptop of all non-essential information, especially personal and/or financial information. Do not keep the scan from your passport on your laptop.

8) Bring blank CDs and DVDs (depending on your laptop) and/or a portable hard drive to back up your pictures EVERY NIGHT. To be extra safe, make two of each disc AND keep the image on your computer. Give the extra discs to a friend. If you have time, E-mail your favorite pictures Ė even if only to yourself Ė as additional security.

9) Buy a thumb drive.
You can copy your photos and homework assignments to the thumb drive and bring it to a PC room to upload to your online storage account.  This is better than bringing your entire laptop computer or portable hard drive, since you can keep the thumb drive in your pocket.  Buy the largest size you can afford.

10) Pack appropriately. Donít bring ghetto or slutty clothes. Youíre in a foreign country and you stand out already. That should be enough.

11) When you arrive and get settled, ask the locals the following questions:
- Is it safe to walk alone at night?
- Where are the bad parts of town?
- Where are the good bars/pubs/restaurants?
- What do you do for fun?
- Where are good places to take pictures?
People will generally be pretty honest when answering those questions.

11) E-mail is nice, but be sure to call your parents from time to time.  Theyíll want to hear from you.

Things to Know

Youíll probably find this information in other articles on this site, but itís pretty important, so Iíve included it here, with modifications for Study Abroad students.

Remember, above all things, you are responsible for your own well being. Not your host family, professors or fellow students. You.  Sure, you should look out for one another, but in the end, you are responsible for you. If you have a problem, by all means report it to the proper authorities. But donít be surprised if the local police wonít do anything about your problem and the US embassy wonít either.

If you stay alert, sober and aware of your surroundings, you should be fine. But if you get drunk, lost and/or stupid, youíre more likely to run into problems.

If youíre living with a host family (in their house), youíll want to behave appropriately. Remember, you are representing yourself, your country and your school.

To help ease your transition overseas, read the following checklist:

- Blast your music.
- Smoke in the house.
- Walk around the house in your pajamas/shirtless, etcetera.
- Walk around the house talking on your cell phone.
- Come home drunk and/or late.

If your host family includes someone who is your age and wants to show you around, then by all means, go for it. Have fun; see what the town is about. But donít be stupid. This is someoneís home, not a frat house.

- Offer to help with cooking, meal preparation, etcetera.
- Bring a gift from home for your host family.
- Take a photo with your family, then print it and give it to them as a gift.
- Go with them on family trips if you are invited.
- Try to be part of the family.
- Relax and enjoy yourself. Youíre having the experience of a lifetime.

Have fun with it.  
© 2008

US State Department
World Health Organization
Get Out the Map
Your International Studies office

Thank you for reading.  If you have something to add to this article, please click here to go to the Contact page and select ďContributing to an articleĒ from the drop down menu.  Please enter the article title in the message field so your addition goes to the correct article.  Thank you for your contribution!