What to Do When Studying Abroad

Instructor: Jessica Keys
No matter your subject of choice, studying in another country is a great way to gain perspective on the world while learning independence and forging lasting friendships. While every student has a unique experience, here are some helpful tips you will want to remember for your journey.

If You Haven't Left Yet…

Make sure everything is shipshape with your program of choice. If you are studying abroad for college credit, learn which courses you plan to take abroad will count towards your degree and which ones (if any) will not. Taking an elective-type course overseas is not necessarily a bad idea, but you'll want to keep in mind that your time may be limited, and you will want to get the most out of your budget and experience.

Familiarize yourself with the travel policies and customs procedures of your host country. Going abroad can be a little intimidating, especially if you have not traveled much before. Ease your anxiety by organizing everything you'll need for travel in advance, like your passport, your visa, your boarding pass and any other documents required for entry.

  • Note: While your school or program may have you covered for some things (such as proof of enrollment), it is ultimately your responsibility to enter and stay in the country legally. For more information and travel warnings, check out the U.S. State Department's website (, which features a special section for international students.

Double-check your travel itinerary. Know where you need to go after your arrival and how you're going to get there. You may have to make your own arrangements, or your school or program may provide a welcome wagon, which will provide group travel to your campus right from the airport. Decide which route is best for you and make these plans in advance.

Pack sensibly. Keep the length of your program and the climate of your destination in mind and try to keep baggage to a minimum. If you are bringing a laptop computer or other electronic device, don't forget an outlet adapter that complies with the electrical standards of your host country. Also, check up on any prescription medicine; you may need special permission before bringing it into the country.

Are you interested in international study but you aren't quite sure where to begin? is here to help with a useful lesson that explores the ins and outs of studying abroad. Alternately, explore this lesson on the definition and benefits of studying in a different country.

While You're Abroad…

Money matters! Studying abroad can be expensive. Depending on the length of your program, it may be beneficial to set up a bank account in your host country, especially if you plan to work while you study. Otherwise, be careful about using any credit cards, and inform your bank of your travel plans to avoid any misunderstandings. Cash may be your most convenient and safe option, but brace yourself for a shock with some exchange rates!

Immerse yourself! If you are going to a non-English speaking country, try to listen to and speak the language whenever possible, especially if you are in a language program. Don't be afraid to explore your surroundings; get to know what makes your locale unique! Branch out and you may find a new favorite food, game, city or natural wonder. You may even make friends for life.

But be respectful! Familiarize yourself with social mores and cultural differences in your host country. After all, what may be a friendly gesture at home could be rather offensive elsewhere. Be mindful of where you take photographs, and of whom (be courteous, ask permission first)! Keep an open mind regarding regional customs, and be considerate of both history and current events.

  • Note: Being a United States citizen does not mean you are exempt from the laws of another country. If you break the law in another country, the punishment may be more severe than anticipated, and the United States may not be able to help you. Learn what's illegal and stay alert!

Get involved with your university (if applicable)! If you plan to study at an international institution for a while, why not see what they have to offer on the extracurricular side? Most universities around the world have a generous assortment of student-run sports teams and clubs that are open to all students. These clubs are usually just for fun--no try-outs required. It's a great way to make new friends and try something new.

But don't overdo it! Especially if your time is limited, you may feel like you need to see, do and experience everything. This can lead to burnout, which negatively impacts your studies and well-being. Instead, try picking out your 'must sees' in advance while taking the time to explore your more local surroundings.

Don't forget about your studies! With so much to take in, it's easy to forget that you have classes to take or an internship to complete! Moreover, your home institution or program sponsor may have academic requirements that you must fulfill in order to maintain your visa. If culture shock or homesickness are making it difficult to stay on task, don't be afraid to reach out to a program advisor or counselor.

Are you wondering how you are going to manage your time abroad effectively? Why not have a look at's collection of lessons on Time Management for College Success? Learn tips on how to stay motivated in a more independent environment, and how to de-stress if things become too overwhelming.

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