3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad

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. 
  • Converter Plus ($1.99, iOS, Android) – Especially if you’re headed to Europe (where cross-country visits are common), you need the Converter Plus app to quickly convert currency, temperature, weight, speed, volume, mass, area, and so on. Exchange rates are refreshed automatically every six hours to keep you on your toes. 
  • 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!

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.

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