Friday, 18 December 2015

A Pre-Departure Checklist for Study-Abroad

Travelling to study aboard is an exciting and highly rewarding opportunity, so if you find yourself in this happy position then a hearty congratulations to you! However, this isn’t just an extended vacation. Remember that you’ll now be living in a foreign country for at least a few months, which calls for different logistics too, say, a week in Europe or a weekend in Mexico. This will not only involve the effort behind adjusting to a new culture, or even a new language, but also many legal and practical concerns as well. So before you leave, be sure to check of this pre-departure checklist for studying abroad.

Make Sure You Have a Valid Passport

According to a study released by the State Department in January last year, less than half (46%) of Americans have a valid passport that would allow them to travel abroad. You may well find that you fall into this percentage yourself. Whether you never had one to begin with, or you did have a passport but it has simply expired, you will need to make sure that you have proper travel documents before you can study abroad. There are no exceptions to this, I’m afraid.

Your passport should also be valid for at least six months after your programme has ended, so if it’s less than this it will need to be renewed.

Getting a new passport (or renewing an old one) is, fortunately, relatively straight forward. However it does take a while to process and it will cost a fair sum. Expect a fee of around $100-$120 for a passport and a waiting time of 4-10 weeks upon submitting your application, so get your passport long before you’re due to leave.

Get Your Study VISA

As well as a passport, you will also need a study visa to ensure that you can legally stay and study in the country you are visiting. The exact conditions behind acquiring a visa will vary from nation to nation. Some will be very stringent and impose a lot of conditions, others may require you to simply be upright and breathing.

It’s your responsibility to make sure you have your visa, and your place of study will not usually help you if it turns out you neglected to acquire one. If you want more information on how to apply, visit the embassy of the nation you wish to study abroad in, or visit its website.

Book Your Flights

You may be offered to fly as part of a group through a USAC-approved travel agency, or alternatively you may choose to book a flight on your own. It’s up to you on that point, but make sure you do it fairly early to ensure cheaper tickets.

Make sure you’re familiar with any baggage restrictions before you fly as well. Some nations may not allow certain objects past their borders, for example. Australia is a famous example – due to the uniqueness of their ecosystem, they’re very strict about the sorts of plants and animals that can be brought into the country.

Once you’ve booked your flight, keep any necessary travel documents somewhere safe yet easily found. Most flights nowadays send e-tickets rather than physical ones, which should be e-mailed to you directly. To be on the safe side, make sure you have at least two copies of any relevant documents you’ll need to bring with you, including your passport and visa. If necessary, e-mail copies of these to yourself as well.

Make Housing Arrangements

You’ll also usually be responsible for finding accommodation while in your host country. If studying at a university, look at any accommodation on campus to stay in. As always, the earlier you can do this the better to ensure you can get the accommodation you want. If you’re travelling as part of an exchange programme or a language school, you may be placed with a pre-assigned “home family”, who’ll look after you during your studies.

Acquire Financial Aid

To study abroad is very expensive, so if you can make sure you can acquire any financial aid that is available to you to help keep you above fiscal waters. Host nations are also usually reluctant to accept students who cannot show that they can support themselves while studying in their country. Ask your university or programme leaders if there are is any assistance you can use before travelling.

Once you have some form of aid, make sure you set up a bank account in your host country so that you can receive it. Most local banks will be happy to open a student-specific account for you.

Get a Medical Check Up

A month before you leave, arrange for an appointment with your doctor to go over any potential medical problems that may inhibit your ability to travel. One essential thing to do as well is to make sure you get all your necessary shots and vaccinations. Students travelling to tropical regions, for example, should look at getting vaccinated for malaria. There are also certain countries that will require a medical report to be attached to your visa, to show that you’re healthy enough to stay in the country.

Learn About Your Host Country

Even countries as seemingly familiar as Britain, France, Australia or Canada can often have nuances and quirks of character that may catch unprepared students by surprise. For example, in Britain the word “pants” actually refer to underwear, while in Germany asking if you can use the bathroom rather than the toilet may cause confusion.

In the month or so before you leave to study abroad, read up a little on the country you’ll be staying in, especially on matters such as etiquette – you don’t want to accidentally offend someone on your first day, after all! Such study can also inform you about certain festivals, activities and places that you may want to see and partake in while you’re studying, so it’s really worth the effort.

Double Check with Your University That Everything is Ready
At least, a month before you leave, double-check with your university that all the necessary paperwork has gone through and has been processed. Make sure that they have everything they need from you, that they’re ready to accept you, and that there’s nothing further you need to do. You do not want to be caught out the day before you leave because you accidentally forgot to send off an overlooked form, or the university turned out not to have made a certain arrangement you were depending on.

The Most Important Check of All

Aside from keeping your valuables safe in an Adventure Lion waterproof bag, Have fun! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can greatly expand and enhance your character, outlooks and opportunities for the future. So make the most of it!

I've always dreamed of studying abroad. If only I wasn't trying to wrap up a nursing degree, I would've applied to some exchange programs. And recently, I noticed that my uni, Xavier University, has been having alot of exchange students as far as France and Germany.

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