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20 Things Students Should Do Before Studying Abroad

Studying abroad can be a vital part of a well-rounded education. There are some obvious things you'll need to be aware of before you go, but you should be ready for more than just a language and culture barrier. With proper preparation, your study abroad can be one of the best experiences of your life.

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Study Abroad Checklist

1. Find out if your credits will transfer to your university.

Before you start the process of applying to study abroad, you should check with your school to make sure the classes you take will transfer. If your school doesn't have a dedicated study abroad office, check with the registrar.

2. Talk to students who have studied abroad.

Talk to alumni of the study abroad program to get a sense of the successes and struggles of their experience. Talking to others who have completed the same program will give you a chance to ask specific questions and allay any fears you might have.

3. Find ways to finance your trip.

Studying abroad can be expensive. Prior to committing to any program, estimate how much you will spend during your time abroad. Some students might qualify for federal loans or grants. There are a multitude of scholarships available specifically for students who wish to study abroad. Check with your financial aid office for advice and assistance.

4. Make sure you have all necessary travel documents.

It goes without saying that a current passport will be required in order to enter a foreign country and to return home. However, many countries require a student visa. If your destination country requires a visa, be sure to apply well in advance of your expected departure. Confirm that the visa will cover your entire study abroad period.

5. Get a physical.

Before leaving for your study abroad experience, you should visit your doctor and make sure you're in good health. Tell your doctor where you're going and see if he or she has specific recommendations. It is important that you are up to date with your vaccines. Remember to find out if any additional vaccines are recommended for your planned destination.

6. Get insurance.

Travel insurance is worth the investment should you get sick or have any serious medical issues. If you already have health insurance, check to see if it includes coverage for overseas care. If it doesn't, you can get a policy specific for overseas travel.

7. Search out local connections.

You never know what kind of resources are right under your nose. Let your plans to study abroad be known, and tell people exactly where you're going. Someone you know might have family, friends or another local connection that could end up being invaluable.

8. Make sure you're aware of social customs.

It may be perfectly OK for men and women to be platonic friends in the U.S., but it might not be acceptable elsewhere. To avoid awkward situations, find out as much as you can about local customs before heading overseas. Remember to consider language barriers. Even though you might know the language of the country you are visiting, there are still chances for misunderstanding.

9. Register to vote.

Yes, you can still vote while living overseas! It is recommended to register at your local election office in the United States, but you can always register online while in a foreign country. In order to vote, you must request an absentee ballot. Check the Federal Voting Assistance Program website (www.fvap.gov) to get specific information about absentee voting regulations for your state.

10. Decide what you want to see and do.

Going abroad to study can be more than just going to school in a different country. You will have the opportunity to tour famous sites, museums and recreation areas. Research what you want to see and do while you're abroad. If you are not sure you have enough money, make a budget so you can save up to do what you want. There are a variety of travel guides available; some are geared specifically to students traveling abroad.

11. Find a bank.

Banking in a foreign country is quite different than what you are used to in the United States. You may not be able to use your ATM card or credit card the way you do at home. The easiest way around this is to set up a bank account once you arrive. In doing so, you can have your money nearby and a way to access it quickly. Check with your study abroad advisor to find out what you need to open an account.

12. Know what to do in case of an emergency.

Prior to leaving on your trip, find out how to contact the police, the fire department and any other emergency service available in your host country. Additionally, consider enrolling your trip with the State Department. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows the State Department to assist you in an emergency.

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13. Know how to find the embassy.

You should know where the closest U.S. embassy is in case of trouble. Keep the phone number handy as well. Consular services are available 24/7. Read more at the U.S. State Department website (studentsabroad.state.gov/embassies.php).

14. Know the law and stick to it.

Be sure to obey the laws of your host country at all times. Find out the laws for common activities, such as driving a car or drinking alcohol. What is not a big deal at home can be considered quite serious in another country. Even a minor incident can create a lot of trouble for a foreigner who is not educated in the local laws.

15. Learn about food and drink safety.

One of the joys of traveling is trying the foods and beverages of the country you are visiting. Before trying the local delicacies, it's in your best interest to research any potential health hazards related to food and drink. The Center for Disease Control's website (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/) has a plethora of information about food safety overseas.

16. Research local religion.

It's not necessarily the case that you'll end up studying abroad in a highly religious area, but it can't hurt to know. Information about religion is available on travel websites and can lend insight into local customs.

17. Write down emergency numbers.

It's a good idea to have a list of emergency numbers available just in case you need it. Include the numbers of trusted local contacts, your parents, your school, the U.S. embassy and other organizations that can help you get out of a jam.

18. Pack smart.

Pack for the climate of the country you are visiting. For example, if you're studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, during the fall semester in the U.S., you should be prepared for spring and summer weather. Find out if you will need any special equipment, like heavy-duty snow gear, for example. Pack copies of important documents, such as plane tickets, passports and credit cards for reference in case of an emergency.

19. Prepare to stay in touch with your friends and family.

Stay in touch with your family and friends in the U.S. while you're abroad by using video chat programs, such as Google Hangout or Skype. Your cell phone might work in another country, but if not, you may be able to get a cell phone locally. Otherwise, you can buy an international calling card to use for phoning home. Being able to talk to your family and friends can go a long way in staving off homesickness.

20. Know that you can't plan for everything.

It's a good idea to arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can prior to your departure, but there is no way to prepare for everything. Keep an open mind about your upcoming adventure. Any planning you do ahead of time will serve you well, but not knowing what will happen is part of the fun of travel.

Find out more about how you can choose a study-abroad destination.

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