I’m studying abroad in Ireland this winter (yay!!!) and it’s going to be my first time traveling outside of the country since I was four years old, and I’m pretty darn excited. I’ve heard so many things about how life-changing study abroad is and how it’s “the experience every college student should have.” You’ve probably heard the same spiel that I have. I recently had my study abroad orientation at school and we covered so many things that I didn’t even think I’d have to think about while abroad. Honestly, the only things I prepared for prior to orientation were purchasing my ticket, converting the currency, and buying some travel essentials. If you’re studying abroad in another country in the near (or far) future, DON’T even so much as pack a suitcase without considering these things.
1. Your health insurance while abroad.
I got that “oh crap” feeling the moment the presentation turned to health insurance because guess whose mind insurance never even crossed…My school puts study abroad students on a special health insurance plan because accidents can happen and you need to know how much and what costs your insurance will cover. The plan makes it easy for us to report and check claims from our phones, and we can also find other services this way. Ask your school’s study abroad office if they offer an insurance plan that you can be put on.
2. Can you get your prescription medication in the country you’re traveling to?
One important thing to note is that while you’re abroad, you should not be changing anything in your routine. Some people who travel abroad during intersession think that it’s okay to not take their medicine because it’s “only three weeks.” Make sure you bring your medication and also see if you’re able to get it in the country you’re traveling to in case you lose it or something. This website called the Drug Translation Guide is great for figuring this out. Your medication may also come under a different name and dosage, so figure this out before you board a plane.
3. Your passport expiration date.
Did you know that if your passport expires within six months of your return date to the United States, you may not be able to get back into the country? Yeah, neither did I. I’m not travel expert, but this may be an important detail to take into account.
4. Currency conversions and payment options while abroad.
Converting your currency is a huge thing to consider before traveling — how will you pay for meals and other things you’re going to purchase? You can convert your currency at your bank, but be aware that you may actually have to order the conversion in advanced, and the rate may change daily depending on your bank. Also inquire about any conversion fees. You definitely don’t want to just pick yourself up two days before your departure and go to the bank to try to convert your money. Another thing to consider would be whether or not you can use your debit card or any other cards while abroad. Be sure to find out which cards are accepted in that country. Leave yourself with enough time to consider money matters for your trip.
5. Packing a voltage and plug adapter.
My heart practically fell when they told us not to bring straighteners on the trip because using a U.S. flat iron in Europe could practically set a floor on fire. Even with an adapter. The current isn’t the same in every country, so make sure you know what items you need in order to be able to use certain electronic devices. Essentially, you need a voltage adapter for anything that heats up — hair dryers, curling irons, and computers if they don’t have a built-in voltage adapter. This is probably one of the biggest items (besides your passport) that you can’t get away with not bringing with you. If you have any doubts, ask your study abroad office what electrical items are and aren’t allowed in the country you’re visiting.
6. The other country’s social etiquette.
Another really surprising part of orientation came when we were discussing the social do’s and don’ts while abroad. What may be appropriate behavior and attire in your country may not be appropriate in another country. The professor my group has been traveling with has been taking students to Ireland for many years now, and is of Irish decent herself, so she was able to tell us a lot about what to expect and what not to wear. Let me tell you, I probably would have packed a couple of clothing items that I wouldn’t have been able to wear if she hadn’t told us otherwise. Getting a feel for the country’s social norms can really help you decide what to pack and what to leave at home, so do your research! Also research what gestures are considered rude in the other country. A peace sign with your fingers may be cute in your country, but in another country it can be highly offensive.
We were told that with a lot of students, alcohol consumption nearly doubled while they were abroad. This can do with the drinking age being different in another country, and everyone else around you may be drinking so you might think “why not?” I know that talking about alcohol isn’t all that fun and I like to talk about fun stuff, but it’s still something to be aware of. Make sure you continue to do what you need to do in order to look out for yourself and keep yourself safe.
8. Class materials such as textbooks.
It is still STUDY abroad, aka you’re not on vacation and you still have classes to take and probably homework to do. Find out what things you’ll be expected to bring for class time. The only things I’m required to have are a textbook and a journal for documenting the trip, but make sure you know in advanced if you must order the textbook or if you can rent it or get it from your school’s bookstore.
9. Preserving the memories you make.
Do you plan to bring a fancy DSLR? Will you just stick to using your phone? Do you want to have instant prints using an instant camera? Consider how you’re going to take photos while you’re away. I hope to purchase an instant camera from FUJIFILM before I leave so I can have adorable, tiny prints for my travel journal, so definitely let me know of any good deals on an Instax mini! Preserving memories isn’t just limited to taking photos. You can also start a free blog, a vlog on YouTube, a scrapbook, or a journal, to name a few.
What other things should you do before leaving for study abroad?