Studying abroad is one of the best opportunities to take advantage of during college. You have the chance to explore new cultures, meet amazing people and travel more in several months than you probably will throughout the rest of your life. However, before jetting off to a foreign continent for four months, there are about a thousand tiny details that need to be ironed out.
After getting transfer credits approved, obtaining a passport and visa, haggling with financial aid and booking flights, it is almost surreal that all this preparatory work leads to an actual destination. Relieved to have conquered the tedious steps, it’s easy to breeze through all the other preparatory steps and center your focus on your destination.
I am currently studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I can testify about how difficult it is to be completely prepared for a semester abroad. There are many factors I hadn’t considered before leaving, and I often wish I had someone to consult about what to bring with me or how to better prepare myself for my time away. So reaching out to all those potential travelers, here are a few valuable tips to help you plan for studying abroad in any country.
1. Bring outlet converters and adapters.
Once you leave the U.S., electrical outlets will no longer resemble the face of those at home. I suggest purchasing universal outlet converters and adapters before you leave, as they can be expensive in foreign countries and are often difficult to find. The adapter will change the foreign plug so that you can connect your device to the outlet. This does not change the voltage, though, so you will definitely need a converter or transformer to make the wattage of your device compatible with the country’s power supply. You should also consider leaving expensive hair straighteners or blow dryers at home. They generate a lot of heat, and even with a converter, the differing voltage can blow them out.
Kara, a junior at Quinnipiac University, regrets bringing her GHD straightener with her to Spain.
“I was using an adapter, a converter, and even a surge protector, and my straightener still blew out. If you absolutely need a flatiron, you should just buy a cheap one once you’re abroad.”
2. Don’t leave your phone at home!
Many students opt not to bring their smart phone while studying abroad, worried about loss or theft during their travels. If you are careful with your belongings though, these devices are great tools to communicate with fellow study abroad friends and loved ones at home. Some popular texting apps I’ve encountered are What’s App and textPlus, which both allow you to send text messages for free through Wi-Fi. Another App I highly recommend is Skype for iPhone. Even if you’re off in Amsterdam for the weekend, you can use this free app to call, instant message, or video chat friends and family. Another variation of the Skype app costs about $7 and enables you to call any phone in the U.S.
Cara, a sophomore at Emerson College and current study abroad student in Brazil, swears by the Skype app.
“Having Skpye on my iPhone has helped me keep communication with my grandparents, who don’t have computer access. And I don’t have to worry about spending minutes like friends with international phones.”
The Skype app is perfect for those who don’t want to bother with an international phone and have loved ones back home who aren’t so technologically savvy.
3. Stock up on tampons.
When I arrived in Argentina, I faced a rude awakening in the feminine products department. Tampons are very limited here, and I had to scour about six different drugstores before even finding O.B.’s (the kind without an applicator tip). Many countries, such as Egypt, don’t sell tampons at all, and most will not provide the brand or type that you are used to. So for a word to the wise, you should definitely stock up on Tampax before boarding the plane.
4. Keep your mind on your money.
Getting used to your country’s exchange rate is tough enough, but the foreign transaction fees your bank charges on purchases in a different currency are really a killer. Each time you swipe your card or pull cash from an ATM, the money you’re being charged but not spending begins to rack up. Before leaving, check to see if your bank at home has international branches in your abroad destination so that you are not charged a fee each time you visit the ATM. If you do not have the advantage of an international bank, I suggest withdrawing the maximum amount of cash per ATM visit. This way, you will only pay a nominal fee and will have enough money to last you a few weeks. Just make sure not to carry all your cash with you—pickpockets are very common in countries outside the U.S.
If you want more advice about your specific country of study, some great resources are LonelyPlanet.com or Fodors.com. I found a lot of useful information by researching student blogs who had studied in Buenos Aires last semester and actually based a lot of my packing decisions on their suggestions. My only other piece of advice before embarking on the greatest journey of your life: make the most of every opportunity, and take as many photos as possible! This is an experience you will want to remember, so don’t let anything or anyone hold you back.
By: Kimberly Suchy | Images: Pinterest