15 Essential Tips for Students About to Study Abroad

By Dani Thomason, WSA Intern
San Diego State University | Study Abroad: Barcelona

So you’ve decided to make the best decision of your life by studying abroad? Bravo! Whether you will be eating endless gelato in Italy, exploring the rainforests of Costa Rica or basking in the sun in Australia, those four months will be unforgettable. So now it's time to prepare yourself. How do you even begin such a daunting task? Well, here is a list of 15 tips to consider before flying to your new home away from home.

1. Plan, Research and then plan some more

Even though you are only studying abroad in one city, that doesn’t mean you are limited to seeing just one place! Many students spend their free weekends in different towns, cities, or even countries (especially if you are studying abroad in Europe where everything is just a couple-hour plane ride away and also much cheaper than any flights we are used to in the states). My suggestion is to look into the weekend destinations you might want to visit before you go. I personally started my research with websites like, which will just be the spark for your wanderlust.

2. Grow your piggy bank

No matter how much you save, you will always feel like a broke college student. That’s because you have never in your life blown hundreds of dollars on just one weekend of experiences (well maybe just in Vegas) and then repeated several weekends in a row. My best advice is to save as much money as possible beforehand. Trust me: you would rather spend your money on an experience abroad than an expensive jacket before you left. Let travel be your motivation to work hard and save your money!

3. Get a credit card with an electronic chip

You will find that most countries (specifically in Europe) all have chips on their debit and credit cards. This is basically an advanced system for identification purposes that the United States is still lagging to implement. Either way, it is important to go to your bank and inform them about your travel plans and while you are there, inquire about ordering a card with a chip. Also, make sure you have more than one card. It's possible that your bank may find your spending abroad as fraudulent and decline your transaction. Come with at least two cards for back-up so you don’t run into any issues.

4. Figure out a phone plan

With Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook messenger or any other texting app these days, it is definitely not an issue communicating with your friends back home. However, all these apps need Wi-Fi, which can be near impossible to find in some places abroad. Especially if you are traveling solo, it is a good idea to either buy a cheap prepaid phone once you get to your new country or figure out an abroad phone plan with your current provider.  Get a data plan sufficient enough to use when trying to find that restaurant or club while wandering the streets of a new city.

6. Make sure your flight home is flexible

Many students regret coming home right after their study abroad program finishes, especially for students who are studying abroad second semester.  Stay longer and  take full advantage of those extra summer months. Unless you have cleaned out your bank account, consider having a flexible return date so you can hit more destinations.

5. Don’t come abroad with a whole new wardrobe (this one is for the ladies)

Almost every girl will fall victim to this and then highly regret it. Of course it may be necessary to buy a warmer jacket or a new pair of comfortable shoes, but don’t go too crazy. I say this because most likely your new country will have very different style trends than in the U.S. I didn’t even touch half of my laid back Southern California beach clothes when I got to Europe. You don’t want to stand out like a tourist by the way you're dressed. You are also going to want to adapt your wardrobe accordingly when you come abroad, so hold off on your shopping spree until you see what you really need!

7. Keep a journal or blog

If there is one thing that students regret the most, it's not documenting their time abroad. Whether you just keep a travel journal that you write in once a week or you set up a full blog on Weebly or Wordpress, make sure you jot down some of your favorite memories. It will be your greatest souvenir you take back home with you.

8. Buy a camera

Whether you decide on a point-and-shoot, DSLR, or Gopro, I highly suggest investing in a good camera before you leave. Phone cameras have excellent quality these days but are a lot less flexible than a real camera. Also, getting into photography while abroad is a great hobby to start! Having pictures after your study abroad experience will be your most treasured keepsake (along with your journal). Don’t just depend on having a photographic memory, go buy yourself a camera.

9. Learn the language

The better you know the language of your host country, the more comfortable you will be. I realize this is easier said than done. At least come to your new country knowing the basics of their language. It can be very hard  moving your entire life to a foreign country and not being able to communicate to the locals. Not knowing the language immediately sets up a barrier which can be very daunting when you're already in a vulnerable situation. Also, if you at least know a little, most locals will appreciate the fact that you’re showing some effort.

10. Don’t pre-book every weekend trip before you get there

Before getting to Barcelona, I wanted to have every weekend trip booked and planned out. If I had actually gotten around to booking these trips I would have really regretted it. You will meet so many new people that you'll want to travel with! Of course, for the weekend like Easter in Rome or St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, I would definitely book those in advance because the prices will go up. For the rest of your trips, hold off until you arrive.

11. Be on top of all your study abroad paperwork

Yes I know, this is the boring part about the studying abroad experience, however it's still important. Stay on top of all the due dates for visas, medical forms and class enrollment. You would hate to go through the application process, get all excited, and then have to stay at home because you didn’t do your paperwork on time. Just Do It!

12. Arrive with some of your country's currency

Go to your bank a week before your flight and get out a couple hundred dollars worth of whichever currency you will be using. The last thing you need is to get to your new country and have no local cash and possibly have trouble with your debit card.  When you get off the plane you will want to grab something to eat or a taxi, and cash is best.

13. Have some idea of a budget

This will give you an incentive to budget as well as manage your spending while abroad. Of course, once you get there you might throw that completely out the window, but if you have some idea of your limits, you might think before you spend.

14. Invest in a pair of walking shoes

You don’t have a car to depend on for transportation, so you'll be using either public transport, or walking a LOT.  You’re probably going to want to walk everywhere anyway after eating so many new, delicious foods. Save yourself a few pounds and money by exploring new cities by foot!

15. Be independent:

This can be very hard for people. I know it was for me. It's very easy to follow along with the rest of the crowd by booking every trip with friends or even studying abroad with people from home. I know half of the kids that study abroad go with someone from their home university but if you want a true and authentic experience, go solo. You get to call the shots on where you go or what you want to see without feeling obligated to please others.

This is a time in your life when it’s OK to be a little selfish. Make sure you prioritize your travels with what’s important to you. You never know when your next experience of a lifetime might be.


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Kyle Cook, Lebanon Valley College

Happy Backpackers

I went to Rome with a few of my friends. Before we got there, our tour guide, Rhianne, sent us plenty of information regarding how to arrive at the hostel, and what our Itinerary would be like. She also made it a point to meet up with people the night before if their flight got in early so students would have something to do. Having a tour guide that lived in the city was amazing. It made me not have to stress about getting lost, and provided many opportunities to eat at the best restaurants, and, most importantly, the best Gelato places. By the end of the tour, I was good friends with each of the 14 members of the tour group, including our tour guide. I definitely recommend taking a tour through WSA because the guides make you feel like they actually care about each person on the trip. I knew that I could just relax, and enjoy my trip.

Kyle Cook, Lebanon Valley College ~ Kingston University, London, Fall 2015

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