10 things to sort before leaving for a study abroad year
Elise Metcalf is studying International Relations at Exeter University, and is about to embark on a year studying at American University in Washington D.C. She is blogging about her experiences too! Here is her guide to what you need to sort out before you start your study/work abroad experience...
Preparing for a study abroad year can be a rather complicated process. As if the application process wasn't stressful enough, you may soon come to realise that that was only the beginning. There is so much to sort out before you can embark on your adventure that you may have overlooked in the excitement of getting accepted to the destination of your dreams.
When I was accepted to American University in Washington D.C. for my year abroad as part of my International Relations course at the University of Exeter, I was ecstatic and pleased that all my hard work had paid off. However, the process after being accepted turned out to be just as arduous as the process prior to acceptance, as there is a lot of things to sort out even when your place at the university abroad has been guaranteed.
My advice would be to start preparing as soon as you are accepted. The process takes a lot longer than you might initially have thought and leaving it to the last minute could make for a incredibly stressful experience. My top tip is to buy a big folder and dedicate to your year abroad planning. This means you will have everything in one place and your prior organisation will make you thankful later down the line.
So here goes...
10 things to sort before leaving for a study abroad year
1. Money and Financing
This is a hugely important consideration both before you apply for your study abroad year and after having been accepted. Firstly, can you afford to fund your year abroad? If you're unsure, are there any grants or loans that you may be entitled to? A year abroad is not going to be cheap, especially if you are going somewhere like the US. Not only do you have to factor in travel there and back and in the holidays, but also the cost of insurance, a visa, accommodation, food and living expenses... it goes on. Compile a list of all the possible costs you may encounter on your year abroad and make sure that you can afford to make such an investment. Be clear about how you are going to be financed whilst away, and how much excess money you will have for travelling and exploring once you are there. If you are clear on these details from the beginning, when the costs begin to build as the year approaches, you will be prepared and thankful you planned ahead.
2. Forms, forms and more forms
Once you are accepted to a year abroad programme, you are likely to be bombarded with forms to fill in from both your home university and the university abroad. Check you email, find out what information you have to provide and get it done! Communication between the two universities can take time and often the different systems and ways of doing things cause set backs so make sure you leave plenty of time to account for these delays.
Do you need a visa for your year abroad? If you are travelling outside of Europe, it is likely you will. Your university or host university will normally point you in the right direction as to what type of visa you require and give the the relevant forms. However, it is down to you to book your appointment and interview with the embassy and get it sorted. Again, make sure you leave plenty of time for this as the embassies are busy and you may sometimes have to wait some time for an appointment. Also be aware that embassies will likely hold your passport for at least a week so make sure this is not a time in which you are intending to travel.
It is likely you will need some sort of insurance for your year abroad, for example travel and health insurance that covers you for the country you will be studying in. If you are going to the US, be aware that they have very strict requirements and the insurance is by no means cheap so factor this in to your costs. My host university had a Health Insurance Scheme that students were obligated to enrol in unless they could provide evidence of an alternative sufficient coverage. The process was fairly simple and straightforward, and it is likely that either your university or the host university will be able to point you in the right direction and offer assistance.
Don't forget to consider where you will be living on your year abroad. Some universities might provide accommodation on campus, however there is also a chance that you will have to find accommodation for yourself. I was a little worried when I discovered that my host university did not offer on-campus housing to international students and that I would have to find a place on my own. Luckily, the university directed me to a Facebook group run by university students looking for housemates and housing. From this, it was fairly easy to link up with students already at the university who needed a housemate and arrange my accommodation. Nevertheless, it was a fairly stressful experience, and I would not have wanted to leave it any later than I did. Make it a priority to find and sort out your living arrangements for your year abroad.
This may seem like an obvious one, but in the the midst of all the other things that need sorting it could easily be overlooked. How are you going to get to your destination? You will probably be flying so remember that often the earlier you book flights, the cheaper they are. Also do you need to book flights home for the holidays in advance? Planning ahead will save you stress and money in the future so as soon as it is confirmed where you are going, work out the dates you will need to be there for and get booking! The seven best things about air travel >>
7. Health Records
Lots of host universities may need to review your health records so that you are in there system and qualify for their health insurance. Make sure that your records are accessible and that you have them to hand. I found this a particularly stressful experience as my records were at my parents house so I had to have them sent to me at my university. Again, because I had time to do this, it was fine, but had I left it to the last minute it would have been an entirely different experience. 10 ways to be mindful of your health while abroad >>
When you go abroad for a year, it is unlikely you will be able to bring all of your things with you, especially if you are flying. You will therefore have to find somewhere to put all of your stuff that you are not bringing for that year. If you are lucky, your parents may be able to come and pick it up and you can store it in their house for the year, however for some this may not be possible. If this is the case look into storage options or perhaps ask friends if they are able to store it for the year. There are lots of student and self-storage companies, which don't come cheap, but may be the only option. Need it all? Ship your stuff with you >>
This may seem like a bit of anomaly from the previous points on the list, but it is a factor I personally found caused me a lot of stress and was very much something I needed to solve before I was ready to depart. Are you in a relationship and if so, are you going to stay together or break up? My boyfriend and I put off this conversation for far too long, which only resulted in increased stress and worry for the both of us as neither knew what the other wanted. When we finally voiced our concerns, we discovered that we had wanted the same thing all along, deciding to give it a go and try to stay together, taking it day by day. A year is obviously an incredibly long time so having this conversation and working out what you both want should not be avoided. How to survive the year abroad in a long-distance relationship >>
Finally, once everything else is sorted, you can get to the exciting bit - planning your immediate arrival. How are you going to get from the airport to your new accommodation, how will you pay for things until you have set up a bank account- or can you set up a bank account in advance? Do you need to sort out a new phone contract for when you get there? All of these final details indicate that you are nearly there! These are the final things to sort and then, before you know it, you'll have arrived and will be having the time of your life. The most useful pre-departure advice from study abroad staff >>
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Our insurance-related articles are in partnership with our friends over at YearAbroadInsurance.com!