What are some essentials for studying abroad?
I have read that you should have a luggage bag that isn't black and red, so it's easily distinguishable. But what are some really good tips that you would recommend? What to pack? What your parents can send in the mail? What kind of credit/debit card is most widely accepted?
You're going to have a great time! Studying abroad was the most rewarding and educational part of university for me. The first thing I usually do when going abroad is get a guide book. Lonely Planet is great, but there are lots of others as well. They'll have history and background, useful tips for travelling, sections for each region, and handy phrases to use.
Cash: this is always a big one for people travelling. Austin is absolutely right about the credit card: Visa or Mastercard, whatever your bank has. Consider getting one that includes travel, medical, and vehicle rental insurance - you'll have extra coverage to get out of any tight spots. For withdrawals, flip over your debit card - if your bank is Mastercard-affiliated, you should see a "Cirrus" or "Maestro" logo. If it's Visa-affiliated, you should see "Electron" or "Visa Debit". Look up major banks at your destination to see which are on the network. If you're on the ground looking for somewhere to withdraw cash, look for those logos on the ATMs. It looks like you're going to Italy, so you should be alright. Talk to your bank before leaving and have them change some local currency for you, so you have cash when you arrive.
Documents: keep them safe! I usually carry a photocopy of my passport identification page with me, and leave the original locked up. If you're travelling, then bring the original with you but keep it close at hand. Print out a copy of your medical insurance card and keep it with you - make sure it clearly states your policy number and how to reach the insurance company. Save the emergency numbers for your local embassy/consulate, credit card provider (collect call), university program coordinator, and local police/emergency services in your phone. I like to also print out a little card with all of that in my wallet in case my phone dies.
Phone: make sure it's unlocked! US phones are often carrier-locked - you might have to pay to unlock it in order to accept another SIM card. Usually, phone service providers will have booths in the airport - they're usually more expensive than elsewhere, but it's good to pick up a one-week pay as you go tourist card to make sure you can make local calls and access maps in the interim.
Arrival: arrange this ahead of time with your program coordinator. Hopefully they'll have someone waiting for you at the airport; if so, ask them to bring a sign with your name on it, and arrange to meet at a specific location. Have a backup plan in place in case you miss each other - for example, their local number and directions to get to the accommodations. If you're making your own way, you'll want specifics - exactly where to go, how much to pay, who to talk to, maps, etc. Cab drivers can sometimes be dishonest; if you're taking a taxi, make sure that you have a map printed out in the local language, and that you know exactly how much they should be charging you. Make sure you settle on the fare before getting in - write it down on paper (in Euro) if language is a barrier, and don't be afraid to walk away.
Culture: everything is going to be different, and that's going to be really interesting. Wherever I go, I try to eat the local food, drink the local drinks, pick up a few phrases in the local language, and generally go with the flow. Travel around as much as possible! If you're in Italy, I highly recommend going on a trip through the Balkans - beautiful, inexpensive, and really interesting. You'll also have Cinque Terre, the French Riviera, and the Alps at hand, not to mention Venice, Florence, Trieste, etc. etc. Have a general plan that you want to follow and then be very flexible - you'll encounter all kinds of unplanned situations, unexpected opportunities, and interesting people that will lead to some amazing adventures. I guarantee that you'll run into frustration, difficulties making yourself understood, plans going awry, and sometimes some genuinely alarming scenarios (that sinking feeling when you realize you've left your passport at the hostel). Just roll with it and see where it takes you!
Travel: lots of discount airlines in Europe. Keep an eye out for deals with airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet. Also, look into a Eurail pass - it's a really, really good way to travel around and see lots of countries. Take a few weeks after your semester to travel, and put your weekends to good use.
Packing: pack really light and leave extra room. You will always - always! - have lots of extra stuff when you're coming back. Just take the basics and don't worry about having a whole wardrobe. You can always buy some clothes and supplies there. Make sure you have a very modestly sized weekend bag (look up carry-on dimensions for carriers over there) for when you're travelling. A big suitcase is a pain to haul around and means you have to find a spot to leave it. Bring some fun stuff from your hometown/state/country! There's usually some kind of meet and greet or international showcase, or you can just throw a party for your program. Get a couple travel power adapters before leaving so you can plug in your devices. The voltage is different over there, so pay close attention to your devices. Europe standard power is 230-240V, while North America is 120V. Your laptop charger and phone charger likely have a little boxy bit that has a label saying "100-240V~": make sure they do before plugging them in. Small appliances such as hairdryers or speakers might not. If it just has a cord that plugs into the wall and no adapter on it, you'll fry it (been there, done that). There are power transformers that you can get, but they're usually more expensive than the appliance itself and can be uncomfortably loud (buzzing), warm, and not very portable. Just get a hairdryer over there and save the room in your luggage.
Your guide book will have lots of these tips as well, so make sure you have a read through! Enjoy the trip - you'll have some amazing experiences and meet lifelong friends.
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Kyla, awesome question. I studied abroad during my junior year of college in China for a semester and I did not have a ton of information going into the program. Studying abroad was the highlight of my college experience so it is good to hear that you are choosing to study abroad as well. I am not sure where you are studying abroad but below are some of the tips and tricks that I learned personally as well as from my friends who studied abroad as well.
- Make sure that you have a credit card and notify your bank prior to going overseas. Your debit card may work in the United States, but most likely it will not work in the country that you are studying in. Getting a credit card will solve many of the problems that debit card holders encounter as they are more widely accepted throughout the world. But, be sure to notify your bank that you are traveling overseas prior to leaving as you don't want you bank putting a hold on your account as they may think that charge in China are indicative of fraud (believe me, it has happened).
- Treat the local currency as you would the U.S. dollar. Depending on the country that you choose the study in, you may get more "bang for your buck" and it can be very easy to spend more than you would otherwise. If you find yourself in this situation, try to treat the local currency as you would the U.S. dollar; ensure that your spending habits are the same so that you don't overspend
- Try and befriend as many locals as you can. It was comforting during my time abroad to hang out and spend my time with other Americans, but your study abroad will be more worthwhile and fulfilling if you immerse yourself more so in the local culture, people, and history. Local people will not only afford your the opportunity for language practice, but they often know of all the good places to eat /drink at.
- Put yourself out there and do things that you wouldn't otherwise engage in. You don't want to leave your study abroad regretting your choices or being upset that you did not take advantage of some opportunity. live life to the fullest overseas. It may be tempting to stay in on the weekends or not get involved, but this would be the wrong choice. On my flight back from China, I thought about all of the things that I wished I did differently and it was a really bad feeling; avoid this by living life to the fullest and pushing yourself to be as involved as possible.
- Your family will be naturally curious about what you did overseas and what happened, be sure to take pictures so that your are better able to demonstrate the kinds of things that you did . I didn't take many pictures and it was hard for my family to comprehend what I did without the pictures to prove it.
I hope this helps.