Getting There and Back
Please check with your program provider for specific instructions regarding flights to and from your program site. Some programs will offer a group flight. In most cases, these flights are NOT required; check with the program provider to be sure you know whether or not you must take the group flight. They are offered as a benefit to participants and are usually a good idea. However, you may be able to find better fares through your own travel agent or through one of the many on-line travel sites.
If there is a group flight and you decide to make your own individual arrangements, always let your program provider know your final itinerary (including airline carrier, flight number, date, and time of arrival). Also, always talk to your program provider about the program calendar (and make plans accordingly) and what you should do when you arrive. With some programs, the resident director will meet the group flight. If you are not on the group flight, you may have to find your own way to your family or to the orientation site or program center. All of this can be overwhelming after a long flight. Therefore, make sure you have clear instructions concerning how to proceed upon arrival.
Other programs will not have group flights and will expect all participants to arrive on-site by a specific date and time. These programs will provide you with detailed information about how and when the group should meet up in country. Read these instructions carefully and be sure to have them with you in your carry-on luggage when you arrive. Also, always carry emergency contact information, even on your flight over to the program site. Should anything happen to change your travel plans or arrival time, you will be able to contact the program director for additional instructions.
Whether or not you travel with a group flight, reservations for international flights should be made well in advance of your departure date. Since many programs travel to popular destinations at the same time of year, inexpensive flights to certain cities might be difficult to obtain. Also, inexpensive flights very often have severe restrictions regarding changes in flight dates or cancellations. It is important to understand the restrictions of your ticket before buying it. Once the ticket is paid for, you will be responsible for working within those rules.
There are several types of tickets available: one way, round trip with a fixed return date, and round trip with an open return date. Usually, the round trip ticket with a fixed return date is the least expensive type. In most cases, the return date may be changed for a fee and within a certain window of dates (i.e. within two weeks of travel or before a certain date). If you are taking regular classes at a foreign university, you will probably need some flexibility in your return date. Exam schedules are not normally published until a few weeks into the semester and will affect the date on which you may fly home. Again, be sure you understand what you need to do to change your return date and how much it will cost you.
Travel While Overseas
Although travel within each country of destination will vary according to services available when you arrive, there are some questions that many of you will have when trying to plan your personal travel while overseas. This section is meant to help answer some of your questions but by no means is it applicable to all situations or countries. Please always remember to remain flexible in your plans and to take advantage of what is available once you arrive.
While airfares in Europe had decreased over the past few years, they are now fluctuating again. This means that finding bargain fares will depend on the cities between which you are traveling, the type of fare you are able to obtain (student fares are usually much lower but availability is limited), and the flexibility of your travel dates. Your best bet is to do some research before you make your final reservation and pay your money. Cities throughout Europe have travel agencies that specialize in student travel. These are good places to go to find out what is available. Ask for all available fares and make your decision based on several choices. You'll want to be sure you understand the details of the ticket: restrictions, refund policy, possible layovers, fees charged by the travel agency, etc.
Before committing to an airfare, ask about train travel. Train travel in Europe is inexpensive and is a good way to see the country or countries through which you will be traveling. Of course, the disadvantage is that train travel takes quite a bit more time depending on where you are going. Flights are good choices when traveling between two cities that are far apart; train is more practical for travel within a country or between cities that are close together – especially when you consider check-in time and travel to and from the airport.
The following resources might be useful as you plan your travel:
- Lonely Planet
- Let's Go Travel Guides
- Rough Guides Travel
- U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs
- Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory
- Net Travel: How Travelers Use the Internet by Michael Shapiro
Packing for an entire semester or year can be a baffling experience. You want to pack everything you will need but don't want to arrive at the airport with bags that are over the weight limit. Know the weight and size limits for luggage on your flights. You can find this out by contacting each airline directly. Also, you should realize that you may be carrying all of your luggage through subway and train stations so don't overpack. Try this test before you leave. Pack everything you would like to bring and then take a walk around the block. Can you manage it alone or do you need to repack? A general rule of thumb is to take only half the amount you would like to bring.
The best way to figure out what you really need is to talk to the program sponsor or to someone who has participated on the program in the past. It is important to consider what clothing and other items will be necessary, acceptable and appropriate in your new environment.
Some items (excluding clothing) that have been recommended by past students:
- Swiss Army Knife
- gifts for your host family
- photos of family, school and home
- waterproof storage bags
- adapter and voltage converter (multi-country)
- extra film and batteries
- first aid kit
- sewing kit
- MP3 or Walkman
- money belt
Please note that while toiletries are available most everywhere, particular brand names may not be readily available. If you must have a certain brand, you should plan to bring it from home. These may include:
- Tums/Rolaids and laxatives
- dental floss
Beyond Paperwork and Packing
Preparing for study abroad is more than taking care of visas, passports, immunizations and packing your bags. It is important to prepare yourself mentally. Take some time to refresh yourself on the current U.S. political scene. How familiar are you with your own cultural heritage? What are the values you live by personally and culturally? If you were raised in the U.S., you might want to think about the way in which the culture values the following:
- Time Management
- Good Sportsmanship
- Work Ethic
- Physical Power
- Timeliness of Action
- Physical Appearance
One of the greatest challenges to studying abroad is that it invokes change. Have you given any thought as to how you might change as a result of studying abroad? Take some time to think about what you hope to get out of your study abroad experience. Write down a list of goals. You may want to talk to other students who have been on your program to see if your goals are realistic. Realize that your goals can be revised once you're at your program site, but without a clear understanding of why you're studying abroad, it can be difficult to make it through those difficult times.
Prepare yourself intellectually as well. Take time to learn as much as you can about
where you will be studying. Sure, you've seen films about Kenya, France, and Japan,
and you have read about Mayan ruins, but what do you really know about your host country?
Perhaps you've been told that you'll be in an urban (or rural) environment - but what
does that mean in the context of your host country? Before you leave the U.S., get
down to the nitty-gritty details of life in your new culture. Ask lots of questions.
See if you can answer these Fifty Culture Questions about your host country. Learn about their cultural and political history, about day-to-day living, about student life, and general expectations. A visit to your local bookstore or library will provide you with a variety of books and videos on traveling to your host country. In particular, the "Let's Go" and "Lonely Planet" travel guides are good sources for budget travel. Contemporary literature and films are also a good (and fun) way to learn more about the country and culture you'll be visiting.