But your mental approach – from what you’ll accomplish to how you’ll stay centered and connected – is just as important.
That’s why we made this study abroad checklist. Sure, we cover the basics (don’t forget that passport or student visa), but we also want to mentally prepare you to take advantage of what should be the trip of a lifetime.
First on our study abroad checklist – long before you even step on the plane – is to ask yourself these questions: Are you ready to commit to learning where the locals hang out? Will you talk to friendly nationals in their language and get their advice on experiences? Will you try the weirdest food (from reputable restaurants, of course)? Will you go to public festivals and celebrations?
What you do in your host country outside the classroom will likely be more memorable than any new theory you master or academic research you complete. That means you should think about how much time you’ll set aside to explore your host country and taking in the local culture before your study abroad adventure officially starts.
Set clear goals
What do you want to get out of studying abroad? Take time to list your goals before you fly – whether you’re seeking a resume edge as you head into the professional world, or, conversely, a spiritual journey before you have to join the ranks of the employed. Study abroad programs are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so don’t come home wishing you’d planned better or made more of an effort. It’s an easy item to overlook on your study abroad checklist, but it’s incredibly important.
Create a study abroad checklist for getting to your destination
It’s important to spend time on the philosophical aspects of studying abroad. But creating a practical studying abroad checklist is absolutely vital. Important things like locking in the right travel documents, visiting the doctor (which you might need to do for vaccines or health clearances), finding a place to stay, getting travel insurance and health insurance, and even looking into scholarships or potential financial aid should all be prioritized. It will be vital to start early, as tasks like procuring a student visa or valid passport may take some time.
Need help? We’ve created country guides for England, France, Italy and Spain, all of which feature cultural highlights, ideal cities to visit, a look at the cost of studying abroad, a transportation and travel document overview, the apps you’ll need, thoughts on packing and even insights on student discounts.
You might get homesick while studying abroad. But the opposite may happen, too. And forgetting to call for a month is a bad look.
Students should have a plan for how they’re going to communicate during their study abroad program, whether that’s texting most days or calling every Thursday morning to catch up on family news and share travel stories (and don’t forget that you’re likely several hours ahead or behind the time back home).
Keeping in touch with your support system doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Apps like WhatsApp are free over WiFi, and third-party data plans tend to be cheaper than what your mobile carrier will charge for overseas service. And if you need some face time with loved ones back home, you always have Google Hangouts or Zoom.
How will you remember your study abroad experience?
Even if you’re not sentimental, you’ll want to consider making a record of some sort. Keeping a log of daily or weekly highlights can be incredibly valuable for post-trip reflection. Our advice? If you’re planning to share with the world, use the categorization features of Instagram Stories to show your followers your study abroad country through your unique perspective.
How will you take care of yourself?
Maybe you prefer walks or meditating. Maybe you’re a big workout person. Maybe laying on the beach or in a park is your idea of a great time. Whichever escape you prefer, think about how you’re going to make time to stay centered a new country. That’s because living in a foreign country can be stressful and disorienting. There’s the distance from home, the financial burden of extra tuition costs, and, for some, even culture shock. If you are having problems during your time abroad, don’t hesitate to reach out to your study abroad program coordinators to find out what resources are available. They’ve likely seen it all – in a good way – and can direct you to the services you need.
Plan your big trips ahead of time
If you’re studying abroad in Marseille, you’re going to make your way to Paris at some point. Planning ahead and securing tickets for those milestone trips ahead of time – especially if you’re only in your chosen country for a shorter course – will take the pressure off when you’re trying to squeeze everything else in.
Packing will be harder than you think. Don’t do it the night before you leave.
When studying abroad, it’s not what you pack, it’s how you pack. Having a strong study abroad packing list strategy will make sure you have a versatile selection of clothes and gear while also leaving a lot of extra room for whatever you buy during your travels. Prepare in advance, and you’ll be feeling confident by the time you slide that carry on bag into the overhead bin to start your journey.
How little of the language are you comfortable knowing?
Language fluency isn’t vital when studying abroad. But international students should still arrive at their study abroad destination with some baseline local language skills. It will help you make new friends and present yourself as more of a leader. Want to build confidence? Converse with fellow students in the local language daily and watch as they start to take you more seriously or look at you more favorably. And if you’re studying abroad in Europe, we’ve got you covered for basic phrases in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Turkish.
Have a plan to stay safe
Your living arrangement in your host country might not seem dangerous. Still, a little preparation at the start of your study abroad trip will put you in the best situation to react in an emergency. Students should familiarize themselves with their city – or their neighborhood, at a minimum – as soon as possible to understand any dangerous spots. Also, programming emergency numbers into your mobile devices before you land might sound a bit paranoid, but it’s the smart thing to do while studying abroad.