Embarking on an academic adventure abroad can be one of the most exciting ways to learn. You are given a chance to study fascinating things, which you may not have been able to do elsewhere. At the same time, you are immersed in exciting new sights, smells and sounds.
Before departing on a study-abroad trip, there are several things to plan ahead and take into consideration.
Your choice of location is often one of the first decisions made. There are endless factors that may go into making this choice; however, it is important to consider them all.
Are you comfortable in a place where you do not speak/understand the native language? Would you prefer a big city or a smaller one? Are you ready to spend a full year abroad, or are a few months enough?
A comprehensive list of exchange partnerships can be found in the Canadian University International Exchange Agreements Database: (http://www.univcan.ca/programs-and-scholarships/north-south-research/).
For graduate students, the Government of Canada offers numerous scholarships for study abroad, through their International Scholarship Program: (http://www.scholarships-bourses.gc.ca/scholarships-bourses/index.aspx?lang=eng).
Take the same precautions you would with any other travel destination – this means reading up on local culture (a local newspaper may be of assistance in understanding current events), and consulting the Government of Canada's travel advisories.
For more information on risk assessment of a destination, see: (Risk Assessment)
One of the most important pieces of "study abroad" is a part of the phrase itself – study. It is crucial to consider whether any classes taken abroad will transfer back to your home school, and whether or not they are applicable to your degree plan. Failing to consider this can set you back academically.
Be sure to discuss any course selections and degree plans with an academic advisor, both at your destination school and on your home campus.
As well, while the temptation may be strong to spend all your time abroad travelling, experiencing new things, or trying new foods, remember that your academics are an important part of the experience. If you are on a student visa, you may be required to attend a certain number of hours of class in order to remain in the country.
You will likely require a visa in order to travel and study abroad for more than 90 days. While this is the norm, some countries require a visa in order to enter at all. It is crucial that you investigate the visa requirements and application process, well in advance of departure.
Obtaining a visa can be quick and simple, or extremely complex. Leave yourself as much time as possible, and apply for a visa as soon as you've selected your destination.
Visa processes vary according to destination and type (student visas, work-study visas, etc.). For certain visas, you may be required to present evidence of financial stability, academic necessity, or other prerequisites. Do your research, and understand what you are applying for.
As a student, you should take the same precautions for safety that you would visiting any other unfamiliar location. This includes noting the emergency numbers (9-1-1 equivalents) in your new home, identifying the Canadian consular services office nearby, and understanding the difference between safe and unsafe areas you will be frequenting.
Test out routes you will need to travel regularly, before your arrival becomes time sensitive. This may include routes to and from classes.
As with anywhere else, you should register with the Government as a Canadian abroad, in case of a serious natural disaster or international crisis.
As well, you should have at least one emergency contact and phone number at your destination. This should be someone trustworthy, whom you could rely on in case of a difficult situation.
Money and Budgeting
While abroad, it is easy to spend more than you had intended. While this can result in experiences you would not have elsewhere, it can also be difficult to maintain. While souvenirs and endless weekends away are tempting, it can help you – and your wallet – to lay out a budget for each week.
Research possible discounts you are eligible for. For example, being enrolled at a credible school in the EU can offer you discounts or free entry to museums, galleries, theatres, or monuments.
Take into consideration any upfront costs you may have. This may include public transit passes, purchasing necessary items you could not fit in your bags, or acquiring electricity converters.
You may consider setting up a bank account at your destination, but if not, it is important to be aware of the costs of foreign debit and credit transactions, as well as currency conversion. Only exchange currency with a credible source, such as an official Monetary Exchange office.
Knowing What to Expect
Before departing, speak to students who visited and learned at your destination previously. These students may offer insight into the realities of your impending adventure. Whether this includes tips and advice, or cautions and warnings, these conversations can be invaluable.
Expecting some degree of culture shock or homesickness can also be beneficial. When you are thrown into a completely new situation, especially when departing on your own, you may end up tired, anxious or stressed out.
Have a plan to combat both culture shock and homesickness. For culture shock, prepare yourself by researching local customs and ways of life. After this, you can mentally prepare for the differences. For homesickness, bringing photographs or letters from loved ones can make a meaningful difference. Figure out what works best for you, and be prepared in case either situation arises.
When you are in a foreign destination, the temptation will be strong to stick to what you know. Often, this means groups of Canadians will move as a group, and keep to themselves while experiencing the country.
In order to forge meaningful connections with a new place, it can pay off to form local connections. Volunteer, join a local sports team, or strike up a conversation with someone who calls your destination "home." Doing this can make your experience less of a tourism trip, and more of an immersion in local culture.
Staying in Contact
Roaming costs and international plans can make bringing your cell phone abroad an expensive and complex plan.
Instead of incurring extra costs, consider having your phone unlocked and purchasing a cheap SIM card abroad. Otherwise, consider purchasing an inexpensive phone once you arrive.
Often, paying for international data plans is more expensive than it is worth. Resist the urge to constantly Instagram or Snapchat your trip, and save that for (often easily locatable) Wi-Fi zones. However, having some data will allow you to access apps such as maps or translators. Decide what is best for you, and organize it in advance of departure.
Having comprehensive travel insurance will keep you covered, like nothing else can, while you're away. In case of sickness, injury, cancelled flights, lost or stolen bags, or a full spectrum of other possible setbacks, be sure you have nothing serious to worry about.
ScotiaLife Financial offers clear and comprehensive Student Travel insurance. These plans are surprisingly simple, every step of the way. Let us take care of your coverage, so you can concentrate on your adventure.