So, you are thinking about studying abroad. Woop! Woop! The first step is always the biggest, and sometimes, the most overwhelming. You may know exactly where you want to go and you may have no idea. And that’s okay. Getting all of the information is the ground work, after that it’s just paper work… and money. (That’s a whole other discussion)
Go to a Study Abroad Fair or Study Abroad Office:
At Study Abroad Fairs you can talk directly to Independent Providers that are partnered with your university, your International Programs, and usually other students who have studied abroad or have done exchange programs through your university. It’s a great way to meet other people who have experience in studying abroad, hear their stories, and ask them your questions. If you can’t make it to your fair or missed it, your International Programs Office is always the next best thing. They will have all of the programs for your schools study abroad options, exchange programs, and all of the independent study abroad partners, as well.
Factors into Choosing a Program:
Let me be one hundred and twenty percent clear, IT IS YOUR CHOICE! All of these factors are ranked on what is most important to YOU, no one else. When trying to choose a study abroad program in the beginning, I had no idea how to go about researching. All I knew was I wanted to study abroad twice, and I didn’t care where.
MAJOR: How important is taking courses or a course in your field
LENGTH: Do you want to go for a semester? Would you rather go for a summer or January session?
FINANCE: What is your budget? Do you choose a program based on its price?
LOCATION: Do you care where you go? Big city? Small town in the countryside? Need that ocean view?
Deciding on a Program:
It can all be a lot to take in at once, so I’m going to give you a second to take a breather.
The Opera House in Paris // Me eating my daily dose of gelato in Milano // My lovely London
Once you decide what is the most important thing to you for your study abroad experience, then it becomes easier to find the right program and find your study abroad.
Again, this is your decision.
Once you do, all you can think about is your soon-to-be-study-abroad-life. That is, after the paper work.
Get a Binder:
With everything expensive in life, there is always paper work. If you go through your school or an Independent provider, you will have some paper work to fill out. It’s not a scary, life-altering amount of paper work. But it is enough to the point that you will want a binder to keep copies of everything you sign in it and records of everything you have completed. It is a system of different offices, like degree evaluations, student financial services, records, advising, etc ., signing forms for approval and it’s always good to have a copy or record on hand in case things get lost.
Financing can be one of the most stressful parts of studying abroad, and one of the biggest turn offs. So many people have said they didn’t look into studying abroad because they didn’t think it was affordable, when it can be! Through your financial aid, scholarships, program scholarships, and even GoFundMe, there is always a way if there is a will to study abroad.
(I feel like I should make it clear with scholarships, Independent Providers will usually accept independent scholarships if you already have them or apply for them, they will not however take university scholarships. Your university should take all independent scholarships so if you get more to go abroad every little bit counts!)
flying over London // leaving London
Booking a Flight:
Time to book a flight already? Everyone has their tips and tricks to getting the best deal on flights – and to be honest, a few have worked. Here is what I have noticed over the last two years of booking international and domestic flights:
Australia/Asia – 6-4 months a head of time if possible.
Europe – 2 months in advance
Africa – 2-3 months in advance
South America - 2-3 months in advance
North America – 2 months in advance
Antarctica – Book a flight to Chile and then take a cruise (aka 2 months plus some)
Get Excited, Get Exploring, Get Educated:
You’ve done your research, decided on your perfect program, gotten a binder for al of you paper work, done your paper work and financing, booked a flight… what could possible be left!?!
The good stuff!
Now in the few months before you leave is the best time to learn about the city, country, and culture you are about to call your new home. Create a bucket list of all of the places you want to travel to while you are abroad, read as much as possible, and take time to go over travel safety and emergency contacts.
a fancy still life I posted to officially announce I was going abroad
See Be Safe Traveling Abroad for more travel safety tips!
xx A Traveler's Bliss
Going into my freshman year of college two things were facts to me: One, photography was my passion, therefore I was going to be a photographer and two; I was going to do multiple studies abroad. It seems crazy, but at that time I was completely certain of that and only that. I went to the first study abroad fair my school offered and came back to my dorm room with a two-foot tall stack of study abroad information. Information pamphlets, flyers, and guides from my school on their exchange programs, independent study abroad provider’s booklets, and travel networks. I had it all and I was determined to find the ones for me.
I started with my school’s programs, but quickly ruled them out because they were not the best fit for me. They had a slim selection for photography majors and none were in major cities, which was another requirement for me. After ruling out my school’s programs, I started going through my mountain of books from independent providers. The hours flew by as I went through each one and search for my best options. The biggest factor in determining if a program was for me was if it offered photography – taking a photography course at another school in another part of the world was a must. I loved the idea of getting to work with other artist and photographers and seeing how they worked and viewed my work. Another requirement was if the school was located in the center of a major city. I wanted to make traveling as easy, affordable, and stress free as possible once I was abroad so studying at as school in a major city with access to trains, buses, airports seemed like the best way to go. Sure you can get to all of those things from other schools that aren’t centrally based, but I was going for optimal travel, no time wasted.
After going through all of my books multiple times, I finally settled on my first program: CIS Abroad’s summer photography program in the Outback. It was a summer course for three weeks in the Australian outback. I was fortunate enough at the time I was going to have family living in Australia at the time, so after my program ended I jumped on a plane and stayed with them for two weeks. I made the best memories on my short but sweet time in Australia, the best friends, and had the greatest experience with CIS that I knew I wanted to go through the same program for my next study abroad: my semester abroad.
(Left is a photo of me from the day we hiked to to top of St Mary's Peak in the Flinder's Range, taken by @robyncatherine22)
For my semester abroad I was drawn to London. I love it’s history, architecture, and style of living. I loved the idea that if I wanted to go somewhere else for the weekend I could just jump on a train at St. Pancras or Kings Cross, take a MegaBus, or book a flight and just go. London was not only an amazing place to live, but also a great central location to travel from. Even with the expensive cost of living, it was the place I saw myself living for six months, and the place I feel in love with before I even left. I loved the rain (even though it really did not rain that much. The lies), the Tube was amazing, and everyday was an adventure. I was never bored or thought, well there's nothing to do today or gosh I've already done everything twice, because there is just so much to do in London. Even from London, you could do so many day trips and be back for dinner. Even after six months of living in London, I still have a list of places I did not make it to and things I did not get to do. (So London, I'll be back)
For both of my studies abroad my focus was always driven to building my portfolio, learning as much as possible, and becoming a better traveler. Learning as much as possible didn’t always happen in a classroom, and becoming a better traveler didn’t always happen by doing everything right or according to plan. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of hard lessons a long the way. But without them, I wouldn’t know what I know now, and I wouldn’t be the better person and traveler.
xx A Traveler's Bliss
the beginning of my charm bracelet // Photo of me and Ben by @kellymckeough
When I started doing my research for my study abroad, which was only three years ago, there wasn't a whole lot of information on experiences or what to expect when you study abroad. I mostly based all of my "what to do" on what people had written for when the traveled there, not studied and traveled. Don't get me wrong, they were extremely helpful, but it seemed like they were missing a certain element and explanation to them. I wanted to know more about being submersed the culture rather than just passing through. Here are a few of my top tips to help ease you into your study abroad and help you along the way:
1. Culture Shock –
It’s real. Everyone gets it.
When you study abroad for a semester, it’s completely different than traveling to a new place for a shorter period of time. You aren’t really on a “vacation”, you are living within your new culture. It takes a while to adjust to your surroundings and your new home away from home.
Tips: Walk around your campus and get familiar with the local area. Find a grocery store or local food market. Food is your best friend and you want to know where is at all times. Make friends with the people in you building, classes, or program. Chances are someone else is studying abroad and are feeling the culture shock too. And when in doubt, call or Face Time family or friends at home.
2. Student Discounts –
This is probably one of my favorites (being a broke college student) is student discounts. Always have your Student ID with you from the university you are studying abroad with when you go out shopping, go out to dinner, or go to an event just in case! Especially in Europe, most museums and attractions will give students a discount or access for free.
Tip: When you are traveling and want to use the discount, have a copy of your passport and student visa. They will ask to see that along with your Student ID.
In France, as a student of the EU you can go to any National museum/monument for free. YES FREE.
In Prague they have a reduced rate, so you can go to the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower and see all of Prague for a cheaper price.
Have a copy of your passport, student ID, and visa with you accessible at all times! I can't stress that enough.
3. Avoiding Pickpocketing –
“Once it happens to you, it will never happen again.” It’s sad, but it is true. Once you have been pickpocketed, you are determined to never let it happen to you or anyone else again. One of best ways to avoid pickpocketing is to use either travel neck wallet or a waist security pouch that go under your clothes. These are great to keep extra money, credit cards, your passport, tickets, and any other important documents. Always keep a little bit of money in a front pocket of your jeans or an inside pocket of a coat. Locks for your backpack, carry-on, luggage, and even purse are also a must. It may seem over the top to lock everything, taking a few extra precautions to lock you belongs might detour a pickpocketer.
Tip: If the weather is ideal, wear two coats, a lighter one with zipper-pockets under your main jacket. That way you can put you money in the lighter jacket underneath so your money and phone are not exposed for easy pickings.
4. Travel Photography // Journaling –
The best part about traveling is the new experiences, the people you meet, and documenting every beautiful thing along the way. People will live vicariously through your photos and want to know what you are up to. It’s a great way to keep people back home informed on what you are doing and you will have an amazing documentation of your study abroad to keep forever with your photographs. (And the geo-tag feature on iPhone for your photo library is the greatest invention on the planet).
Also, as I'm sure everyone will tell you, keep a journal!!! I can't stress how important this is. You will go to so many amazing places, see things you never thought were imaginable, and try some pretty crazy things. WRITE IT DOWN. You don't have to go crazy and put every little detail of your day in the journal, but put important events, funny things that happened, and collect little memorabilia: recites, stickers, flyers, ticket stubs, coasters from bars, anything that stands out to you... Journal it.
Tips: You only live abroad for so long, so photograph everything! The food, the architecture around you, the cars, the people, the fashion, and everything that inspires you. Look up the local instagram accounts to see what areas are trending, what local photographers are doing in the area, or go to iconic landmarks and have a photoshoot with friends.
A cute house in Notting Hill, UK // Little gold lettering in Marylebone, UK
5. Explore the City –
Never let a day go by that you do not go out and just wander through the city. The best way to learn the city is to just walk around for with no plans and go in ay direction that looks interesting. You will find the best-hidden secrets by getting lost and have the greatest time. Always have your street smarts with you, but wander aimlessly till you know the city like a local.
Tip: Most cities have rental bikes at a fairly good price or offer a deal for the first thirty minutes free. Try a bike out a see how much more of the city you can cover.
I hope these tips help you when you are packing, inspire your creative side, and help you stay safe for your next adventure!
xx A Traveler's Bliss
(hey - hey you. click the bliss above... do it.)