Cultural Experience | Resources

5 Tips for Preparing to Study Abroad

While it is starting to become a bit cliché, there is no doubt that studying abroad has an incredible impact on one’s education and overall college experience. Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you prepare for your time abroad.

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Money Matters:

You would be well advised to order some currency for the countries you will be visiting long before you leave for your study abroad. As a general rule of thumb, it is good to have about $50 to $100 worth of each currency when you arrive so you don’t have to spend your first day looking for an ATM or a bank.

In regard to ATM cards, be sure to check with your financial institution to ensure that your card will work in the countries you plan to visit. If possible, bring two ATM cards from two different financial institutions. When I left for my study abroad in Europe, I brought two different cards. One card from a bank and the other was from a credit union. Both institutions claimed their card would work, but as it turns out the card I thought wouldn’t work actually did and the other card did not.

Be sure to let your financial institutions know where and when you plan to travel. Some banks and credit unions will notice a transaction in a foreign country and may freeze your account if they are not aware of your travels. This can be a huge hassle to set straight, so it is a good idea to let them know from the start!

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Language:

Some Study abroad programs are taught in English, while other are taught in the country’s native language. If you do not need to know the language for your program it is good to learn at least a few basic phrases. I would recommend learning the equivalent terms for the following: please, thank you, and excuse me. IElanguages.com is a great place to pick up some of those basic phrases in about 20 different languages.

For those of you in need of more advanced language skills, you may want to invest in some intensive language courses before your trip. It is also highly recommended to see what resources your school can provide, whether it is an open language lab or a set of software available in your library.

Location & Living Situation:

You can enhance your study abroad experience by understanding some of the geographical characteristics of your destination. Certain aspects, such as weather and proximity to metropolitan or rural areas, can set a distinct tone for your time abroad. Read up on the neighborhoods that you will be living in, studying, and passing through on a daily basis. You can find information from guidebooks or online. With that in mind, it is good to know what you are looking to gain from your time abroad before you choose where to go.

Check travel sites for information on the types of public transportation available in your area. You may be able to obtain a map of train, subway, or bus routes online before you go.

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Packing:

In regard to packing, the best thing you can do is pack light. Simplicity is the key to keeping stress low when it comes to packing. The less you bring the less you have to worry about. (Less baggage! Get it?)  Additionally, the less you bring the more room you will have in your luggage to take home souvenirs! Also, try to bring some clothes you wouldn’t mind leaving behind. This is another great way to free up space for souvenirs or even new clothes from abroad!

If you’re worried about what you should bring, the good news is that most programs provide a detailed list of suggested items. No need to stress!

Keep An Open Mind:

The opportunity to study abroad is an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone. No matter how much research you do, there is a good chance you will experience plenty of things that you did not expect. The beliefs, attitudes, values, norms, and food of your home country may be entirely different in your host country. The extent to which you allow yourself to freely experience the customs of your host country will determine how enriching your time abroad will become.

Embrace the differences as much as possible. Try to find restaurants off the beaten path. These restaurants are more likely to be full of locals. Be sure to eat what they’re eating and maybe even strike up a conversation about it! Get to know what the local pastimes are and consider getting involved. After all, one of the best ways to enjoy your new city is to live like a local.

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Angela Strohbeck

San Diego State | 29 stories

Angela recently graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Communication. She loves to travel, experience live music, and make videos. Angela studied abroad in Europe with the SDSU School of Communication in 2012. During the trip, she studied organizational communication and the rhetoric of tourism in Prague, Munich, Luxembourg, Grindelwald, and Paris. She studied Spanish for six years and is currently learning German. Her favorite quote is, "first seek to understand, then be understood." Her favorite movies are American Beauty and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.


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