Studying Abroad 101: Learning about overseas travel

Denise Wright

photo illustration by Gavin Jackson | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

The numbers don’t lie. Americans are now studying abroad more than ever.

According to the Institute of International Education, which released its annual Open Doors Press Release on Nov. 12, the rate of American students studying abroad increased by 8.5 percent to a total of 223,534 students over the past year.

According to the IIE, these increased numbers reflect “a growing recognition by students and educators that an international experience is important to students’ future careers.” With more students studying abroad for the first time, it is becoming more important to know how to prepare for such an experience.

Alan Coe, assistant director of the Office of International Affairs, said the initial concerns students should have are figuring out how the experience will contribute to their credit hours, as well as where they should go.

He recommended students work with the Office of International Affairs to find a program through Kent State, another university or third party that will help them with five important issues: registering for classes, obtaining passports and visas, transportation, housing and cultural engagement.

“The chance for a screw up when you contact an overseas institution yourself to study there relative to the transfer of credit to Kent State is just too high,” Coe said. “Why not come to the Office of International Affairs? We know what we’re doing.”

After determining the specifics with academics and registering for classes, students should look into getting a passport, and a visa if necessary.

“If you’re thinking about studying abroad, you should apply for a passport now,” Coe said. “Regardless if you’re thinking about next fall or next spring, apply now. Everything takes longer than one expects.”

Ten tips to use during and after your study abroad experience

1. Call people by name, smile and ask for help. People will do almost anything for you if you’re polite.

2. Visit the tourist spots, but limit visits of the following to only one each: museums, forts and castles, and churches and cathedrals because they are all similar.

3. Eat at least five blocks away from tourist spots, so you can see people other than tourists.

4. If you get lost, ask a younger couple for help. They’re more likely to speak English and will try to prove their ability to provide directions to their significant other.

5. Remember that everything takes longer. Even eating out will take longer because of unfamiliar items on the menu and deciding what to eat.

6. Even if you take an iPod or other entertainment device, refrain from using it. Long train rides and bus waits provide chances for interaction too.

7. When traveling, check to see if reservations are needed. Even public bus seating may be reserved.

8. Keep a journal. Save tickets and receipts to put in a scrapbook. Do as much as you can to keep track of memories.

9. Don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions. Take pictures of things that are involved in your daily life, such as where you stay or eat.

10. When you return, keep in mind that not everyone will be open to hearing about your experiences. Sometimes people are envious or simply can’t relate to your experiences.

-Alan Coe, assistant director of the Office of International Affairs

According to the U.S. Department of State Web site, the routine passport application process takes four to six weeks, and the expedited process is a two to three week wait. Yet Jennifer Davis, a master’s student in international education with an extensive study abroad background, recommends looking into a passport as far as a year in advance.

Davis said this helps with having enough time to make deadlines, especially with sending in any required documents.

“I just recommend that everyone has a passport,” Davis said. “You even need one to get into Canada now, so it just makes sense to have one.”

As far as researching one’s chosen destination is concerned, Coe said that, while individual research is important, students can also benefit from talking to an expert or someone who has been to that particular place.

Davis agreed and said it would also be a good idea to start researching one’s chosen destination as early as possible.

“I totally encourage anyone to read about where they’re going to go because it connects them, and they understand a little bit more about it before they leave,” Davis said. “Plus, they’ll know what to expect.”

Judith Carroll, study abroad program manager, said she recommends using a phrase book to learn key phrases even if learning the language isn’t a requirement.

“I remember one time in Germany, I had to ask for an iron and the lady did not know any English,” Carroll said. “Needless to say, I had to do a little bit of acting out.”

Research on disease and poor living conditions that are common to the area is also important.

Davis said she recommends researching health issues online to be prepared.

“When I lived in Africa, you couldn’t swim in any kind of fresh water because you could get worms,” Davis said. “You can’t always just go swimming and think it’s OK.”

As far as health is concerned, Carroll said students should check with their doctors for necessary immunizations and carry health insurance, the latter of which is usually a requirement for study abroad programs.

Aside from passports and research on the country, other matters that should be confronted in advance are transportation and housing arrangements. If a student is studying abroad through a program, these arrangements are typically made for them.

However, if necessary, Coe said students can make these arrangements themselves online.

“Everything is available on the Web,” he said. “Really, the cost is getting there.”

Although the majority of expenses will be transportation-related, it is still important to plan a budget. Coe said this can be a difficult task, as planning a budget depends on the length of the study abroad experience, as well as how the student plans to live.

“It could depend on whether you want to eat out versus preparing your own food,” Coe said. “Where you’re staying will obviously contribute to that too.”

Applying for or renewing a U.S. passport:

New Application:

Go in person to a passport acceptance facility with two photographs of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship and a valid form of photo identification such as a driver’s license.

Acceptance facilities include many federal, state and probate courts, post offices, some public libraries and several county and municipal offices.

You will need to apply in person if you are applying for a U.S. passport for the first time; if your expired U.S. passport is not in your possession; if your previous U.S. passport has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago; if your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under 16 years old; or if your currently valid U.S. passport has been lost, stolen or damaged.

Renewal:

You can renew by mail if: Your most recent passport is undamaged and available to submit; you received the passport within the past 15 years; you were over 16 years old when it was issued; you still have the same name, or you can legally document your name change.

A passport renewal application form is available online at http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/renew/renew_833.html.

Additional things to consider:

Some countries also require a visa to legally enter and reside in the country. You will need a valid passport when applying for your visa. General visa requirement information is available from the embassy of the country you are visiting or through the U.S. State Department.

– U.S. Department of State Web site

Coe also said it is wise not to carry a lot of cash, but to try using a credit or debit card instead. He said checking with one’s bank or credit card company to make sure the card will work also helps in relieving some anxiety.

After making proper arrangements and doing research on the destination, one of the important things left to do is pack, which is usually a problem for most people. Coe said it helps to develop a list of what to take before packing.

He said essential items include a passport, several copies of flight information and other important documents, eyeglasses, a credit or debit card and a camera.

Davis agreed and added she would advise taking eyeglasses over contacts because weather conditions may not be suitable for them. She also said contacts are fine for places like Europe, but it would help to do research on that.

As far as clothing is concerned, Davis said she recommends packing in layers.

“I would take a few layers of lighter shirts rather than a heavy sweater,” she said. “It’s just more practical because it works for any weather.”

She also said it is important to make sure clothing is appropriate for the culture, which she said can easily be found out by researching online or asking a program adviser.

Aside from the essentials, Davis said it’s also beneficial to take anything that is important to you.

“I took my teddy bear,” Davis said. “It was something that was very reassuring and comforting for me.”

She also likes to take pictures from home with her because it adds to her own comfort, and it also gives students a way to connect with people they meet in another country. Another great way to connect, she said, is to take little gifts to hand out.

“People will give you gifts everywhere,” she said. “I always have a backpack full of trinkets with me, and if I’m on a train and there’s a child nearby, I can reach inside and pull out gum or a pencil for them.”

Carroll also said it can be beneficial to wait and buy items upon arrival, as it frees up space in one’s luggage.

“Less is more,” she said. “You also want to make sure you’re meeting baggage weight limits.”

Despite all the preparation, Coe said a study abroad experience is worth it.

“I have never talked to anyone who has regretted studying abroad or traveling,” Coe said. “The opportunity to study abroad is one that students ought to seize. Preparing is part of the fun of it.”

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Denise Wright at [email protected]