Studying Abroad Series (Part 2)
Words & Photography by Stephanie Chew
To be a wise Exploress, you want to make sure you are looking out for your own safety. A necessity that you should invest in (besides a sturdy backpack) would be health insurance. Be safe, take a precautionary step, and invest in your health. Not only will this put you more at ease when you try that new food or decided to do that hike, it will also put your friends and family at ease. They care about your stories from adventuring, but they care about your wellbeing even more. If you are living abroad or studying abroad with a program, chances are, they are including health insurance in the price. However, you should read the fine print to see what is included in the deductible and such.
Do some research on the currency of the country before you leave. Pay special attention to their exchange rates and their type of economy. In Spain the economy is a cash economy, which means paying with plastic is rarely used. Therefore, it was necessary to withdraw cash from ATMs a few times a month. If your card has a fee attached to it, that amount of money will build up as the months go on.
I would highly recommend getting a credit card/debit card that is commonly used across the globe, and that does not charge an ATM fee. One way to evade the ATM fees is by opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account - there is no monthly service fee, no account minimum, and unlimited fee rebates from any ATM in the world. This has been extremely useful while traveling around 3 countries in a single month. More information on how to avoid credit card and ATM fees while abroad.
Depending on the length of your stay, you may need to apply for a visa from the embassy of your chosen country. If you are staying for a month or less, you may not need to get one, and can simply be there for “tourism”. Other countries require them to even enter the country. Check with the embassy of the country you are attempting to live in, and see whether one is required or not.
If a visa is required, book an appointment as soon as possible. Sometimes the appointments fill up a month in advance, so as soon as you have fixed your traveling dates, make an appointment with the embassy. Many embassies require you to come in person to apply for the visa, so keep that in mind. If you are going through a study abroad program such as ISA, you can give them the information and they go in person to the embassies to do it for you.
Before your appointment: Prepare all the materials that they ask. Read and reread the requirements they have on their webpage. Print out all the forms beforehand and have a few extra copies just in case. Many require additional passport sized photos as well, so be sure to bring two. My embassy had to have my passport so that they could apply the visa to it, so before you give it to them, make a photocopy of it so that you have it for your own records. In regards to preparing for your embassy visit, it is better to be over prepared than not.
Out of my studying abroad experience, one of the best things about it has been my host family. I had the choice to live in a residence hall with other students who go to my host university, live in an apartment, or live with a host family. A host family is perfect way to get a crash course on the customs, lifestyles, foods and language of your new country. “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar that it is taken for granted” - Bill Bryon
If you truly sit and think about it, traveling is simply going to another place to experience the everyday life of the people there. The fact that it is unfamiliar is the intrigue that brings us there. One of the greatest options to experience the everyday, in my opinion, is to fully immerse yourself in a culture with a family.