What I Learned From Studying Abroad (Before I Even Left The Country)
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What I Learned From Studying Abroad (Before I Even Left The Country)

Lessons for travel, lessons for life.

What I Learned From Studying Abroad (Before I Even Left The Country)
Blair Hendricks

Studying abroad and traveling can teach a person innumerable life lessons and wisdom. However, there are a few lessons that can be learned from the planning process alone. I've found that some study abroad planning tips are also applicable to life in the real world. That being said, here's what I learned, and hopefully it can serve as a guide for anyone looking to plan their semester abroad or adopt some useful work habits:

1. Be A Nag

Okay let me clarify this one. Nobody cares about whether or not your paperwork is done correctly or on time. You will be talking to and emailing tons of people: program coordinators, advisors at your school, advisors at your sister school, and possibly officials at an embassy or in government offices. Check in with these people often and ask questions if you are unsure. Ask for confirmation that they received your forms or paperwork. Obviously be polite, but don't worry about being a "nag." Better to be a nag with all your stuff done than lackadaisical without it. In real life, there won't be anyone constantly reminding you to get things done or assuring you that you did everything right. Look out for yourself!

2. Things Will Go Wrong

Things will go wrong. You will fill out a form wrong and have to resubmit it; you won't get a certain appointment date and will have to scramble to make your date work or find something else; you will almost meet your savings goal and then your boss will suddenly cut your hours (been there done that!). Always have backup plans. Even if you think everything is fine, always plan for the worst case scenario. Having a backup plan will give you peace of mind and will make bumps in the road a little smoother.

3. Do Not Procrastinate

No matter how well you work under pressure, procrastination will not suffice. Fill out all your paperwork as soon as you absolutely can (there will be a lot of it). It will give you more time if you have questions and to regroup if something goes wrong. Also, a lot of students are doing their paperwork all at the same time, so processing all that paperwork can take a while. The sooner you submit it, the sooner you will be ready to go.

4. Cover Yourself

Save all important emails and documents, especially if it's confirmation of an appointment or a receipt. If something goes wrong, you will have something for your records to prove that you paid, made the appointment, or submitted that file.

5. Read The Fine Print

Yes, it's a pain, and yes, no one ever reads the terms and conditions. Do yourself a favor and read through the website before you try to complete a task or ask a question. It shows that you take initiative and try to solve your own problems. If you don't discover the solution for yourself, you will be able to better describe the problem or question you have to someone when you ask for help. Also, if you ignore that little paragraph on the bottom you might realize you forgot something important and it will be too late to fix it.

6. Stay Organized

Keep all important records in the same place. Keep electronic documents and files well-organized on your computer, in several places if possible (on the computer, flash drive, email, etc.). Records are useless if you can't find them!

7. Over Preparation Is More Work, But Can Save You

The people at my consulate appointment actually laughed at how much stuff I brought. However, one of my documents wouldn't suffice, and I had a couple of extra things to supplement it and it was then accepted. Even though my comedic over preparation drove me (and everyone else in my household) nuts, it ended up saving me.

8. Get A Passport

Everyone loves the idea of spontaneous adventures and just going somewhere. Let me tell you: it does not work that way. Not at least if you are planning on going somewhere very far away for an extended period of time. You should plan your travels ahead to save frustration and money. Even if you don't actually need it right now, a passport is a useful piece of identification that you can use for other business, such as at the DMV. Getting a passport takes months, so the sooner you get one, the sooner you'll be ready.

9. Deal With Important Documents In Your Native Language (When Applicable), And Know Key Words

If you can talk about important identification documents you will need or official processes you have to go through, do so in your native language if you can. This way you will be absolutely certain to understand what you have to do. Plus, when you are nervous, it is harder to communicate effectively. However, this may not always be possible. Know some key words and phrases so that you can more easily understand official foreign documents or talk about them to someone who might not speak English. Know some words like "file," "document," "passport/visa," "debit card," "driver's license," and the like.

10. Keep Your Eye On The Prize

It will be a long planning process. If you can hunker down, take those extra classes, work those extra hours, submit that extra paperwork and make it happen, all of that work will be beyond worth it.

11. Do Not Overstress

It's extremely easy to get carried away planning or every worst-case scenario you can think of. While it's realistic and practical to plan for the worst, don't drive yourself nuts. Come up with your backup plan then move on. If you plan well, things are less likely to go wrong anyway! Easy tip to help de-stress: think of a timeline. Think of the point in time when the stressful activity (interview, phone call, appointment) is already over and dealt with.

Studying abroad isn't a vacation, but the lessons you take away from it will carry you further than any plane can. Bon voyage, mes amies!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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