Illinois identity graphic

Things to Learn Before you Leave

Studying abroad is a very new experience for most students and their families. Students return from their time abroad with a wealth of knowledge about living in another country. We compiled many of their comments to help you get prepared.

What to Bring

  • Don't take a lot of stuff, especially when you travel. Pack light. Even if you think to pack light, you'll over pack, so only take the essentials. You can usually buy anything you need.
  • Bring a large traveling or camping backpack. It's very convenient when traveling during school breaks. Take advantage of your holidays, whether through trips to another major city or excursions to nearby villages--but don’t forget to spend lots of time in your host city!
  • Bring several types of clothing. You never know if winter or summer will come a few weeks early.
  • Bring pictures of home: family, friends, etc. You will get homesick and there will be times when you'll really enjoy looking at them.
  • Take extra passport photos. You'll need them for transportation passes, program or institution information, etc.
  • Bring gifts for host students and families. It doesn't have to be anything expensive or bulky. It's simply a small gesture and token of your appreciation. A gift that is connected to your hometown, culture, hobbies--even just something that you can tell a personal story about--can help break the ice and start a comfortable conversation.
  • Read up on the countries you plan to visit and bring a good travel guide.
  • Talk to former study abroad students who have gone through your program or have studied abroad. Talk to them before, during, and after your study abroad experience. It'll help speaking to someone who can relate and give you applicable advice.

Suggested Items to Pack

  • Flip flops for the shower
  • Toiletries (travel sizes)
  • Durable walking shoes or hiking boots
  • Backpack with a hip strap, sturdy stitching, padded shoulder straps, compartmental bag, waterproof bag (if not water resistant, look into sealer spray) especially on the bottom of the bag
  • Clothes: bring less and wash more often
    • Pack dark clothes that don’t wrinkle
    • Avoid delicates
    • Bring waterproof shoes
    • Think layers
    • Wear Polypropylene or other fast drying material
    • Be attentive to local attire
  • Sample of what clothes to pack:
    • 5 shirts (long and short-sleeved)
    • 1 sweater
    • 2 pairs of pants
    • 1 pair of shorts (doubles as a swimsuit for guys)
    • Swimsuit (women)
    • Pajamas and/or warm-up suit
    • 5 pairs of underwear and socks
    • Walking shoes and/or hiking boots, depending on the locations of your travels
    • Small towel (super thin, quickly dries)
    • Zip lock bags
  • Camera
  • Phone with alarm or clock with alarm
  • First aid kit with Neosporin
  • Any medicines or pain killers
  • Sunglasses
  • If you have contacts, bring extra pairs, plus your glasses in a case
  • Reading material and music for the trains and waiting
  • Address list of contacts (International Office, family and friends)
  • Notebook and pen for journaling

Money

ATM and Credit Cards

  • Keep a copy of your ATM card, credit card, and passport at your home base (host family, dorm, apartment) with the numbers to your bank, credit card company, and home country embassy, in case they are stolen.
  • Let your bank and credit card company know that you will be out of the country and how long you will be out.
  • Ask your bank where your ATM card will be accepted.
  • Approve someone at home to access your bank account.
  • Carry a calling card so that you can call and cancel ATM and credit cards quickly.

Keep Your Money Close (easy to reach, but hard to steal)

  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket or hooked to a belt loop.
  • Carry your purse like a messenger bag.
  • Use neck pouches or money belts; keep all your important items on you.
  • Distribute money; don’t have it all in one location.
  • When sitting down and your bag is not on you, place the bag on your lap and put the strap around your leg.
  • When standing in a crowd put your backpack in front of you or put your back to a wall.
  • Use a safety pin to lock your zippers.

Transportation

Plane

  • Research budget airlines in your host region before you leave.
  • For a better deal, be flexible and look for standbys.
  • Be conscious of weight restrictions for luggage.
  • Plan to arrive at the airport early.
  • Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide

Bus

  • Know whether it is a direct bus route or one that makes frequent stops.
  • Know whether there is security on the bus, such as a guard and a bag check.
  • Know the different classes of buses so you can weigh the options of prices and levels of comfort.
  • Check if there are bathrooms on the bus.
  • For security, try to sit toward the front of the bus and the driver.
  • While buses are slower than trains or planes, it might be worth the cost discount and the opportunity to slowly see more of the country.

Train

  • Always inquire about a student discount.
  • Start off traveling short distances and then add to your plans.
  • Rate the benefits of the Inter-city train vs. regional train. For example, regional trains make more stops and are slower.
  • Plan to use overnight train cars and sleep on the train if you're travelling a long distance.

Hostels

Definition:lodging that is usually less expensive than a hotel, often designed with young travelers in mind.

  • Accommodations can be very basic and not always private.
  • They often provide a kitchen or lounge where people relax.
  • They usually provide the opportunity to meet people from all around the world.
  • Call ahead and make a reservation for stays during peak season.
  • Always check the room: bed quality, bathroom quality, security (doors, windows).
  • Know the damage and checkout policies.
  • Keep safety in mind and be conscious of the location within the city.
  • Be wary of people advertising hostels or rooms for rent at airports and train and bus stations.
  • Try to find several hostels located in the same area so you can shop around.

Guidebooks

  • Guidebooks act as a travel advisor, help you understand the culture, and provide travel, lodging, and restaurant recommendations.
  • Popular major guidebooks are Lonely Planet, Let’s Go, Rough Guides, Insight Guides.
  • Decide how you want to spend your time, such as explore the region's history or spend time on the beach.
  • Go to a bookstore and compare different guidebooks. Pick one of your destinations and compare what each guidebook says about that single location.
  • Consider each guidebook's theme (i.e. budget travel, insider’s view, or adventure travel).
  • Look at the maps. Are they easy to read? How detailed are they?
  • Be conscious of the size and weight of the book because you'll be traveling and taking this book with you.
  • All guidebooks are at least one year old, so never assume that the prices are the same or the restaurants are still open.

Communications

Cell Phones

  • Consider buying or renting a cell phone in your host country, or adjust your current phone so that it works abroad.
  • Talk with someone familiar with your host country about cell phone recommendations.
  • Contact your host program or institution for any information on what former students have done and ask about companies that provide discounted rates for students.
  • Closely read the terms, agreements, policy, and rates of the cell phone service.

Internet

  • Just as in your home country, Internet access can vary depending on location.
  • Try online video-conferencing through providers such as Skype or Gmail.
  • Plan ahead and set up accounts and video cameras with friends and family prior to leaving. This way you can work out the bugs ahead of time.

The Experience

  • Travel as much as you can. Soak up the atmosphere and culture. Take as many photos as you can and write a journal, so you can remember everything you saw and everything you felt.
  • Plan your flight to arrive in the morning or early afternoon.
  • It can be difficult to arrive in a foreign city at night.
  • Memorize a few key phrases in the local language of each country you are visiting (Hello. Do you speak English? Where is _____?).
  • Be confident when traveling. Fake it if necessary. Pickpockets and scam artists go after the most likely target: people with big fold out maps or people looking through their pockets and backpack for cash.
  • Be suspicious of people who are too friendly and too willing to help you.
  • Plan things out, but be flexible if things change.
  • Estimate your costs (costs per day, what you want to see in each area) and balance your spending so you don’t run out of money halfway through your trip.
  • Know how much you are spending by understanding the currency conversion in each country.
  • Don't be shy about speaking a new language. Just get out there and give it a try. No matter how many mistakes you make, you'll get better. You will get your point across even if your grammar isn't correct. Practice, be patient, and get out of your comfort zone.
  • With leaving friends and family, traveling to an unknown place, and meeting new people, studying abroad may be one of the hardest things you have ever done thus far. But, it may become one of the greatest things. It might be tough adjusting in the beginning but after that initial shock wears off, you'll be fine. Trust us, just give it a shot and be patient.
  • You will be homesick but it quickly goes away and before you know you'll be back home and will wish you were still studying abroad. Take advantage of everything.
  • It'll take some time but you'll adjust to the culture. Be open to the differences and be outgoing. Get involved in program or school activities.
  • Move outside your comfort zone. Meet as many people as possible. Try not to choose only students from your home country/school as friends because you are already comfortable with them. If you do, you'll be missing out on a lot.
  • It's a different system in your new community, country, culture, etc. You can't plan and prepare for every difference. Just be calm and enjoy the experience. No matter what, you will be a different person when you get back. Allow yourself to experience new things, to grow personally, and to learn.
Emergencies myCISI Enroll in STEP

Flickr Pics

View Gallery