A Short Travel Guide To Studying Abroad
Admittedly, I have only gone abroad once and I travelled from the United States to the UK, specifically to Scotland. Because of this, there is every possibility that what I have to say won't be entirely useful to you, as different countries require different things from their visitors. That being said, basic international travel should operate in a very similar manner no matter where you are at. In this brief article, my intention is to inform you on topics such as Visas, Banking, Communication, etc. Enjoy!
Getting Started- How Brave Are You?
Of course, first and foremost, you must chose where it is you would like to go! It seems fairly straight forward, however there are several implications that should be weighed with fair intensity before throwing yourself into unknown territory.
Unless you feel you are well equipped to manage yourself without the ability to verbally communicate, I would advise not choosing a location where you cannot speak the official language. As an American who readily speaks English, I felt I was going to be perfectly comfortable speaking to native Scots, as they also converse predominantly in English. However, their accent alone was more than enough to unhinge my self-declared suaveness. Countless times, I found difficulty in carrying out even the simplest tasks such as asking directions or ordering coffee. "Excuse me?" became my catch-phrase and I devolved from conqueror to worried puppy after only a few of these events.
So be forewarned. If I can experience traumatization such as this in a country that does speak my language, be careful about choosing a country that does not. It's already hard enough to get settled in a new location and orient yourself to focus on your courses, so don't make unnecessary sacrifices! If you really have a strong desperation to immerse yourself in France, but you don't have a firm grasp on the French language, you may be most benefitted by taking courses in England and planning some sort of excursion during your time abroad (most European schools have spring breaks that last 2-3 weeks).
What Do You Want To Do?
Likewise, you should pick a place that most readily satisfies your interests! So you will need to ask yourself what you want to experience before you make your choice. For instance, as a college student, I was hoping to catch a significant break from studies, experience exotic partying, and still visually see some wicked awesome achievements of human civilization. Evidently, Scotland fit me quite well. It's crucially important that you don't spend thousands only to end up doing exactly what you did back at home. You need to have a compelling interest in getting out there are becoming an explorer!
Unless you plan to study abroad within driving distance (I don't advise this for obvious reasons), your most probable method of travel will be via plane. This isn't all that complicating, but there are a few things you can do to minimize your expenses and avoid arrival complications.
I strongly encourage you to plan your semester well in advanced so that you can book your flights months before you intend to leave. That's right, months, not weeks. The prices of flights can increase substantially the closer you get to your departure. If I had been smart, I would have booked my round-trip to the UK several months before I did when prices were just under $1000 USD. Unfortunately, when I did get around to purchasing tickets three weeks prior to my take-off date, I was forced to spend $2300. Don't make my mistake. There are a number of fantastic sites online that you can use to compare airline prices and find what fits your budget/ saves you some adventure-dough!
Just do a google search for various booking sites and look at several of them to compare and get the best price.
Visas and Entry
For most countries, you will need a Visa to enter and remain within a country for any given period of time (An exception is being an American who intends to stay in the UK for a short period of time and does not plan to work or conduct business of any type). You have several options for your Visa, however. Most countries will provide low-cost study visas of ~$100 allowing you to reside for no more than 6 months and study without work, but the most commonly held visa, which allows for work, usually costs just under $500. The latter can be extended in case you decide to stick around past your originally planned departure, but the former does not. Importantly, make sure to check the immigration site of whichever country you desire to visit as they will probably have their own rules that you'll need to follow to acquire the proper Visa. And be sure to apply for your Visa well ahead of time. The process can take up to month.
Specific side-note: If you are planning on traveling from America to the UK, do not, and I repeat, do not get a flight that lands in Ireland. You will not go through an Entry-granting checkpoint and will instead be placed directly in the UK without any clearance. At that point, you could be up a creek, as officials will not award you the Visa since you arrived domestically. If you do, you may have to leave the country to a surrounding area and re-enter at a said checkpoint. Ick.
Money & Communication
Two of the issues I faced were the access to my US bank account and my ability to communicate with those I met in my home country. Turns out, there are somewhat reasonable solutions to both!
I discovered fairly quickly that I could pull money from my checking account through any UK ATM, which should be the case no matter where you are at in the world provided it's reasonably modernized. The only issue is that I was often charged a hefty fee to make the international digital exchange. I believe it was ~8% loss to me at the time. So my suggestion is to find a bank that is willing to make an exchange for free. You will probably have to walk in and ask, but it is the most efficient method of conserving your money. You should, however, exchange a small amount of money in the airport before you leave to cover transport fees if there are no nearby banks when you land.
As for communication: I quickly became frustrated with attempting to form a friend network through Facebook. My inactive iPhone required wifi before I could communicate with anyone at all, and I found that this wasn't available as often as I would have preferred. So I travelled to the local phone service store and asked what my best move was. I was given several options.
1) purchase a cheap phone ($15-50) and then use a pay-as-you-go plan. This charges you outright based on the amount of data you use for texts & phone calls. Certain carriers have lans that can average you an additional $10-30 each month.
2) Purchase/ receive a SIM card to put in your already existing phone. These also allow for pay as you go and for package deals that will mostly likely be a little more expensive than #1.
Put Yourself Out There
Ill say it briefly, you will get given opportunities to go out and interact with a lot of new people, and by no means should you turn down those opportunities, no matter what! It doesn't matter how silly you feel or how unfamiliar you are with your surroundings. You are there for the experience!