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Preparing to Study Abroad: beyond the language barrier

Studying abroad can provide a magnificent cultural experience for students while contributing tremendously to an enhanced and elite academic resume. Part of ensuring a student takes away everything available to them through an international education is proper preparation for far more than learning a foreign language. Following are some tips to help with the transition.

Prepare the paperwork.

A personal passport that will remain current during the entire expected stay of the study period is absolutely critical for a student to possess at all times for travel in and out of the United States. Many of the countries will require a student visa, so knowing and applying well in advance for one is important. Students should also be sure that the visa they receive will cover the entire term of study. Suggest to students that they locate the nearest U.S. embassy, for emergency situations that may arise and advise them to always have the contact information handy.

Talk to those in the know.

There is no better referral than a recommendation. Speaking with alumni of the program students are considering will get them accurate and honest feedback. Hearing first hand from those that have encountered and overcome the challenges and have experienced the success is a great way for a student to validate their decisions.

In this case, money matters – more.

Depending on the final destination, studying abroad can be a very expensive. Students should have a well-planned budget, itemizing the typical costs of education and living expenses for the entire time spent studying away from home. Ensuring that the finances required are available will ease the stress – understanding whether or not they qualify for student loans or if they’re eligible for scholarships or aid from the school directly will all be instrumental information that is all part of the final decision.

Learning about how accessible any monies the student has is also important. While credit and debit cards may work in some areas, it may be more convenient to for them to open an account at a local bank. Most advisors should provide the details of what’s required to do so.

Become familiar, and comfortable with the culture.

While many students will prepare to study abroad by learning the language, so much is still at risk to being lost in translation so to speak. Taking the time to research and learn local customs, religious beliefs and socially accepted interactions. Studying and living outside of the western hemisphere offers students tremendous exposure to a completely different way of life – socially and culturally. Understanding the do’s and don’ts of what’s acceptable beforehand will prevent having them fall into an awkward situation.

Utilize an extended network.

Arriving in foreign country can be overwhelming. However, thanks to social media, many high school students have access to friends and acquaintances that have shared a similar study abroad experience. Connect with different platforms and ask for advice; many of these people may have friends and or relatives in the selected destination that they can be introduced to prior to arriving, making for a quick connection once they land. Having someone familiar to meet with once they arrive, will make the transition to their new life abroad a little more comfortable.

Laws and emergency services.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a great resource for students studying abroad that provide the services of the State Department to assist them in the event of an unexpected emergency. For local matters, they should be aware of how to make contact with services such as police or fire departments in their host city/country.

Explore the surroundings.

Whether they’re introduced to someone who’s familiar with the region before they go, or whether they make friends with others once they arrive, students need to take advantage of what could be a once in lifetime opportunity to experience a new and unique culture. Having prepared with a list of things they’re like to see and like to do once they’re settled will help them maximize their time and immerse themselves in their new life. Advance planning and research will also ensure that they realistically can get through this list on the budget they’ve previously worked out. The one thing they’d hate is to quickly arrive at the end of their term without having completing their list and returning with an unfulfilled sense of accomplishment.

Keep the communication lines open.

Different countries allow access to international communication through a variety of devices and apps. Students are encouraged to know the limitations of their existing device and it’s access while studying abroad; getting one from a local provider may be a way to guarantee the communication with friends and family back home. Many agencies that assist students with transition from the U.S. to post-secondary studies abroad will provide useful information regarding mobile services and which is best for the student.

See a doctor.

It is recommended that all students departing the U.S. to study abroad be as informed about their own health. Leaving in good health will add a layer of reassurance and eliminate added stress. Speaking with their physician and making them aware of their destination will also enable the doctor to recommend any vaccinations or medications that may be required prior to departure.

Expect the unexpected.

As is the case in anything in life, it’s impossible to foresee all situations and unexpected circumstances that one may encounter while studying abroad. Having invested the time in advance, however, to educate them about what they can control will likely have them better prepared for those rare occasions when things they can’t control arise. The entire experience of studying abroad is learn while experiencing a new and different culture; make sure to help them do just that.

By Janine LaRue