Valley Overseas: Preparing for a Summer Abroad

Welcome to Valley Overseas. We’ll hear from students exploring new lands full of strange customs, seemingly impenetrable language barriers, and Euro-trash. They’ll dish out the good, bad and the ugly of living in a home-stay, and the tales of discount airlines. From mixed-up vocab to drool-worthy people in fantastic fashions, let us show you the experiences of a lifetime.

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As the school year comes to a close, graduation caps are flung into the air and plans are made with friends for the coming months, the summer will bring about many opportunities for students. While for some that means going back to a seasonal job or even interning at your dream company, for lucky, others it means travel. And not just the run-of-the-mill vacation—it can also mean studying abroad.

Penn State offers a huge number of study abroad opportunities for students who feel going abroad for a whole semester is too much or can’t fit an entire semester abroad into their schedule. Either way, it will bring a summer of memories and bring you back with some unique souvenirs—whether that’s a t-shirt from another country or even fluency in another language.

As the summer approaches and you’re studying abroad, it’s important to prepare yourself for things other than what dresses to bring to impress those cute European boys. To prepare yourself for what will be a totally new experience so you aren’t completely thrown off when you get to your country of choice, there are a few things you should do beforehand.

Try to familiarize yourself with the country

Sure, that’s easier said than done—especially when you’re living on another continent. But preparing yourself to go somewhere like France or Italy means more than just familiarizing yourself with wine or pizza. Google Maps and tourism sites can really help you find places in the area where you’ll be studying to familiarize you with what you will be surrounded by. Most cities have websites that show the most popular attractions and places to go. This way, you can know ahead of time some things you want to see and do, and you won’t be totally thrown off by names or locations. Look up local spots to eat and walk around, and try to research customs that country observes that may be different from America.

Start making lists of what you want to bring

The “I might need these” mentality can be distracting when starting to pack, especially as you throw your tenth pair of shoes into your suitcase. When traveling, the general rule of thumb is to pack what you think you’ll need, and then reduce it by half. Admittedly, that can definitely be difficult. But making lists of what you think you need to bring will help make the process easier.

Start with clothes and necessities and then find what seems to be taking up extra space and leave it at home. If you find that you forgot something or didn’t bring something with you, it’s not like you’ll be studying on Mars. There will be shops everywhere! You’ll probably (read: definitely) want to do some shopping overseas and if there’s not enough space in your suitcase to bring it back home, you might have an issue.

Figure out the money situation

Knowing ahead of time how you’re going to manage your spending, especially since currency exchange will be involved, will make the transition much easier. Dr. Heather McCoy, study abroad advisor for the Department of French and Francophone Studies, said most people find it easier to use their ATM card when it comes to withdrawing cash in the local currency. However, not all ATM cards work this kind of magic. She advises students going abroad to check with their local bank first to make sure they allow withdrawals overseas. She added to watch out for service fees associated with using the card.

Decide your social media presence

Being abroad will give you the opportunity to explore the nighttime scene in Dublin or in London (or insert location here), chat with locals and have a great time with others on your program—but will you really need to tweet about it? McCoy advises to keep the social media connection to a minimum. Think of it as a technology cleanse.  Given how connected we all are to our phones or computers, this may seem like a foreign concept, but having time away from constantly updating Facebook (except for uploading pictures to make your friends jealous) can be a good thing and help you better experience your time abroad.

“Posting pictures and giving brief status updates is a great way to keep your family and friends back home up to date with your goings on, but any more than that might become a hindrance to you actually experiencing your time abroad,” McCoy wrote in an email. This can become especially important if you are working to become fluent in another language, she wrote.

“If you are in a language immersion situation and are trying to make progress in a foreign language, the less tethered to social media and other English language web content, the more progress you’ll actually make.”

It sounds scary in the beginning, but being prepared at least a little bit for what is sure to be an amazing summer will only help you in the long run. Cell phones are another big item to figure out (how else are you going to Instagram your experience?). But knowing all of these in advance can only help you and make your transition that much easier.

Photo by Grace Shyu