The Lonely Londoner’s Arts & Culture Guide to Study Abroad, Part 1
So you’ve decided to study abroad. Congratulations! Now what?
I’m a writer headed for London to study abroad for a year (woo hoo!) and will be posting a series of articles on the arts and culture scene for Artzray, but I’ll also be sharing practical tips about the study abroad experience as a whole. Although it’s been fun spending my summer at home practicing my British accent and plotting my genius plan of tricking Prince Harry into marrying me, there are some technical nitty-gritty things to take care of here in the states before you jet off on your study abroad adventures.
Here are four really important steps to follow before you leave the U.S.:
1) Check Your Finances
Make sure you have all of your finances taken care of before you leave. This includes doing research on how you’re going to maintain and organize your finances while you’re abroad.
One important thing to do is to figure out if you are paying through the school or directly to the school that you’ve planned to study at. For example, I didn’t pay my home university’s regular tuition fee (Mount Holyoke) because I applied directly to my school in London (King’s College). Therefore, I had to pay King’s College’s tuition fee, since the program that I selected was straight through King’s College and NOT through Mount Holyoke. But sometimes, the school you’ll be attending abroad will be through your home university. If that’s the case and the program that you’re applying to is directly through your school in the states, then most likely, you would pay your home university’s regular tuition fee and not the tuition fee at your institution abroad. It is crucial that you verify the details on which tuition fees you pay to go abroad.
Make sure that your bank knows that you won’t be in the country for an extended period of time. This prevents them from freezing your account when they see that someone (whom they wrongly assumes isn’t you) is traveling around London with your card. To prevent this, you must open a bank account overseas. In any case, living abroad can be expensive; however, you can enroll yourself in au pair programs through agencies like Go Au Pair or similar ones. This may help you in getting matched up with a family where you can have free accommodation, and food, and even receive pocket money each month if you help the household with childcare, helping the kids with homework, engaging them in activities, etc. This can be an excellent option for students going abroad for further study.
FINAL TIP: Carry at least $300 in foreign currency on you when you head abroad. Use it for emergencies and basic costs like food and other necessities that you’ll need when you touch down in your destination.
2) Check Your Course Credits
As enjoyable as the thought of being abroad and living in that country’s lifestyle is, you do have to keep in mind that you’re also abroad to study. I’m not saying that you should spend every waking moment studying your brains out for that European History exam. I’m just saying that you should take advantage of the opportunities to travel around, but be mindful of the fact that you’re not on vacation. You’re also there to make sure that the credit that you receive at your institution abroad will transfer back to your home institution in the states. This will differ from school to school and program to program, so your best bet is to research what classes your home university will award credit for, and get written approval of the classes that you plan on taking.
Once you know where you’ll be going abroad, start looking at your abroad school’s course catalog. Make a list of classes that you think you’ll want to take and write down the course number, the course title, the number of credits that they offer for that specific class and a course description. The more information that you have on the courses that you have selected, the more likely your home university will approve for credit transfer.
It is imperative that you talk to the chairman and your academic adviser of your major and show them a list of classes that you plan on taking. Ask your chairman if the classes that you have selected will transfer to your major or to the distribution requirements that your college asks you to complete.
FINAL TIP: Take a look at your transcript and make sure that you’re on the right track to complete your major/minor or distribution requirements. In addition, let your home university know that you will be abroad.
3) Pack Correctly
The way I like to think of packing is in semesters or years. For instance, if you only plan on studying abroad for one semester, one suitcase will be enough. But if you’re like me and are planning to study abroad for a full year, two suitcases is acceptable. I know that when it comes to studying abroad, students want a detailed packing list. Furthermore, we all get annoyed when our parents tell us that it’s common sense to pack a sweatshirt and jeans when abroad. And as helpful as it is to have a full detailed list of what you should bring abroad, I’ll tell you a few simple items you could possibly need when you leave the states.
- Underwear (two weeks worth)
- Socks (two weeks worth plus a pair or two of wool socks)
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Shorts (two pairs)
- Jeans (two pairs) and belts
- Workout clothes
- Short-sleeved shirts
- Coat/Jacket (one for cold weather and one that is water resistant)
- Sneakers/Rain boots/dress shoes
- Cold weather gear (gloves, hats, scarves – if needed)
- One nice formal outfit
- Nail clippers
- Body wash
- Over-the-counter medications
- Dental floss
- Important documents (Passport, Visa)
- $300 in local currency
- Cellphone (one that works in your country)
- Electronics and adapters
- Books (for pleasure)
- Travel book (for sightseeing and landmarks)
- A keychain or lanyard (for your student card and dorm keys)
- Dorm posters and decorations (if you are bringing them with you)
- Favorite snacks of that you can’t get abroad
FINAL TIP: Anywhere you go abroad, the electrical outlets will be different. It is important that before you leave you purchase both an adapter and a converter for all of your electronics. Why? Because the North American plug is a different shape from those used in Continental Europe and the U.K. A plug adapter will let you put your plug into the adapter and the adapter plugs into the socket. Furthermore, you need to also purchase a converter. North America runs on a 120V current, but in Europe, they run on a 220-240V current. If your electronic item does not have an adapter that covers both currents, you’ll need a voltage converter to step down the current in Europe. To put it simply, without the converter, our American computers won’t be able to handle the overwhelming voltage that they have in Europe and you’ll computer will fry in the next five minutes. So again, buy both the adapter and the converter for your electronic items. It will make you’re time a broad a little less “shocking,” if you know what I mean.
4) Keep in Touch
You tell your friends before you leave that you will write and talk to them everyday, but do you mean it? Of course you do! Remember, you’ll be spending a year away in a different country, integrating yourself within the culture, going sightseeing, traveling and on top of that, studying, reading and preparing for your exams (whew!).
But let me say this: Yes, you will have to juggle a million things when you arrive at your destination. You’ll be overwhelmed by the newness of the environment and you’ll meet new people along the way. But remind yourself that you also have friends back home in the states. Friends who probably miss you with all their heart and soul.
Your best friend when you study abroad is Skype. Let me just stress to you how great Skype is when studying abroad. It’s easy to set up and it’s free to use. All you need is a webcam and you’re good to go! You can use Skype to make video calls for free and you can make calls to landlines for a fraction of a penny. In short, Skype cuts down on the cost of international calls to your friends and families back home. There’s also Facebook for you to message your friends about your adventures abroad.
So have fun abroad and make some new friends, but don’t forget about the friends that are missing you back home. Send them a postcard while you’re at it.
FINAL TIP: Look into getting a calling card. It’s really useful when you don’t have your laptop on you, for you can use it to make international calls. You can also purchase credits and call landlines directly from Skype.
So there you have it!
Make sure that your finances are taken care of, your credits will transfer back to your home university, you pack accordingly and make sure to install Skype onto your computer.
If you have completed all four of these things, then you will be in good shape to take off and go abroad. But what do you do when you actually get there?
Well, have no fear, we will discuss what your next steps will be once your plane has touched down, and you’re officially abroad.
Until next time, cheerio!