How to Prepare for Your Study Abroad By Simon Thompson
Studying abroad is an exciting and rewarding experience, but the preparation before hand is certainly less enjoyable. It is easy to put the preparation to the back of your mind and convince yourself you will research it later on. It is really important, however, that you are on top of your arrangements to make the departure process a whole lot easier. Most universities will hold a ‘pre-departure orientation’ session, so hopefully that event will have got the ball rolling.
1.) Talk to students who have studied abroad
Talking to others who have studied abroad before is one of the most useful actions you can take before you get started on your preparation. You may want to ask them things about their personal experiences, how they found accommodation, the prices of everyday living and how easy they found it to make friends. You might also want to ask them whether they had a job during their time and how they found their studies. Any tips and insights into the study abroad experience are invaluable. A useful question to ask students who have studied abroad before is what things they wished they had known before they arrived.
Paperwork will slowly become a large part of your pre-departure experience. You will have to research and select your modules, and you will often need to send various forms and personal information to your institution abroad. Equally, you will need to sort out your maintenance loan through student finance and any grants you might be eligible for such as travel grants. In order to study in several countries, you might also need to arrange health insurance. In terms of your own paperwork, try to make copies of things like your national insurance number, birth certificate and medical history. On that note, arrange an appointment with the doctor to talk about any prescriptions or have them fill out any medical forms required for your program.
3.) Passport and Visas
No doubt, you will be so excited researching things to do and places to eat in your new home that you forget about the most important steps in the study abroad process. Firstly, make sure you check that your passport is up to date and doesn’t run out while you are away. If you are studying in Europe, you won’t need a visa. For countries outside of Europe, however, you will most likely need to apply for a visa which can cost up to £350, so be prepared for those sort of costs. Likewise, check with your visa conditions whether you can gain paid work while you abroad. If this appears to be an issue, it is worth getting advice from your host university or from past students about their experiences with employment.
Accommodation can be one of the most difficult things to sort out as there are several different options and things to weigh up personally. Most universities will offer student accommodation, but this needs to be applied for early on in the year and sometimes students have little say over their preferences. On the other hand, you may be interested in arranging a studio flat or a private flat with other international students. The Erasmus websites for flat sharing can be useful for your searches and there are also Facebook pages where students arrange housing. In some countries such as France, students can apply for discounted housing through government schemes like ‘CAF.’ Usually these schemes are long winded and involve a lot of paperwork, but it is definitely worth sorting out.
5.) Bank accounts and phone contracts
Setting up a bank account abroad can be a difficult ordeal, especially when you’re trying to communicate in a different language. Make sure you do a lot of research on the type of student bank you need and notify your British bank that you are moving abroad. However, you may want to keep your British account for online transactions. Your bank account should be sorted out fairly early on in the process as until this point, it is hard to arrange phone contracts and student finance payments.
Depending on where you are studying abroad, improving your language skills could really benefit your study abroad experience. In countries such as Spain, France and Italy, for example, knowledge before you depart is really recommended. Whereas if you are traveling to America, Australia or even Germany and the Netherlands, you will get by with just English. If your host university teaches in another language, you may want to take a pre-sessional language course over the summer period. Reading up on common student phrases and slang can also be useful. A great way to enhance your language skills over summer is to do some light reading and jot down words you learn in a notepad.
7.) Research your destination's culture
Whether this be local food, drink, religion or laws, it is really important to understand the customs of the country in which you are going to be studying. This research can be exciting as you can find out local foods you should try or fun areas of the city for students. Try and find some online blogs written by locals as they can give you an insight into places for weekend trips and even ‘common scams’ to keep an eye out for.
8.) Prepare yourself mentally
This aspect of preparation is particularly important. Speak to your family and friends about your nerves and things you are excited about. Try and get involved in as many ways as possible, such as joining Facebook pages and trying to make a few connections with other students before you arrive. Although the preparation can be overwhelming at times, try and remind yourself that you are about to embark on a really exciting opportunity and it will all be worth it in the end!
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