Preparing to Study Abroad
After you have applied for a study abroad program and been accepted, you will need to prepare for your experience. In general, the more effort you put into your pre-departure research, the more rewarding your experience will be. This list of topics is by no means comprehensive, but it should get you started on your pre-departure planning.
Obtaining a Passport
Almost all travel outside of the United States requires a passport. If you are applying for your first passport, you will need to make the application in person; to find the nearest location for applying in person, please visit the Department of State's search page: http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/. Passport forms and other information can be found at
http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html. If you already have a passport, it is a good idea to verify that it will be valid for at least six months after you intend to finish your program abroad.
Obtaining a Visa
Participation in many study abroad programs also requires a visa from the country where you intend to study. Your visa acts as your permission to enter the country as a student. If you intend to arrive in the country early or stay after your program ends you may need a separate visa for doing that as well. Because every country has different visa regulations, it is important for you to verify that you have the right visa to enter for your program and/or stay on as a visitor. The Department of State can provide some information on the visa regulations for different countries, but the information is subject to change, so you should always verify the information with the Embassy or Consulate of the country or countries you intend to visit.
Although many of the summer study abroad programs make travel arrangements for all participants, most of the semester or year abroad programs do not. You will need to make travel arrangements well in advance to be sure to have arrival dates that meet the host program requirements. Even if you intend to stay in the country you visit for an indeterminate length of time after you finish your program, it is a good idea to get open-ended round trip tickets rather than one-way tickets. Many governments require that you have a round trip or onward ticket before entering the country.
Health and Safety
It is a good idea to consult the Department of State's most current Consular Information Sheet http://travel.state.gov/travel/warnings_consular.html for the country you will be visiting for health related issues and relevant safety advisories.
Department of State Travel Warnings http://travel.state.gov/travel/warnings.htmlwarnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Countries where avoidance of travel is recommended will have Travel Warnings as well as Consular Information Sheets.
Check with your health insurance provider to find out if you are covered while you are abroad, and if so, how the insurance works. Will you be required to pay any fees up front and get reimbursed when you return? Will payments be made directly to the provider? If possible, obtain a copy of your policy in the language of the country you will visit.
Host Country and Culture Information
The Department of State's Consular Information Sheets are regularly updated and contain general information on every country such as location of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the subject country, unusual immigration practices, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information. This is a good start on researching the country and culture you will visit, but it is by no means comprehensive for the student traveler.
Visit the bookstore, the library, and the internet for resources on your host country and culture. Even if you are doing and English-language program, it is helpful to learn at least basic phrases in the language(s) of your host country; the more you are able to communicate, the better you will be able to navigate physically, culturally, and emotionally in your host country and the richer your experience will be.
American Culture Information
It may surprise you to learn how much you don't know about American culture and history. Americans abroad are often asked detailed questions about our culture, history, foreign and domestic policy, customs, and other aspects of America. Many of us are unprepared for this, many of us don't even realize that "yes, we do have a culture." Before you leave, consider that you are an ambassador for your home country, and others will be learning about America through you. Spend some time reviewing American history and examining your own cultural values before you go, so that you are prepared to teach (or at least give your informed opinion) as well as to learn.
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