You felt antsy the last few weeks of the semester as you waited for the moment you landed in Europe. Now, street signs in a foreign language surround you, and you feel utterly lost and confused. Blinded by the excitement of living in Europe for a summer kept you lost in the clouds even after touching down. Sometimes studying abroad doesn’t go as smoothly as college programs promise. Before you get that stamp in your passport, pause and make sure you have a plan from start to finish.
Step 1: Not So Mission Impossible
From timing, budgeting or courses offered, sometimes your university may not offer an abroad program that perfectly suits you. And you don’t want your trip turning into another horrible Mission Impossible movie, so take advice from El Camino College sophomore and foreign student Vicki Wong.“Going through a study abroad agency program to handle everything is the easiest way,” Wong said. A good agency ensures that your student travels sail smoothly. “I went through CEA…the benefits, from my knowledge of meeting people who were on the UF program, was that it was cheaper, two weeks longer and they stayed in dorms while we stayed in apartments,” University of Florida junior Emily Kotulak said. Learn from Emily and do your research. Don’t procrastinate on this, kids!
Step 2: ‘Tis the Season of Generosity
Studying outside of the country isn’t for everyone. Some students lose concentration if they stray from their Starbucks corner table, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go abroad. Look into voluntourism programs. Volutourism is a fun way to spend time out of the country with other students while helping a nonprofit organization meet its goals. Seek information from your institution’s abroad services office. They’ll guide you through the various ways you can make a difference over your spring or summer break.
Step 3: Study, Study, Study!
Insulting an entire race is downright embarrassing, unless you’re Donald Trump. After finishing that physics homework, complete your study abroad homework. Learn about where you’ll live for an entire semester and the culture you’re about to be emerged in. “Read up on the country, and grab a book of information all about the location you are heading to,” El Camino College sophomore Antonella Zegarra said. Learning a country’s customs and geography aids in socializing with locals, avoids offending the culture and keeps you from getting lost.
Step 4: Plan Like A Mom
Although family vacays feel annoying because your mom outlined every second of your time, she’s definitely on to something. Programs typically have an itinerary of their own, but plan ahead for your free time. “Plan the things you want to do in advance so that you can have things go more smoothly,” San Diego State University senior Brittnee Shields said. “That’s what I wished I did because some things could have been better planned, and I could have seen more of Europe.” Studying abroad doesn’t happen frequently, so plan it right and make it count.
Step 5: Gold Digger
Remember that time Yeezy went bankrupt? Don’t let that happen to you. Planning your spending ahead of time keeps you from over spending, especially the bigger budget events. “Understand the currency so switching and buying doesn’t become a problem,” Zegarra said. Remember how you thought you’d never use math in real life? Well currency exchange rates are a real world application for you.
Step 6: Pack Like a Sailor
Just as the Navy trains sailors to compartmentalize, everyone interested in traveling abroad should pack just as smart. “YouTube how to roll your clothes instead of folding them. It saves so much space,” University of Florida senior Joshua Williamson said. Everyone turns into a hoarder when packing for trip, but use this as an opportunity for minimalism. “Avoid over packing the stuff that you can get upon arrival,” Wong said. Trust me, you’ll survive a semester or summer without that random blue blouse you wore on your 21st birthday.
Step 7: Impress Everyone with Your Airport Savvy-ness
The clear problem in Final Destination–TSA didn’t review the Grimm Reaper, and he totes messed up everyone’s flight. While it’s unlikely that your traveling experience will become a horror cinematic experience, a lot of unpleasant things can happen, like missing your flight or losing baggage. Triple check your ticket information and make sure you have the correct times and flights. Study a map of foreign airports you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t go Columbus and explore the new and mysterious airport, save the exploration for your final destination.
Step 8: Avoid Awkward Moments Overseas
Not everything feels peachy keen when you’re some thousand miles away from home. Every culture varies in customs and etiquette. Adjusting takes time. Coming from Hong Kong, Wong struggles with a different communication style in Los Angeles. “There are more greetings and prep talk before bringing up the questions that need to be asked,” Wong said, “From the culture that I’m from, we [just] ask the question right away.” Perhaps you’ll fumble and say or do the wrong thing, but don’t let that bring you down. As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming.”
Step 9: Remember It’s Still College
Don’t pull a Ferris Buller and skip class while abroad. Remember the study portion of your experience and set aside time for homework. “There are so many independently owned cafes and book stores in Europe that serve as a great atmosphere to get work done,” Kotulak said. Finally, not another cliché Starbucks study day. Incorporate the unique location into your studies so you can still get that foreign experience.
Step 10: TTFN
A change in time zones makes staying in touch with family, friends and your S.O. slightly challenging. Have a game plan set in place before leaving. “Facebook is a good way to keep in touch, or any social media, if your phone carrier doesn’t let you use international texting/data,” Shields said. Social media and apps such as WhatsApp keep you from racking up a gigantic phone bill as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Keep in mind that going abroad just means ta-ta for now—you’ll find home right where you left it.