October 14, 2015
You graduated high school and made it to college. You’ve tasted freedom – freedom from parental guidance, freedom to stay up as late as you want and freedom to eat three-day old leftovers that have been sitting on the floor. What more could you possibly want? To have all of those freedoms in another part of the world.
Let’s celebrate by leaving our comfort zone.
Learning in a classroom will only get you so far, but having an opportunity to go somewhere, not just vacation, but live in a wholly unique culture for months at a time will teach you more about both yourself, and the world, than any classroom ever will. But there are things to know before signing up.
1. A Passport Is Your First Priority
You won’t be going anywhere without a valid passport. If you don’t have one, run to your nearest post office and apply because it can take a few weeks. If you do own one, make sure that it isn’t expiring until a few months after you return home. Depending on where you go you might also need a visa, so get the ball rolling pronto.
2. Get A Tune Up Before Take Off
A basic physical should be the bare minimum before heading abroad. Let the doctor know the reason for your visit, and where you may be traveling within the region. You may need/want to get a few vaccinations depending on where you plan to study. Make sure to bring a copy of your medical records as well.
3. Travel Insurance And Other Important Items
Make a photocopy of your passport and birth certificate and keep it somewhere safe. Call your insurance company and find out what kind of coverage you have overseas. If your coverage is limited, you may need to purchase supplemental insurance during your stay.
4. Learn Some Cultural Basics
This should be obvious, but it’s important to learn a couple language basics before going anywhere (“hello,” “thank you,” and “bathroom” are a must). It is also important to know the cultural norms associated with wherever you are going, as not knowing them could get you into trouble. Oh, and above all things, find out what kind of electrical adapter you’ll need.
5. Cash Might Be King, But Cards Are Better
It’s probably not wise to walk around with wads of cash, but a couple hundred bucks in whatever currency they use is probably a smart first step. Once there, avoid currency exchanges and instead use an ATM, which will give you a better rate. Same holds true for credit cards but make sure you’ve put a travel alert on your card before heading out.
6. Download WhatsApp and Skype
Sure you could buy calling cards or purchase a cheap burner phone, but those are unnecessary with WhatsApp and Skype. WiFi and internet access are far faster in many parts of Europe and Asia. While both iMessage and FaceTime are great so long as everyone you know has an iPhone (entirely possible), between WhatsApp and Skype you can stay connected across multiple platforms.
7. Prepare To Be Unprepared
You’ve done your research, but that will only get you so far. Be prepared to be unprepared. Studying abroad is equal parts self-discovery and cultural discovery. You’re going to realize just how much you care about certain things, but you’ll also learn just how trivial other things truly are. Just be ready to take it all in.