Although many colleges have recently halted their study abroad programs due to COVID-19, thousands of students are looking at overseas programs to consider once the pandemic ends. But preparing to study abroad is an incredibly overwhelming process. With a staggering amount of places to choose from, documents to get in order and plane tickets to select, you may not have had time to consider some of the more particular matters related to your overseas experience. Drawing upon my peers' and my own experiences abroad, I've gathered a list of some of the most crucial things to consider before finally making the decision to go abroad.
1. Currency Exchange
Depending on your country of choice, cost of living expenses abroad can differ dramatically depending on how your domestic currency is weighed in your host country. Exchange rates are constantly changing depending on various economic factors, like inflation or supply and demand. For instance, if you desire to study abroad in Europe, you will find that your U.S. dollar is worth slightly less than the Euro, meaning you'll be spending a little more than you're used to on your daily purchases. On the other hand, if you hope to study abroad in Vietnam, you will find that your dollar is worth more than the host currency, having the opposite effect on your wallet. While this doesn't necessarily mean you should change your dream location, this is something you will want to take into account when setting up your personal budget.
2. ISEP vs. University Partner Programs
Getting familiar with the types of programs available to you is imperative. There are typically two main outlets for choosing a program, the first being ISEP. Students who attend universities that are partnered with ISEP (a non-profit organization which connects students at partnered universities to their network of universities across the globe) can choose exchange and/or direct programs to any university within ISEP's network of partners. The ultimate benefit of ISEP is the sheer number of universities available to you. The other option, university partner exchange programs, are programs in which your home university has a direct international exchange partnership with a specific university in a different part of the world. While you may have less flexibility in choosing a country or specific location, these programs tend to be cheaper and more reliable, as these partnerships are usually based on years of trust between the universities. Choose the option which fits your priorities best.
While any prescription medication you take may be perfectly legal at home, laws surrounding medications vary by country. If you fail to properly research your medication's legality in your host country, you may be in for a less-than-comfortable conversation with customs officials — especially if it is a controlled substance in the new country. This absolutely does not mean you can't travel if you take a certain medication, but you may need certain paperwork or a special doctor's note in order to bring it across international borders.
While you may be up-to-date on all of your vaccinations at home, you should investigate whether you'll need an extra vaccination to travel to your host country. Likewise, you may find that your host country requires you to prove that you are free of a certain illness before you arrive. Each nation has its own set of pathogens and infections they deal with on a regular basis depending on their climate and ecosystems. In my case, I was required to get two tuberculosis tests (one per semester) in order to stay in my dormitory in South Korea. You can usually have these done before departing, but if you are staying for an academic year, you may have to get the procedure done in the host country.
5. Cultural Intricacies
You may be spending a lot of energy buffing up your language skills before you depart, but are you familiar with the more intricate aspects of your host country's culture? For example, in South Korea, there is a particular hand motion used for calling people over to you, and a separate hand motion for calling animals over to you. Each one can be used for either function in the States, but you may rub someone the wrong way if you use the improper method there. While most locals abroad are extremely understanding of foreigners making mistakes, it's best to brush up on these particularities in order to avoid accidentally offending locals.
6. Standing Out
If you're choosing to visit a country in which you are visibly an ethnic minority, do you feel prepared to inevitably be treated as such? Even if you have experience being an ethnic minority at home, this experience can become exacerbated if you choose to study in a more homogenous country. You may experience staring or uncomfortable questions, and you may encounter a conflict situation and wonder, for the first time in your life, if this happened to you the way it did because you are a foreigner. While indeed uncomfortable, if you're still willing, these invaluable experiences are an excellent lesson in cultivating empathy for others who face similar situations.
7. Dietary Restrictions
If you are vegan or vegetarian, are you positive there will be enough options available to you for you to maintain this abroad? Or if you have a particular food allergy, can you be sure the host country's cuisine will allow for you to eat comfortably there? These are questions you need to ask yourself before departing. You may want to adopt a flexible mindset for foods that you choose not to eat. As for allergies, a great solution is to bring a food allergy/dietary restriction card with you abroad. Make sure to include all the details in both English and the host language so that nothing is lost in translation.
While none of these considerations should be deal-breakers for the study abroad experience of your dreams, it's best to contemplate how these issues may affect your experience so that you can take the proper precautions and optimize your adventure. Happy travels!
About the writer: Cara Getzen is a recent graduate of Appalachian State University. She spent a year studying at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea.
Share Your Thoughts
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!