This is the second in a two-part series on college study abroad programs. Part 1 appeared in the April 20 Town Crier.
No matter which study abroad program you choose, there are ways to significantly improve the experience. Following are my top 10 tips for students traveling abroad.
• Organize all of your paperwork. Keep copies of your passport and visa. Take pictures and save the documents and store them on your phone. Take copies of any medical or eyeglass prescriptions. Make sure someone at home also has copies.
• Pack half the clothes. Don’t overpack – take half or maybe even one-third the amount of clothes you think you’ll need. Because many airlines have strict packing limits, packing light costs less money and makes your bag easier to carry.
• Bring sturdy walking shoes. This is a great time to exercise function over fashion. Thin-soled sandals and shoes will be uncomfortable on cobblestones and unpaved roads. Wear hiking boots and rigid-soled shoes – but not white tennies unless you want to be tagged as an American.
• Leave your blow dryer and curling iron at home. Chances are your appliances will blow the power at your international residence. If you must, buy them abroad. Local power converters and an extension cord without a power surge protector (those made for U.S. power current will blow out your device) will cover everything else.
• Bring twice the money. Living in countries abroad can be more expensive, and exchange rates shrink the value of the dollar. Because it is so easy to move among countries, planning for additional travel expenses for exploration on the weekends and time off really optimizes the time abroad.
• Get a no-fee debit/credit card. Foreign exchange and ATM transaction fees can add up very quickly, eating into travel and living expenses. Many locations abroad still take only their native currency, so easy access without carrying too much at one time is important.
• Register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs provides this free service for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Enrolling enables receipt of information about safety in the destination country, helps the U.S. Embassy contact U.S. nationals abroad in an emergency and helps family and friends locate travelers in an emergency. Establish a communications protocol for getting in touch with family and friends back home. Social media is a great tool for instant confirmation that you are OK.
• Stay aware. Local pickpockets are on the lookout for gawking foreigners; enjoying the local sites can leave your pocket or purse vulnerable. Purchase a locking cross-body bag (even men) with a radio-frequency identification-blocking compartment. In addition, watch out for suspect or unusual activity and select a safe meeting area if you are separated from fellow travelers in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
• Use a local SIM card. Check to ensure that your current phone is eligible for an international SIM card or rent a phone with a local SIM card. This is usually significantly cheaper than purchasing an international plan for your American phone. If you are traveling and will be with the same group all the time, consider a MiFi device to support a number of devices. Using WhatsApp, Viper, FaceTime and Skype will enable you to stay in touch with everyone back home.
• Be informed and prepared to discuss U.S. politics. Citizens of countries abroad are keenly interested in U.S. politics, so even strangers will ask Americans about their political views.