Each year, thousands of college students pack their bags and embark on a journey to study in a foreign country. Studying abroad allows students to experience foreign cultures and traditions during their college years while continuing their studies. In 2009, over 250,000 college students traveled abroad. Whether you are contemplating such a journey, or have decided to take the plunge and travel abroad, there are a few things to do in order to remain safe and healthy and get the most from your trip.
Many countries have exchange areas at airports and banks in order to convert your cash into local currency. Be aware of regular business hours in your destination country, however, so you aren’t caught in a situation where you are unable to convert cash. Your personal bank may also be able to convert cash to the currency of your destination at an affordable rate.
Contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be traveling. Give them the dates of travel, as well as the destination, so in case of emergency you will have access to funds.
It’s important to have personal coverage to help you manage your healthcare and medications, as well as insurance on your travel arrangements.
- Healthcare: If you currently hold medical insurance, contact your insurance provider to see if you can continue your coverage while traveling abroad. If you are currently without medical insurance, there are many insurance agencies that provide individual study abroad insurance policies, as well as group study abroad policies. These insurance policies can cover anything from regular healthcare and vaccinations to dental, emergency care and evacuation fees.
- Travel insurance: This important coverage is a critical aspect of traveling abroad. Travel insurance can protect you in case of emergency cancellations, weather concerns or even international political emergencies that may require you to cancel your trip or return home.
Before you arrive at your destination, there are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself for safe travels. For example, you can:
- Do some research on the local crime rates and common types of crime. For example, in some areas pickpocketing is an issue, whereas in other areas hotel rooms are targets for break-ins. Also, look for areas that are known to be safe for travelers.
- Look up local laws, as the laws of the country you are traveling to have precedence over the laws where you are from.
- If possible, have a travel buddy. If you are traveling on your own, consider enlisting a friend back home to check in with you every 24 hours by text or social media.
- Avoid going out alone, if possible. Also, be careful when consuming alcohol and never accept drinks from strangers.
- Never carry money out in the open while traveling. Be conscientious of who is around while at registers. Try to stick to a daily budget, and never carry more cash than you need. Leave the expensive jewelry at home, as well as any other expensive items that may make you a target for thieves.
- Enroll your trip with the STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This program will keep you informed of any emergencies in your area, as well as provide you with important information on consular offices and emergency assistance contact information at the destination country.
- Keep a dictionary with you at all times to help you translate your native language into the language spoken at the destination country. Also, learn emergency phrases in the language of the destination location so you can call for help or ask for directions in the native language.
Check with the CDC to see which vaccinations you will need for your destination country. Contact your healthcare provider before you travel, to be sure the vaccination you need is available. Many exotic vaccinations (such as rabies) must be ordered up to 2 months in advance. Also, check online for sicknesses in that area, and take note of symptoms to watch for. Stick to bottled water, and avoid establishments that look unsanitary. Many students will enjoy the local culture by frequenting bars. Know your limits, and avoid over-consumption.
If you have medical needs, ask your doctor to give you a prescription for enough medication to last your entire trip. If this is not an option, research and contact pharmacies at your destination to ensure that the medication will be available.
Making Phone Calls
While emails may be a preferred way to keep in contact with loved ones, it’s important to have access to phone communication while traveling. Invest in a few long-distance phone cards to enable you to contact friends and family. Also, many smart phones come equipped to handle VOIP (voice over internet protocol). This function allows the user to make an international phone call using the internet - such as a Wi-Fi connection - for a fraction of the cost of a regular cell phone call. Having a long distance card is still important, however, in case you are in an area without Wi-Fi or cell phone connection, as many countries still have pay phones. You may also consider downloading software on your computer to allow you to make calls. Programs like Skype, iChat, and Gmail Video Chat might be great, free resources for you.
Getting Acquainted with the Local Culture
Research your destination, and find a few excursions that you will find rewarding. If you are traveling in a group, the group leader may have recommendations. This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so be sure to step out of your comfort zone.
Once you arrive at your destination, spend a few hours talking to locals, and getting the inside scoop about interesting places to visit, as well as restaurant and food recommendations. Many cities have websites that offer calendars of events. Try to find a few community events that will allow you to experience local culture.
Dressing for Comfort and Style
It’s important to respect the culture of the destination country. Most study abroad organizers will have recommendations for clothing options, but be sure to look online to see what is acceptable and what is considered risqué. Be sure to adopt these principles when choosing your wardrobe. Also, consider the activities you will be performing while studying abroad, and bring clothing and accessories that will be comfortable-as well as appropriate.
In Case of an Emergency
Always have a listing of the local emergency numbers for the destination country, as well as numbers for local hospitals, dentists, and doctors. Keep these on your person, or in a cell phone so they are accessible at all times. Also, be sure to have the address and phone number of the local U.S. Consular office. There are over 260 U.S. Consular posts worldwide, with 46 consular offices in foreign cities without embassies or consulates. Be sure to enroll your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so they can keep you informed on any emergencies in your area.
Traveling abroad is a wonderful experience, and with a little preparation and foresight, you can ensure that your trip is safe and fun.