Study Abroad Student Handbook
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Center for Global Education

Relevant Questions

Begin Program Search

  • What resources are available to help you find a study abroad program abroad?
  • What issues should you consider when looking for a program abroad?
  • Where can you find information on the strengths and weaknesses of programs abroad?
  • How can your U.S. home campus study abroad office help you?

Selecting the Right Program for You

  • What are your personal goals for wanting to study abroad?
  • How many other students participate in the program each semester/year?
  • Will you be studying at a U.S. university, a local university, or neither?
  • What study abroad program group size and class size would be ideal for you?
  • Do you prefer to be in a class with local a citizen of the country of your choice students, other U.S. students, or an international group of students?
  • Does the program emphasize "total immersion" in the language and culture, or are you placed solely with other students from the U.S.?
  • Do you prefer to receive all of your instruction in a citizen of the country of your choice, in English or a combination?
  • Is the program you have chosen affordable?
  • Can your program administrator put you in contact with any past program participants so you can ask them questions about their personal experiences abroad?

Who Runs Your Program?

  • What are the main differences among the five general types of program sponsors?
  • Can you identify which one of the five general types of program sponsors your program has and why you prefer that type of program?
  • What kind of relationship does your home college/university have with the study abroad program abroad?
  • How long has the program been in existence (a new program doesn't necessarily mean a bad program)?
  • What is the program's current financial situation?

Financing Study Abroad

  • Have you spoken with an advisor in your school's Financial Aid department?
  • Do you know what your financial aid package does and does not cover in terms of study abroad expenses?
  • Before taking out a loan, have you looked at all other options (scholarships, grants, jobs, etc.) first?
  • For which scholarships, fellowships and grants are you eligible?
  • How does the cost of living abroad abroad compare to the cost of living at home in the United States?
  • Have you started budgeting your income and/or saving money to provide for the program costs and cost of living abroad?
  • What categories do you need to create in your budget book/ledger (rent, food, clothes, entertainment expenditures, etc.)?
  • Do you try to give all your purchases a "work value" in order to see the time it will take you at work to earn the money to buy them?
  • Are there any other ways to cut back on expenses (i.e. coupons, not eating out, etc.)?
  • Can you think of any odd jobs that you might be able to do in your neighborhood in order to earn extra money (i.e. washing cars, babysitting, walking dogs, etc.)?
  • Have you taken care of all your financial aid and scholarship forms so that you continue to have financial support at your U.S. home campus when you return?

Application Process

  • Does your personal statement/essay sound like a "written handshake" and make a good first impression?
  • What are some of your best qualities and talents you can emphasize in your personal statement/essay?
  • Have you made sure to include in your personal statement/essay why you want to study abroad?
  • If your GPA isn't the greatest, can you explain why, or include other activities you've been involved in instead?
  • Have you written, re–written and asked someone to look over your personal statement for you (especially if you have to write it in the local language)?
  • How many letters of recommendation do you need, and have you given your contacts plenty of time to write their letters of recommendation?
  • Did you get a good night sleep, dress professionally and read about current events abroad before your interview?
  • Were you polite and well–mannered when answering all your interview questions thoroughly and specifically?

Pre–Departure Planning

  • Where do you get a visa if needed and a passport?
  • What other documents are required abroad, in order to be issued a visa (a bank statement, letter of invitation, police record, proof of insurance, etc...)?
  • What should you do if you lose your passport or visa while abroad?
  • Have you inquired about getting an International Student Identification card (ISIC card)?
  • What do you have to do to vote in U.S. elections (primary, run–off, special and general) while you are abroad?
  • Have you set up power of attorney to make decisions on your behalf back home if you are unable to?

How Foreign Laws Apply to You

  • Do you know how the legal system works abroad and in the countries to which you will be traveling ("innocent until proven guilty" or "guilty until proven innocent")?
  • What kinds of laws do students from the United States break abroad and other countries (perhaps, unknowingly)?
  • What are your program's specific set of rules to be followed, in addition to any local/national laws?
  • Is consumption of alcohol legal abroad and in the countries you will visit? If so, what is the legal age for alcohol consumption?
  • What are the penalties for drug use abroad and in the countries you will visit?
  • How do locals and local laws deal with harassment and sexual assault (a cultural norm, supportive of victims, blame victims, prosecute, etc.)?
  • What kinds of legal assistance can the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate provide you?

Communication While Abroad

  • What is the telephone and fax numbers (regular business hours and emergency after hours) for your program's administration office both in the United States and abroad?
  • Do you know the address of your program office in the United States and the address of your place of residence abroad?
  • Have you given out all of your contact information (e–mail, phone and fax numbers) to your emergency contacts in the United States and abroad, as well as to family and friends?
  • Have you kept a record of everyone to whom you have given out your address, and asked them to alert you before they send you anything in the mail?
  • Will you need a cellular phone while abroad?
  • If you plan to bring your PDA, will it work abroad?
  • Where can you get the best deal on calling cards, in the United States or abroad?
  • Does the mail service abroad tend to run faster or slower than U.S. mail (i.e. how long will it take a standard letter to get to the United States)?
  • Can you register for next semester's courses from abroad, or can you have an advisor register for you?

Housing Arrangements

  • What are the pros and cons of living in a home–stay, residence hall/dorm or apartment environment while abroad?
  • After making a list of pros and cons, which type of housing suits your needs best and why?
  • Will you be living in a co–ed dorm or apartment while abroad, and does your program permit co–ed living?
  • What can you do to help yourself prepare for the Rules, Privacy, Sharing, Telephone, Meals, Language and Social Network aspects of the type of housing you have chosen?
  • Can you change your place of residence abroad if things don't work out?

Packing

  • Have you researched the weather conditions over various seasons in the region of abroad where you will be?
  • Did you remember to pack all important travel documents in your carry–on, not your checked bags?
  • Have you considered which, and made a list of, items not to take because you can buy them when you get there?
  • Have you packed as lightly as possible, remembering to roll instead of fold your clothes?
  • Did you make an itemized list of everything you packed in your suitcases in case they are lost or stolen and you need to make an insurance claim?
  • Do you know how much luggage your airline allows you to check and to take on board your flight?
  • What are you planning to ship, and is it cheaper to pay for excess airline baggage rather than ship?
  • If you have decided to ship some items, who have you contacted abroad to insure pick–up and/or payment for these items upon arrival?

Expectations

  • What is the general quality of facilities like hospitals, restaurants, public transportation, payphones, etc. abroad?
  • What modern conveniences does abroad offer (i.e. internet connection, supermarket chains, name brand stores, microwaves, cell phone service, air conditioned classrooms, etc.)?
  • What kind of restroom facilities and toilets are standard abroad?
  • How will you have to adapt your routine and schedule to life abroad?

Medical Care and Insurance

  • Does the program you are considering include insurance as part of its program fee? If so, what kind of insurance does it provide you?
    • Are sports accidents covered?
    • What does the plan consider to be "high risk activities"?
    • Is dental and/or optical care included?
    • Are pre–existing conditions excluded or covered?
    • Are sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS) covered?
    • Is emergency evacuation for medical and psychological problems covered?
  • Should you consider purchasing your own insurance? If you do, will you not have to pay for the "package deal" insurance provided by the program?
  • What are the insurance policy's start and end dates? How long after the program ends are you covered?
  • What are the financial limits of coverage?
  • Does your insurance policy provider have a 24–hour assistance phone number/hotline?
  • Will you have to pay for medical care as you receive it, and then be reimbursed by your insurance company?
  • If your illness requires long–term care, for how long will you be covered?
  • In case of death, will the insurance company pay for repatriation– the return of your body to the United States?
  • If you have to return to the United States because of evacuation or medical emergency, will you be refunded for the program fee?

Basic Health and Safety

  • Who among the program staff should be informed of your travel plans, or who can serve as an emergency contact for your family back home?
  • Who are your emergency contacts in the United States? Do they have copies of your important documents? Can they make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself (do they have power of attorney)?
  • What health recommendations has the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently made for abroad and the countries to which you will be traveling?
  • Do you have any dietary restrictions? If so, do they pose a problem while abroad?
  • How much walking will you be doing abroad? How can you prepare yourself for higher levels of physical activity?
  • What should you carry in a first aid kit?
  • What are the general sanitary conditions abroad? What kinds of precautions are necessary when drinking water or eating local food?
  • Are there any specific immunizations you must get before entering abroad and the countries to which you will travel?
  • If you have any pre–existing health conditions, or you need to carry special medications abroad, what should you do before you go abroad?
  • With whom can you leave copies of your important health–related documents?
  • Will your prescription drug(s) be legal and/or available abroad?
  • What is the generic name, and a citizen of the country of your choice for your medication?
  • Does the staff speak English, a citizen of the country of your choice, and other indigenous languages fluently to communicate the nature of any medical conditions? (Remember, many indigenous groups abroad might not speak a citizen of the country of your choice or English.)
  • Can your program provide for any special needs you may have (wheelchair ramps, un–timed tests, etc.)?
  • Do you have access to adequate medical facilities?
  • What is the cost of typical medical services?
  • What specific travel advisories has the U.S. Department of State recently issued for abroad and the other countries to which you will be traveling?
  • What types of crimes are common in the area/city where you will be studying and living?
  • What activities increase the risk of accidents and injury abroad?
  • How extensive, safe, and reliable is the public transportation system abroad and the others countries to which you will be traveling?

Risk Factors and Strategies to Reduce Risk

  • Do your emergency contacts know how to reach you at all times?
  • Do your contacts have photocopies of your plane tickets, passport, visa, etc?
  • Why might there potentially be a need to evacuate in your particular area (fire, natural disaster, bomb threat, etc.)?
  • What types of notification systems are used in the event of an emergency (alarms, flashing warning lights, curfews, lockdowns, etc.)?
  • Does your residence, university, etc. provide more than one escape route/exit out of buildings?
  • What common tricks or tactics do criminals use in the regions in which you will be traveling?
  • Are there high rates of sexual assaults in the areas you will frequent?
  • Is it safe to exercise or do outdoor activities on the streets (jogging along roads, running at night, etc.)?
  • Is local transportation (metro, buses, taxi cabs, etc.) safe to use?
  • Are roads in generally good condition, or are there common road–related problems (overturned buses, potholes, collapsed bridges, etc.)?

Special Issues

  • How can you prepare yourself to deal with any prejudice you may face?
  • Does it matter that your cultural background, race, religion, skin color, disability, sex, or sexual orientation, etc. may place you in the minority or the majority in countries to which you will be traveling?

Crisis Management

  • What is your program's Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and what is your personal EAP?
  • Is your EAP up–to–date, and do all of your U.S. and abroad emergency contacts have a copy of your EAP?
  • Can you identify what causes you the most stress about your plans to study abroad and why?
  • What steps can you take to reduce your stress/concerns about study abroad?
  • What are the three main phases of crisis, and what physical and emotional symptoms may result from each phase?
  • What are some emotions you may experience during a crisis?
  • What are some of the active steps you can take to make yourself feel calmer and safer in a crisis?

Adjustments and Culture Shock

  • What are some of the common emotional side effects of culture shock?
  • How can you avoid feeling frustrated, depressed or discouraged?
  • Can you identify any possible cultural differences––between home and abroad–that cause you anxiety?
  • What are some things you can do to combat stress?
  • What are Rhinesmith's 10 phases of cultural adjustment?
  • Have you experienced any of Rhinesmith's 10 phases, if so, how did you deal with your feelings?
  • How is culture shock like a roller coaster ride?
  • Do all students experience culture shock the same way, at the same time?
  • Why is it harmful to "fear" a country's culture?
  • What is the name of your program's student counselor (in case you need to talk with someone about your problems)?
  • Why might you also experience reverse culture shock upon arrival back home?

Airport Safety, Duties and Customs

  • Do you have all of your identification and travel documents in an accessible, yet secure, location?
  • What steps can you take to maximize your safety while at airports?
  • Did you pack your bags yourself?
  • Could anyone have tampered with, or put anything into your luggage before you checked your bags?
  • Did you accept anything from anyone before boarding your flight?
  • When should you fill out a duties and customs declaration form?
  • Were you honest in declaring everything you are bringing into or out of the United States?
  • How much have you spent on items you are bringing back into the U.S.?
  • Will you have to declare items at border control or customs that exceed a certain value?
  • Were you careful to avoid carrying any item that be considered illegal in the United States or abroad, or may cause you to be suspected of smuggling?
  • For your return trip, have you kept all documentation provided to you by your airline, and all countries to which you traveled (entry/exit verifications, etc...)?
  • Does your airline have any new regulations about what items can be packed in carry–on luggage, and how many carry–on items you may have?
  • Have you given yourself enough time to get to, and check–in, at the airport or at border checkpoints (pending any new airport/border safety regulations)?

Reverse Culture Shock

  • How is reverse culture shock like a roller coaster ride?
  • What are some of the common emotional side effects of reverse culture shock?
  • Do all students experience reverse culture shock the same way, at the same time?
  • Have you experienced any of Rhinesmith's 10 phases abroad? If so, how did you deal with your feelings? Are you experiencing similar phases now that you are back home?
  • How can you avoid feeling frustrated, depressed or discouraged upon return home from abroad?
  • How has home changed since you've been away?
  • Are you more critical or more accepting of home, and why?
  • What are some things you can do to combat stress at home?

Continuing Benefits of Studying Abroad

  • Would you like to return abroad, and what is the best way for you to be able to return?
  • What do you want to do abroad– study, research, work, volunteer, intern, travel?
  • Who do you have to contact to begin the process of going abroad again?
  • If you are considering graduate school, does your home institution offer opportunities to do this abroad?
  • What careers are you considering that might be related to your study abroad experience?
  • Does your university's career center offer any special services for students considering employment abroad?
  • What accomplishments from your time abroad should you, or can you, include in your resume?
  • When coming home, is there anything you don't need anymore that you may be able to donate?
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