Studying abroad is a learning experience, much more than a mere vacation from campus. I didn’t go on my own study abroad experience until my senior year, and even then I was like a fish out of water.
Despite all the help and advice from peers who had studied abroad in the past and counselors at the study abroad center, there are still some things I wish I had known before I shipped out. So if you’d rather not learn these life lessons the hard way, check out the three things I wish I knew before studying abroad.
Talk to Your Academic Advisor, Seriously
There’s sort of a cliche that your study abroad semester is one where you can basically slack off as much as you want as long as you pass the class. After all, most classes abroad are graded on a pass/fail basis, rather than the standard letter grade.
However, every college has its own set of arbitrary rules that affect the classes you should be taking abroad and upon your arrival. Your academic advisor will know what these rules are and can help you figure out a schedule that keeps you in line to graduate on time.
Logistics are Better Handled at Home
You don’t realize how much you depend on the comforts of your modern lifestyle until they completely vanish abroad. Something as simple as going to the doctor’s office becomes a whole expensive ordeal in a foreign country. According to the Association of British Insurers, medical claims represented 56 percent of the total cost of travel insurance claims in 2012. Before you leave, make sure that your insurance is active from the moment you step off the plane.
Use credit, not debit, when traveling in case your card is lost or stolen, suggests LifeLock. Call your bank or credit card company to find out their policy on foreign transaction fees. The Chase Freedom card charges a three percent foreign transaction fee, which is equal to $105 on $3,500 of overseas charges. The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card has no foreign transaction fee and offers two miles for every dollar spent to redeem against a travel purchase. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card also earns two points for every dollar spent on travel and restaurants, with one point earned elsewhere.
Apps are a Big Help
Your smartphone can be your savior studying abroad. Be sure to download these three crucial apps for your trip:
- WhatsApp (Free, Android, iOS, Blackberry) – Dodge hefty foreign texting fees with WhatsApp, the app that allows you to text and message (pictures, video, and audio included) others for zero cost. All you need is Wi-Fi.
- Sandeman’s New Europe (Free, iOS) – For free walking tours around major European cities like Paris, London, Dublin, Berlin, Prague, and Madrid, Sandeman’s New Europe is the resource to turn to. Reservations must be booked online and tipping is expected!
- Duolingo: Duolingo is a popular language-learning app that can help you learn and practice a new language. It offers interactive lessons, vocabulary exercises, and speaking practice. It's a great tool for improving your language skills while studying abroad.
- Google Translate: Google Translate is a versatile translation app that can help you communicate in different languages. It provides translations for text, speech, and even real-time conversations. It's a valuable tool for overcoming language barriers and understanding unfamiliar words or phrases.
- XE Currency: XE Currency is a reliable app for currency conversion. It allows you to quickly convert between different currencies, making it easier to understand the costs and manage your finances while studying abroad. It also offers historical exchange rate data and can work offline.
- TripAdvisor: TripAdvisor is a handy app for finding recommendations and reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, and more. It can help you discover popular destinations, plan your trips, and make informed decisions about where to go and what to do while studying abroad.
- Evernote: Evernote is a powerful note-taking app that lets you capture and organize your thoughts, ideas, and study materials. It allows you to create text notes, take photos, record audio, and even clip web articles. It's a convenient tool for keeping track of your study materials, making study plans and staying organized throughout your academic journey abroad.
As much as you might think of studying abroad as some spontaneous and exciting excursion to a new part of the world, the truth is that planning can get so extensive and laborious that you might be wishing for a simpler semester at home. Despite all the work, traveling abroad is a refreshing change of pace that will teach you life lessons you can’t learn from home.