Studying abroad can be an exciting opportunity. It’s not just a chance to further your education; you also anticipate the new scenery, the people, and the culture that you will get to experience. While you are probably looking forward to your time abroad, the responsibility of such an opportunity is not something that should be taken lightly.
Any time you travel abroad, whether as a student or simply as a tourist, you should take a number of steps to prepare for the trip. This includes preparing for all of the opportunities that could present themselves as well as making sure you are ready for the potential risks that may exist in different areas of the world.
Be Careful With Public Transportation
You are going to want to do some sightseeing and experience the country. That should be encouraged, but you may need to be careful about your travel arrangements so as to avoid any kind of personal injury accident. Do some research before traveling to any destination that is away from the study program. Consider your travel options, and try to make your plans for getting there and back before you leave.
If you would rather use public transportation (which is often cheaper) be sure to stay aware. In some places, public transportation like trains might not be as safe during the off hours. In other cases, the trains and buses might not run at the time you need them. In certain cities, you may also need to worry about gypsy cabs. Regardless of where you are in the world, you should only get in a taxi if it is registered with the local government.
Learn About Your Destination
If you are studying abroad in a country where English is not the native language, you should make some effort to learn the local dialect. Even if you do not have the time to become fluent, you want to know the greetings and the words for things like food, water, and restrooms. A trip abroad can be very difficult if you don’t have a grasp of the basic language necessities.
As a guest in the country, you also want to learn about the laws and the culture. You are going to have to live and function within the society of your host country, and the laws and cultural norms can be very different. If you are looking to get introduced to your new country and learn a little about the culture, you could consider hiring a tour from companies like Lonely Planet or Tours By Locals.
Sign Up for STEP
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free program for US citizens traveling abroad. You just register your trip by providing information to that embassy or consulate, and it supplies you with a number of services that can be useful when you are living or travelling abroad. You can be set up to receive travel warnings and alerts, and it can also make it easier for the US Embassy or your family to contact you in the event of an emergency.
You may also want to consider getting an International Student Identity Card (ISIC). Depending on where you plan to study, the card can come with a variety of different benefits. It can be good for discounts on things like train fare, lodging, and tour services.
Don’t Pack Your Entire Life
If you are going to be living abroad for a few months or longer, it might feel like you need to pack everything. While you do need to pack in a way that will prepare you for your destination, you should be careful not to over do it. You don’t need your entire wardrobe, and you should be careful about packing items that have significant monetary or sentimental value.
To start, you only have so much room in your suitcases, and you don’t want to have to pay extra for things that you might not need. Additionally, items that have significant value can easily get lost when you are traveling.
Buy a Local Mobile Phone
While you are abroad, you’ll definitely want a cell phone. Unless your phone is unlocked for international use, there is no point in bringing it with you while you study abroad. Instead, just buy a cheap prepaid phone when you get to your destination.
You might be able pay to get your carrier to unlock your phone and offer international minutes, but the cost of these plans tends to be prohibitive. A local prepaid phone will serve its purpose and will also save you money.
Watch Out for Pickpockets
Every country has its common thieves and pickpockets. While the perceived risk might seem greater in developing nations, the possibility of theft exists everywhere in the world. The risk is also greater when you are traveling. Some pickpockets might view tourists as better targets, as you may be more distracted while trying to adapt to your new surroundings.
Places like restaurants, clubs, and public transportation tend to be the spots where most pickpocket activity occurs. You should take measures like wearing a money belt for all of your valuables. Keep all of your bags zipped when you are out, and when you are sitting on a train be sure to keep your bags where you can see them.
About Rae Steinbach: Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.