Once you have been accepted into a study abroad program, you must next pay serious attention to the details of preparing to go abroad. Just as you did when you chose what to study and where, give yourself plenty of time to make all of the many necessary pre-departure arrangements. Aside from the information below, visit http://www.studentsabroad.com/ for other useful information.
The better prepared you are for your study abroad experience — the more you know about what to expect and what is expected of you– the more meaningful your experience will be. It should go without saying that you should try to learn as much as you can about your host country.
This section will advise you on a host of essential matters which must be taken care of before you leave. Note: Some of the following information might also be provided by your campus, or the host program, or overseas institution.
Pre-Departure Orientation for students will be held at the end of each semester. See upcoming events on the left of the screen for upcoming dates and times.
- Orientation and related materials usually cover the following topics:
- Travel documents (passport, visa, ISIC)
- Travel arrangements (international transportation, etc.)
- Housing information (living arrangements, roommates, etc.)
- Health and safety issues (what to do, what not to do)
- Financial matters (payments schedules, financial aid, etc.)
- Communication with family and friends (how to establish, etc.
- Pre-arrangements for returning home (registration, housing)
- Host culture information (history, customs, laws, politics, etc.)
- Knowledge of home culture (what others will see in your ‘Americanness’)
When traveling outside the United States, you need to carry a passport, the only form of identification recognized everywhere which verifies your citizenship. Some countries will also require an additional entry document called a visa. Passports are issued by your country of citizenship, while visas — usually a stamp on a page of the passport, though they can be a separate certificate — are issued by the country to be visited.
If you plan on ever traveling outside of the U.S., either for an academic program or simply for fun, obtaining your passport is a crucial step. Let’s face it–you can’t leave ‘home’ without it! So why not apply for your passport now–it will give you one less thing to worry about while preparing for your experience abroad, and it is valid for 10 years.
Some countries require that U.S. citizens have a visa, depending on the length and purpose of their stay. A visa is an official document giving permission to enter a country and is granted by the government of the country you wish to enter. It may be in the form of a stamp imprinted on a page in your passport or it might be an official document which includes a photograph.
Click here for more information on passports/visas and their application processes.
International Student Identity Card
Next to your passport and visa (if needed), the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can be among the most valuable travel documents for you to have. It verifies your student status, and it is widely recognized throughout the world. With the card, you are eligible to qualify for discounts ranging from lower airfares, reduced or free admission to museums, theaters, concerts and cultural sites around the world. The ISIC also provides supplemental health insurance coverage. This plan covers emergency medical evacuation in case your illness or injury cannot be treated overseas, and repatriation of remains in case of death. Most private health care plans do not incorporate this kind of coverage. This is why many program sponsors are either providing a special overseas insurance plan or requiring the card.
The card is issued by the Council of International Educational Exchange (Council). It is available at all Council Travel Offices and is also sold at UALR in the Office of International Services (Old Education Building 101).
For more information about the card, click here
Many study abroad programs take care of participants’ international travel and housing arrangements. If this is not the case with your program, then it will be your responsibility to arrange for travel to your program site and/or find your own accommodations. You may also want to consider making plans for your own transportation and housing if you decide to do additional traveling at the end of your program.
If housing is not provided for you by your study abroad program, give yourself plenty of time to arrange for it. Since student housing is at a premium in most countries, ask for housing recommendations from a representative from your program. If you are enrolling directly in a foreign University, contact the University to see if there is a student housing office which can assist you in your search for accommodation.
Some program sponsors include group flights to and from the program site. Others require you to make your own arrangements. If you do need to arrange your own transportation, be sure to do so well in advance of leaving, especially if you plan to travel during the summer or any other period when air travel is heavy. Make sure you know what arrangements have been made for the arrival of students in your host country before finalizing your flight reservations. Often a designated meeting place and time are established so that program staff can greet students upon their arrival. Many countries list a round-trip ticket as one of their entry requirements.
Even though you may not know when you want to return home and you may have to pay a surcharge to change your return ticket; it is still cheaper to buy the round-trip ticket instead of buying two one-way tickets. Shop carefully to find a flight that best suits your needs. Compare the price of open-ended tickets, in which you return at any point within a specified length of time, with the price of a ticket bearing a stated return date. If you are planning to travel on your own after your program ends, you might want to investigate “open jaw” fares, which let you return from a different location from your point of arrival.
Council Travel is an excellent source of information about student travel. It publishes the Student Travels magazine which is distributed free to over 1,000 colleges and Universities in the United States. With your International Student Identity Card, you can sometimes get up to 50% off of commercial airfares through Council Travel. More information about Council and its travel services is available on-line at www.ciee.org . Another student travel agency offering airfare discounts is STA Travel at the following address:
Information is also available on-line at www.statravel.org . Free travel literature is usually available from the government tourist office, consulate or embassy of the country or countries to which you travel. You can also learn more about discount airfares from the following websites:
www.routesinternational.com (provides links to airlines)
www.travelocity.com among many, many others
If you lose your airline ticket, contact the airline, travel agency, or other agency from which you purchased the ticket. If you bought your ticket from an airline, you will have to fill out a claim for a lost ticket and buy a new ticket. You’ll be refunded the cost of the replacement ticket, minus a fee. The fee varies with each airline. It takes about six months to get your refund. If you purchased Student Tickets, issued by STA Travel and other agencies, you don’t need to buy a new ticket; you simply pay a $25 fee and your ticket will be reissued.
Don’t buy a one-way ticket, even if you don’t know when you want to return home. Most foreign countries require visitors to have a round-trip ticket before they are allowed to enter.
In many countries, rail travel is probably the most widely used mode of transportation. Buying a rail-pass in the United States prior to your departure can greatly reduce your costs. Rail passes, such as the Britrail Pass or Eurail Pass, can be obtained from most travel agents. These passes usually offer unlimited travel for a specific amount of time. Just as there are special airfares for students, there are also special rail passes for students.
Travel by Car
If you are planning to travel by car, be aware that renting a car abroad and filling it with gasoline can be quite expensive. Just as in the United States, each country requires you to have a valid driver’s license. Some countries will recognize your current U.S. driver’s license. Others may require you to obtain an International Driver’s Permit. Contact your local AAA (American Automobile Association) Office or the AAA National Headquarters
AAA National Headquarters
8111 Gatehouse Road
Falls Church , VA 22042
Remember also that other countries have different “rules of the road.” Prior to departure, you may also wish get some information on international road travel.
Make sure that you also check to see if your U.S. automobile insurance covers you and rental cars overseas.
Aim to travel light. Keep in mind that, for most international flights, you are allowed to check only two pieces of luggage. Some airlines have restrictions for the weight of each piece of luggage; check before you pack. If your program is a study-tour, you will have to carry whatever you bring, so restrict yourself to one or two moderate-sized bags and a small carry-on bag in which to keep valuables, passport, and camera equipment.
Insure your baggage and personal effects for the full period abroad. If you bring a camera, buy a lead-lined film bag. Contrary to posted airport claims, some X-ray devices ruin film.
When traveling on weekends, during school breaks or at the end of your study abroad experience, you may want to consider staying in a youth hostel. Hostels are much cheaper than hotels and can range from dormitory-style room to private rooms. They may have restrictions. For example, they may impose curfews, require you to bring your own bedding or limit your stay to a certain number of nights.
In order to stay in hostels, you may be required to have an International Youth Hostel Pass, another form to obtain before your departure. The pass and a handbook with locations and contact information are available from:
Hosteling International/American Youth Hostels
P.O. Box 37613
Washington , DC 20013-7613
Many countries also have student hostels, which are restricted to use by University students. These usually offer more conveniences than youth hostels, such as food service, and are a great way to meet other international students. You may need to have a valid International Student Identity Card to prove your student status. Lastly, some independent hostels exist, open to students as well as to other travelers.
Other options for accommodations when you travel are bed-and-breakfasts, pensions, and budget hotels. Talk to your Travel Advisor before departure about budget accommodations at your travel destinations. You can also browse the travel section of a local bookstore for travel guidebooks aimed at college students.
Visit Travel Websites
You can find out more about travel abroad online! There are several helpful resources online that will prepare you for traveling in another country. Some things to look for include airfare sites, travel accommodations, online travel guides, cultural resources, exchange rate trackers, etc.
Many of these are listed here and under our Web Resources tab.
Giving a family member or trusted friend power of attorney, while you are abroad, is a good idea. Power of attorney gives that designated person the power to act on your behalf in case a legal document requires your signature while you are away. This is especially important if you receive financial aid. Checks that you receive to cover educational costs must be endorsed by you before they can be deposited. It may also be helpful when completing and signing other financial aid forms, such as your FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid), that must be taken care of while you are gone. Check with the student legal services office on your campus to obtain this document. You can also give someone power of attorney by simply writing what duties that person will be allowed to perform on your behalf and having the paper notarized.
If elections are going to take place in the United States while you are overseas, you can still take part in the election process by completing an absentee ballot. You must, however, register to vote before you leave home. Contact local election officials to obtain information on absentee voting, including whether you need to have your ballot notarized at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you currently pay income tax and will be out of the United States during spring semester, you can request an extension of the deadline for filing federal, state and local tax returns. If you choose to file from abroad, then you can request your family or friends to send you the necessary paperwork. You can also find out if the closest American embassy or consulate has forms. The embassy and consulate staff may also be able to find someone to help you complete the forms.
If you plan on taking expensive items, such as cameras, Walkmans, CD players, personal computers, etc., you should consider registering them with U.S. Customs before you leave. That way those items won’t be subject to duty when you return. Save receipts for major purchases made overseas, as you may be able to get reimbursed for the taxes (VAT) paid. You are allowed to bring up to $400.00 of gifts and souvenirs duty free. Above that amount, you will be charged an import duty equivalent to ten percent of the value of the items. A good publication to get before you leave is “Know Before You Go” which can be obtained from the U.S. Customs Office.
The major costs of your study abroad program (tuition and fees, housing, sometimes food and occasionally international airfare) are usually billed and paid prior to departure to the sponsoring institution. Be sure you know exactly what is covered and what is not covered in those costs so that you are prepared to cover all other expenses. It is a good idea to make a weekly budget and then live by it so you don’t run out of money and have no quick way to replace it.
Traveling with large amounts of cash is not recommended. You should consider using several different forms of payment for your expenses. Traveler’s checks, credit cards, ATM cards and cash can all be used effectively depending on the country.
You can obtain traveler’s checks in U.S. dollars and some foreign currencies at most banks and travel agencies. Some of the companies that offer traveler’s checks are American Express, Citicorp, Thomas Cook, etc. It is best to get the checks in $100.00, $50.00, and $20.00 denominations. That way you can regulate the amount of money you want rather than changing huge denomination checks. Traveler’s checks can be replaced if lost so it is important to keep the serial number list separate from the actual checks.
It is always good to have some local currency when you arrive on site. Exchange some U.S. dollars upon arrival at the international arrival airport where the exchange rates and fees are better than at the departing U.S. airport. Later on in your experience, it is recommended that you exchange your money at the major national banks throughout the world. Railroad stations in Europe are also recommended spots. The banks and their ATM machines usually offer the fairest exchange rate but you will pay a commission fee each time.
Credit cards can be used to get foreign currency at a good rate of exchange and are invaluable if an emergency arises. They are widely accepted in most places in most countries, although some countries will only allow cash for financial transactions. The three main cards are American Express, Visa and Master Card, although American Express is less common in most student settings. A debit/check card is also recommended. Check before you leave to be sure that your PIN can be used overseas. If not, then you will need to get a new one. Be sure to call your bank and credit card company prior to your departure–tell them the dates that you will be out of the country, and the foreign countries you intend to visit. This will prevent them from putting a ‘hold’ on your credit or debit card because of suspicious foreign transactions.
Sending letters back and forth can take a long time, usually more than a week for an airmail letter to leave the States, arrive at the host country and then to reach you at the local site. International postage is more expensive than domestic postage; but if you keep it to letters or postcards, it won’t cost too much. Mailing packages by surface mail is less expensive than by air mail, but allow a lot of time. Don’t forget your address book! Your family and friends will love getting postcards from you. And you will be delighted to go to your mailbox to find a letter or package from home. Finally, your letters home make a wonderful collection of memories for you when you return.
There’s nothing quite like calling home to talk with your family and friends or receiving a phone call from them. However, it can be quite expensive for both sides. You can now dial an international call directly from the United States for less than an operator-assisted call. Check out the special deals always being offered by the long-distance carriers. Dialing direct from overseas to your home is also possible, especially with a phone card. Again, check the U.S. long-distance carriers about getting a phone card before you leave. When calling, don’t forget the time difference! A time that might be convenient for you may not be convenient for your family and friends.
AT&T Direct Service, Sprint, and MCI, as well as many other telephone companies, offer easy and sometimes inexpensive ways to call home. Check with your service for a list of access numbers for nearly every country. All you have to do is call the access number for the country you are calling from, then dial the phone number you’re calling and your calling card number. Typically there will be an English-speaking operator, so you don’t need to worry if your command of the local language is still rudimentary.
Remember to remind the people at home that you may not have a phone immediately available. As a result you may not be able to phone them as soon as you arrive. Agree on a time by which you definitely will have called home.
If you need to make more than one call, don’t hang up after each one; press # and you can avoid separate access charges for each call. If you press a wrong number, don’t hang up, press the * key; this will allow you to start over. Remember the time difference between your country and the part of the United States you want to call. As in the United States, shield the phone keypad when entering your calling card number so no one can see it and use it. In countries where touch-tone service is not available, your long distance company may have voice-activated service and dialing.
Faxing mail and other documents home is a good alternative, as long as there is easy access to a fax machine at each end. Faxing is cheaper than long distance phone charges, but far more expensive than e-mail. Faxing gets around time zone disparities, meaning that what is sent can be read at the other end whenever it is convenient, which may not be when it arrives.
E-mail has become the main mode of communication, both domestically and internationally. It eliminates the time difference inconvenience and it is much less expensive than phoning. However, it only works if the U.S.-based family and friends and the student overseas have similar access to the Internet. E-mail is great to have as it saves time when dealing with practical matters such as getting new course approvals for a switched class or for relaying campus information to students. It also means immediate contact when an emergency arises. However, you must avoid the temptation to sit at your computer all day instead of exploring daily life in your host country. Set a limit for yourself and stick to it. Don’t let your real experience become a virtual study abroad.
Your health and safety during your study abroad experience will depend on the choices you make and precautions that you take prior, during, and following your time overseas. However, there are no guarantees or absolutes with regard to health and safety in any setting, especially an international one. Before your departure, make sure that you are in good health, get any immunizations that are required and learn as much as you can about the health and safety conditions in your host country. Many study abroad programs sponsors will require you to submit medical forms about your physical and mental health. You will also be asked to show proof of health and accident insurance or you may be asked to purchase a special policy that covers these areas overseas. More discussion of these topics should be a part of your on-site orientation.
Be sure to have a physical and dental checkup before you go, especially if you will be gone at a time when you would normally schedule these appointments and/or your will be studying in a developing country. This will give you an opportunity to talk with your health care professionals about any general health precautions you should take.
If you have an ongoing medical problem, such as allergies or diabetes, you need to take special precautions in preparing for and managing your condition overseas. How will the stresses of the environment and the study abroad experience impact your health? If you have a disability, how will your needs be met?
If you take prescription medications regularly, bring a supply to last throughout your time abroad, if practical. Foreign drugs are not necessarily closely related to those standard in the United States, even if they have the same chemical formula. They may be marketed under different names and may not be available in the strengths you desire. It might be wise to also have a letter from your home physician or pharmacist describing your medicines, their dosage, a generic name for them and describing the condition being treated. This letter could be helpful in an emergency.
Make sure all drugs are in the original pharmacy containers and are clearly labeled. You should carry copies of the prescriptions to avoid problems with Customs. In the case of narcotic medicines, it may not be prudent to carry additional supplies because of possible Customs difficulties. In that case, bring a prescription with the drug’s generic name.
If you are diabetic or have another medical condition in which a syringe is needed to administer medication, bring a supply of disposable syringes. These are not available in all countries, and are essential to protect yourself against HIV, hepatitis, and other communicable illnesses. Even if you don’t routinely inject medication, it’s a good idea to bring a few disposable syringes if you will be studying in a country where they are not available, in the event that you need an injection. Some countries, however, restrict the import of syringes — as well as certain medications and contraceptives. Before departure, find out of this applies to your host country.
For certain conditions such as diabetes, asthma, mild epilepsy, or allergy to penicillin, it would be wise to wear a tag or a bracelet or carry a card to identify the condition so that the student can be treated properly. Take an extra pair of eyeglasses and/or contact lenses if you wear them. Bring along extra contact lens solution too. Do not pack your medications in your checked luggage. Pack them in your carry on so as not to be without them if your luggage gets lost.
For the flight to your program site, put any prescription medication, eyeglasses, and contact lenses in your carry-on bag. Don’t take the risk of these items being misrouted or lost with your checked luggage.
Some health problems, such as diarrhea, are worldwide; whereas, some diseases like malaria are found only in certain regions. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the U.S. State Department’s Overseas Citizens Emergency Center can give you detailed information about particular regions you plan to visit on study abroad.
Centers for Disease Control
Overseas Citizens Emergency Center
Additional information about health issues abroad is available from:
American College Health Association
15879 Crabbs Branch Way
Rockville , MD 20855
Many travelers experience some form of diarrhea while adjusting to local food and water. In many cases, it is mild but ask your doctor to recommend an anti-diarrhea medication so you can take it with you. If you are going to a country in a tropical region where there may be bacterial, fungal and parasitic diseases, be sure you get some anti-malarial medication. Your doctor may recommend that you start taking it before you leave the United States. One can also contract hepatitis or cholera in countries where the drinking water is untreated. Students must take preventative measures and receive treatment if necessary.
Sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and herpes, pose health risks in any country. The HIV virus, from which AIDS is contracted, can be transmitted sexually but also through contaminated hypodermic needles and blood supplies. If you are going to a country where AIDS is prevalent, find out what you should do in an emergency if you require an injection or a blood transfusion.
While some countries require immunizations for a visa or entry, others do not. These requirements can change according to the health conditions of a particular country. Therefore, it is important to check on a regular basis to see if your host country has requirements. Check also to see if your country requires an AIDS test for entry or the residency permit. Even if immunizations are not required, you still may want to get them. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor, local travel clinic or county health department. If you will travel to other countries, don’t forget to check their immunization requirements, as well.
You may be required to present an official record of immunizations. An “International Certificate of Vaccinations” is the most common form used. It is issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is approved by the World Health Organization. You can get the form from your local department of health, travel clinic, passport offices and from many physicians and travel agencies. It must be filled out and dated by the person who provides the immunization. Your campus health service may be able to provide the form and the necessary immunizations.
It may be also wise for you to have your basic childhood immunizations (tetanus, polio, diphtheria, etc.) updated. If you will be traveling to a developing country, then typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, cholera and yellow fever are frequently recommended immunizations. Don’t forget anti-malarial medicine if traveling to malarial areas.
Substance abuse is viewed differently around the world. Sometimes students who are away from their home campuses and the U.S. laws regarding the use of alcohol, fall into patterns of alcohol abuse. They may misinterpret how alcohol is used in their new culture. It may be less expensive to buy; there may be a lower drinking age or maybe the laws against drunkenness are less stringent. Your program sponsors will most likely discuss this topic during your orientation to explain the program’s regulations concerning alcohol consumption as well as the consequences for abuse. If you currently attend a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, check on meeting availability and schedules in your host country. (For Alcoholics Anonymous contact Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Telephone: 212-870-3400).
Drug abuse can lead to immeasurable health risks as well as serious cultural and legal consequences. Risks are magnified tenfold by impure drugs, shady and often criminal contacts, and rigid legal systems that impose severe penalties. The U.S. government has no jurisdiction and very little influence over the judicial systems in other countries.
An excellent resource on detailed health information entitled “Health Information for International Travel” is available for a fee from
Government Printing Office
Washington D.C. 20402
Phone: (202) 512-1800
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Emotional and Mental Health
Emotionally and mentally, international living can be stressful. Most travelers will experience a degree of culture shock [ see below ] during the normal adjustment period. Culture shock causes feelings of disorientation and unease which can be intensified for students dealing with ongoing unresolved emotional or medical issues. It is thus very important that students with such problems discuss these with their Study Abroad Advisors, mental health providers, or other trained medical personnel before leaving. Once on site, there may program staff available to help you through the adjustment cycle, but this is seldom guaranteed. Check with your program to see what psychological counseling is available, should you need it. Remember, study abroad is hard work and not therapy.
Be aware that you will probably experience a change in your diet and eating habits. You may start eating a healthier diet, as people in most countries don’t eat as much processed food nor drink as many caffeinated and sweetened beverages as Americans do. It is customary in many countries to eat more grains, fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, etc. Before you leave, try to learn more about the foods eaten and the eating habits of your host country. These are an integral part of the culture.
It’s a good idea to bring a copy of your medical and dental records with you. If you have any ongoing medical or dental problems, bring a letter from your doctor or dentist explaining how they are being treated. Don’t forget the telephone and fax numbers of your doctor and dentist, in case you need to contact them.
Be prepared for minor health problems with a home medical kit. This should include:
- bandages, gauze, and adhesive tape
- sterile cleansers
- antibacterial cream
- anti-diarrhea medicine
- insect repellent (for any warm climate)
Medical and Accident Insurance
It is extremely important for you to have adequate insurance before departing. This coverage should also include medical evacuation, repatriation of remains and life insurance. If you are currently included on your family’s insurance policy, you must make sure that the coverage meets your program’s insurance requirements and is valid overseas for the duration of the program. Students with an International Student Identity Card (see International Student Identity Card ) receive basic medical/accident insurance coverage for their travel outside the continental United States, for the period that the Card is valid. But such coverage may not be adequate to meet every contingency, so you should check to see what additional protection you might need.
Medical Care Abroad
Try to get some information about the health-care system in the region to which you’re going. If you need medical care, what will the facilities be like? How do you pay for it? What legal right do you have to medical services? How are patients treated in your host country? (In some countries, doctors welcome questions from patients, while in others, patients are merely expected to follow doctors’ orders.) You can get a list of English-speaking doctors worldwide by contacting:
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
417 Center Street
Lewiston , NY 14092
Discuss with your family what you will do in the event of a family emergency, illness or death. It is much easier to have these conversations around the kitchen table prior to departure than in an intercontinental phone call in the midst of a crisis.
Planning to be Safe
Remember there are no guarantees concerning personal safety anywhere in the world. Personal safety requires that you pay careful attention to your surroundings and act accordingly. The U.S. State Department issues several kinds of public announcements for travelers going abroad. Travel Warnings advise U.S. citizens of countries or parts of countries to avoid. Public Announcements warn about terrorist activity and other short-term threats. Consular Information Sheets have information for every country in the world about the crime risk and any areas of unrest, as well as issues such as visa requirements and the quality of medical care available. Contact the State Department at 202-647-4000, or visit their website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html .
Get as much information as possible about the safety of your study abroad program before departure. Ask your program sponsor or a representative from your host school:
- What can you do to enhance your safety in the neighborhood in which you’ll be living?
- If you’re staying in a dormitory, what kind of security is provided?
- If you’re living with a host family, have they been thoroughly investigated by the program? Have they hosted U.S. or other international students before?
- If there are program-related excursions, what kind of safety provisions have been made for them?
- Who is available on-site in case of an emergency?
For more safe travel tips, request the pamphlet “A Safe Trip Abroad” from:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington , DC 20420
An important element to think about before you leave the country is which courses you will need to take on your return. Many colleges and Universities allow their study abroad students to pre-register for the courses they will take upon their return. Students usually complete the paperwork prior to leaving and are then actually registered for their class either by the study abroad office staff or by the students’ Academic Advisor. Make sure that you understand the procedure at your school so that you will get registered in the appropriate manner.
Depending on whether you plan to live in on-campus housing or off campus in an apartment when you return, you need to make your housing arrangements before you go. Some study abroad offices will send on-campus housing forms to you overseas to be completed or this may be done prior to departure. Check to see what the procedure is. If you are going to live in an apartment, you may even need to sign a lease and pay a deposit. You may even need to find someone to sublet your apartment during the time you will be overseas.
If you are participating in a program that is not sponsored by your institution, there may be additional forms to complete. You may be required to take a leave of absence or you may need to actually withdraw from your school for the time period of your overseas study. Submitting readmission papers may be required. Will you get home institution credit or transfer credit for your course work? Your transition back into campus life at your school will be much easier if all paperwork is completed and procedures followed before your departure.
The Internet has become a valuable resource for learning about all aspects of other countries. Talk with faculty and study abroad returnees who have lived in your host country as well as international students from there. Get a personal perspective from them. Visit libraries and bookstores and contact the embassy, consulate or tourist office to get materials. Don’t forget student-intended travel guides such as Let’s Go and Lonely Planet Guide series. Read the international news section of your local newspaper or in internationally-oriented papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor. Watch newscasts and public television shows that talk about how the people live.
Another important aspect to learn about is the educational system you will be part of when you are overseas, especially if you will be studying at a foreign University. How do the faculty teach? How do the host country students learn? Will you be expected to be in class every day? What will be expected of you academically? Knowing the answers to these questions early on will allow you to set your own academic goals.
As you deepen your learning about your new culture, you should also be aware that in a foreign environment you will occasionally be put in the position of being a spokesperson about the United States and American culture. News accounts of happenings in the U.S. or foreign policy that moves around the world will cause some of your foreign friends and contacts to ask you searching questions. Are you sure you know enough about your own country? Returned study abroad students often remark on how they sometimes had a difficult time explaining the history, politics, and culture of the United States when pressed by their friends, much less in an academic classroom. They say they wish they had done some reading up on American history and looked at their own cultural values more critically before they went abroad. What are the American values? Will you be able to describe the characteristics of the American people to someone overseas — our social structures, our political system? Be prepared with some answers!