Your time participating in study away will be more enriching and enjoyable if you research your options in the categories below before you depart. Regardless of how much preparation you do ahead of time, you will still learn new things every day, but researching and preparing ahead of time will allow you to have a more enriching experience and to better manage some of the challenges that are inevitable. There is no one person or source that can tell you all you need to know – keep yourself in mind when preparing for your time away and be honest about what you need while abroad. We recommend utilizing a variety of resources including materials at the library, websites, past program participants, friends and faculty who have been to the destination(s), government information, and media.
Text adapted from Elon University
A passport is an official document issued by a government, certifying the holder’s identity and citizenship and entitling them to travel under its protection to and from foreign countries.
If your program is located in a country other than your country of citizenship, you will need a valid passport to travel and participate.
If you do not have a valid passport at the time of program acceptance, you should apply as soon as possible. Please consider these passport application processing times. Many pre-departure items require this item for continuation.
Based on U.S. State Department standards, student passports are required to be valid at least six months beyond the date of their return to the U.S.A. If your passport will expire before the six month mark, you should renew your passport as soon as possible.
This Passport QUEST resource can help you determine if you need a new passport as well as guide you through the process of applying.
It is the responsibility of the student to obtain their visa/residence permit. Your program should provide guidelines and instructions, but ultimately the application process and visa issuance is between the student and the host country government. Neither the Wang Center nor your program provider have any influence over your host country’s evaluation of the visa application. The withdrawal and cancellation policies may still apply if you are denied a visa/residence permit.
Why is it the responsibility of the student?
When the participating student completes the process themselves, it equips the students with skills necessary to navigate international governmental systems, and demonstrates that the student has the capability to participate in their program of choice.
The Wang Center and/or your program provider will do its best to provide up to date information on applying for a visa/residence permit. Consulates/Embassies may change the process at any time and without previous notification. Therefore, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to follow the guidelines posted on the web page of the consulate to which they intend to apply for their visa/residence permit.
Text and information adapted from St. Lawrence University.
What is a visa?
An endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country. Not all countries require a visa.
What is a residence permit?
A permit that grants permission to legally reside in the host country for the duration of your program. Not all countries require a resident permit.
What is the difference between a passport and a visa/residence permit?
A passport is an official document issued by your country certifying your identity and citizenship. A visa/residence permit is a document issued by a country where you are not a citizen indicating that you are legally allowed to live in the host country for a specific amount of time for a specific purpose.
How to find out if you need a visa/residence permit?
This information should be provided to you by your study away program provider. If you have questions about it, you should contact them directly. If you are participating in a PLU Gateway program, contact your Wang Center advisor for information. You can also contact the country’s consulate to confirm if a visa/residence permit is required for you to study in your host country for the duration of your program.
Non-U.S. citizens should consult with their program/corresponding consulate to verify the visa/residence permit requirements for their country of citizenship, as well as the PLU International Student Services (if applicable).
Tips for getting your visa/residence permit
- Learn about your visa requirements early and make plans accordingly.
- Follow instructions from your program provider and/or Wang Center advisor.
- Visa applications can take up to four months, so be sure you understand requirements and timelines as early as possible.
- Depending on your host country’s requirements, you may need to give up your passport for weeks/months to the embassy of that country as part of your visa application process; research requirements before planning international travel prior to your program.
- Visa/residence permits requirements vary from country to country and by duration of stay.
- Visa/residence permits vary in cost
- Some countries require that you submit/apply in-person; find out the closest visa processing center and/or consulate as it may require a domestic flight.
- You need a valid passport to apply for a visa; passport must be valid at least 6 months after your travel end date.
- Check if other countries you intend to travel to also require a visa (many don’t require a visa for tourism, but some do). You may find a visa services company, such as Travisa, helpful to determine if you need a visa to visit another country during your study away program.
Text and information adapted from Denver University.
Create a backup arrival plan
Missed flights and delays happen. What will you do if your arrival doesn’t go as initially planned? Make sure you can answer the following questions before you leave.
- Who should I contact at the program to let them know I am delayed?
- Where will you stay once you’ve landed? Will you arrive outside of the designated pick up time?
- How will you get to your lodging for the evening? How will you contact the transportation services?
- How will you pay for your lodging?
- How will you contact the lodging facility?
- Will you have basic necessities for a night without your luggage?
Jet Lag Tips
Jet lag is when your sleep schedule is altered because of time zone changes.
- Before leaving: change your meal and sleep times to destination, exercise during the week prior to departure, get a full night’s sleep the night before departure.
- During the flight: drink plenty of water, limit alcohol and caffeine, dress comfortably (consider layering to add and take off clothes as needed on flight and in departure and arrival locations), walk often.
- Upon arrival: wait until night to go to bed, limit the first day’s activities.
Booking a flight
Unless you are traveling on a pre-arranged group flight (typical for short-term faculty-led, but very rare for semester programs), you are responsible for locating and booking your own flight, and for arriving by the date required by the program (includes orientation). It may be a good idea to collaborate with other students participating in your program to plan your travel arrangements together. The Wang Center for Global and Community Engaged Education strongly recommends that you DO NOT book your flight until you have been officially accepted by the program AND have received the official program dates.
PLU flight credit eligible students should refer to specific instructions in Terra Dotta before purchasing their flight.
- Follow any guidelines given to you by the program regarding specific travel, airport of arrival information.
- Beware of the time change in your host country.
- Many countries require you to have an exit plan, so we always recommend you buy a round-trip ticket.
- Check to see if there is an airport pick-up offered or planned for your program. Many major cities have more than one airport, so be sure you plan to arrive at the correct one.
- Be aware of the cost to change your ticket.
- Flying mid-week is often cheaper.
- Ticket prices will generally not go down 60 days prior to your departure.
- Verify charges for checking luggage beforehand so you’re not surprised.
- Be aware of any terminal changes you may need to make at connecting locations. Changing terminals can add a lot of time depending on the airport.
- When purchasing your ticket, consider if your layover destination(s) will require you to go through customs.
- It can be a good idea to book a flight with plenty of layover time, especially if going through customs.
- Wear shoes that are easily slipped on and off for ease going through security
- Also consider wearing or bringing socks to avoid walking barefoot through security
General Travel Suggestions
- You may travel before the program begins or after it ends, as long as you are within the allowable dates of your visa (if applicable), but remember that you will be responsible for your housing and expenses before and after the dates of your program.
- Delays happen frequently. Depending on the reason for the delay, you may be responsible for the cost to rebook your flight.
- If your travel plans are delayed or cancelled, it is your responsibility to communicate this change to the Wang Center and your program provider.
- Trip cancellation/travel delay: PLU’s foreign travel insurance does not cover trip cancellation costs. You may want to consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance from an independent provider.
- Prepare for airport security by reading this article.
Documents & copies – make sure you have copies of all, and originals of those indicated (*)
- Visa/residence permit*
- Front and back of credit/debit cards*
- Contact information for local coordinators
- Wang Center emergency card
- Hotel reservations
- Backup arrival plan with all contact information
- Arrival information provided by the program
- Certified copy of your birth certificate (in case you lose or have your passport stolen while abroad)
- Bring two debit/credit cards with you so that you have at least two ways of accessing funds while away.
- Research money and banking in your host community before you go! How do people in your host community access funds? Are credit and debit cards widely accepted? Is it a primarily cash-based society?
- Notify your bank of your travel plans before you depart, otherwise your cards may be blocked, not allowing you to access funds and make purchases.
- Find out what your cards’ ATM fees are, the international transaction fees associated with the cards, etc.
- Consider a credit/debit card with low or no international transaction fees, and low ATM fees.
- Bring copies (front and back) of all the cards you bring with you; this will be helpful in the event that you lose your cards or have them stolen.
- Bring enough local currency that you can get by for the first few days in case your arrival doesn’t go as planned. You can generally order currency in advance from banks and credit unions.
- Travelers’ checks are no longer widely used and are therefore not recommended.
- Many museums, travel companies, etc. offer discounts for students. For this purpose, it is probably a good idea to bring your PLU Lute Card with you if your program doesn’t provide one upon arrival.
It is your responsibility to understand the financial ramifications of withdrawing. Reference Study Away Policies for specific details. Also available in your Terra Dotta account and in the Document section of the Wang Center website.
Semester Study Away
You will receive your Study Away Program Budget during the Wang Center’s required general orientation session (April for Summer/Fall programs, October for Spring programs). This is only a starting point. Do your own research to find out what you can expect to spend while away and compare that with what is provided to you by the program. Create a projected monthly or weekly budget for yourself; after a few weeks in your host community, compare your spending with this budget, readjust as you see fit.
Communication strategies will look different for every person based on their preferences, program location, access to technology, local communication systems, etc. Below, you can find information that past study away students have found helpful.
Phone service in your host country
- How do most people use cell phone service in your host country?
- Does your USA phone carrier have an international plan? Is it cost effective?
- Can you purchase a phone card/chip upon arrival and put it into your current phone? For this option, you need to have an unlocked phone. See your carrier service to ask for help.
- Do you plan to buy a local phone upon arrival and purchase phone service during your time abroad?
- About how much will the local service cost?
- If you plan to use a USA number while abroad, visit Country Calling Codes to find out the country code you will need to dial.
Note: PLU requires all study away students to carry a phone at all times that can make calls WITHOUT being connected to Wi-Fi.
Internet Calling & Apps
Messaging Apps, such as Whatsapp/WeChat/Viber/KaKao, allow the user to message within the app using their phone. A phone plan is not required, but these apps do require Wi-Fi or data access. Many are free or low-cost.
Remember, PLU requires you to have a phone that can make calls without Wi-Fi in case of an emergency. Some USA phone carriers offer plans with daily charges that will only incur if the phone is turned off Airplane mode. One option is to have this plan, but primarily use a messaging app and only turn your phone off Airplane mode to make a call if needed.
Computer-to-computer calling, such as Skype or Google Hangouts, offer free calls and messaging between computers/devices. You will need to be connected to Wi-Fi. If you want to call a phone, there is generally a low-cost fee.
Social Media can be a great way to stay connected with friends and family back home, as well as keeping in touch with new friends after your program ends.
The Wang Center loves to see what students are up to during their programs. Tag pictures and posts with #lutesaway. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Blogging while abroad is a great way to journal and share your experiences with your friends and family. Rather than updating all your friends and family members one-on-one, you can post an entry for the day/week/month and let them view it as they have time. The Wang Center also welcomes blog postings and occasionally shares student work via social media or the website. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in having your blog featured by the Wang Center.
Your program may create an email for you to use throughout the duration of your program. You are also expected to regularly check your PLU email while abroad.
- Avoid accessing private information on public computers, including internet cafés. When traveling, you should always be especially cautious with online banking. Calling your bank’s international access number is generally a safer alternative.
- Watch what you blog. While blogging is a great way to share stories of your study away experiences with family and friends at home, you also need to be mindful of what you post publicly. Avoid sharing highly personal information and consider that the country or culture in which you are living may have different standards about what is appropriate to share publicly. Be mindful that what you write affects you as well as people in the host country in which you are writing.
These guidelines are to give you a general idea for what to pack for your travels abroad. You should also refer to information sent for specific programs. You can reach out to former participants and Global Ambassadors for advice on packing strategies. Consider the culture and climate of your host location while packing.
General Luggage Recommendations
Luggage needs will vary by program and person, but we typically suggest one large checked suitcase, one smaller carry on, and your personal item- consider bringing a backpack for weekend travels. Keep in mind that most airlines have strict luggage size and weight policies and will charge extra fees for any oversize luggage.
Consider taking a picture of your luggage to help in describing lost or stolen luggage to airport officials. Always label your luggage with your name, address and telephone number in both English and the language spoken in the location(s) of your program, both inside and outside of each piece of luggage.
Personal Item/Carry-on Luggage: – Items to keep on you at all times while you travel:
- Passport and visa (plus photocopies of each)
- Copy of letter of admission from the study abroad program (if applicable)
- Airline bookings and/or rail passes
- Cash and credit cards (plus photocopies of all credit cards)
- Electronics you are traveling with and their respective chargers and adapters
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications including eyeglasses/contacts
- Prescriptions must be clearly marked with patient name, physician name, drug name, dosage, and have a written physician prescription explaining the condition and use, it must also be in its original packaging – this may be required in order to bring these medications through customs. See Health Form and/or Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services for more information.
- Over-the-counter medications may be unavailable, extremely difficult to find, or more expensive than in the US. These must also be in their original container
- Contact information for:
- Bank in the U.S.
- Contact person at your study away site
- Gold PLU Wang Center Contact Card – included in orientation packet
- We recommend to pack at least one complete outfit in your carry on luggage in case there is a delay in your checked bag
- If you put toiletries in your carry-on, make sure they adhere to the strict TSA guidelines outlined here
- Do some research into what types of clothing are culturally appropriate. The typical dress may be different than what you are used to in the US. Talk to returnees and research online to find out more about the local dress, as well and the local climate
- Bring durable clothing that can be easily cared for/laundered
- Consider whether you will be doing anything as part of your program that will require certain clothing- internship, field work, outdoor activities, etc.
- General recommendation is to pack enough clothing to last about two weeks without doing laundry. Bring items that can be easily mixed and matched into many different outfits and dressed up or dressed down as needed.
- Pack comfortable, sturdy shoes for walking
- Regardless of where you are studying away, you are likely to be walking more each day than you normally would at PLU
- Remember to leave room for items you will bring back from abroad.
- If you are staying with a host family, it is usually suggested to bring a small gift from your home state or city
- Pack a small memento from home to have in your room- pictures can make your living space feel more like home, and your hosts and friends may be interested in seeing them
- Do not bring irreplaceable items, or anything that would be especially upsetting if lost/ruined
- Pack all liquids in plastic bags in case something leaks in transit
- Toiletries for the most part can be bought on site but you could bring all your toiletries then have extra space for the return flight
- If you are planning on purchasing toiletries upon arrival, we recommend bringing about a week’s supply so you don’t have to purchase immediately on arrival
- Leave hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners at home- most require a power converter and plug adaptor to use, it is best to buy them on site if necessary
- Take note that brands/varieties you are accustomed to may not be readily available in your host community
To vote while abroad, you must register for a federal absentee ballot by submitting a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) as soon as possible. The FPCA can be completed by using the FPCA online assistant:
- Visit FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage, and select your state.
- From there, familiarize yourself with the deadlines for your state.
- Click “Use FVAP’s Online Assistant” listed at the bottom left in the “Register to Vote, Request a Ballot, or Update My Voter Info” section.
- Complete the electronic form, and pay close attention to the addresses:
- Voting Residence – Your permanent address in the United States where you are registered to vote
- Mailing Address – Your address in your host city
Pro Tip: Include your email address and ask for an electronic ballot.
- Follow instructions given to print, sign, and send your FPCA
You should receive your ballot around 45 days before the election.
- Electronic ballots – Each state has its own way to accept your ballot, so be sure to follow the instructions provided. You can see the state guidelines by selecting your state on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage.
- Hard copy ballots – Follow the instructions on your ballot and mail it back right away. Familiarize yourself with the deadline to return your ballot, and keep possible postal delays in mind. Remember, you can view all deadlines by selecting your state on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage.
If you don’t receive your ballot at least 30 days before the election, you should contact your local election officials and ask for an update. Contact information can be found by selecting your state on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage.
Still haven’t received your ballot? A last resort is to complete the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)—an emergency backup form. This can also be found on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage. Select your state and open “FVAP Online Assessment” in the “Get My Ballot” section.
Voting Abroad Tips:
- Use a nonpartisan guide such as the Overseas Citizen Voter section of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website, or the Overseas Vote Foundation, to help navigate voting while abroad.
Text and information from IES Abroad, FVAP.gov, and travel.state.gov
Tips & Resources
- The Wang Center registers participants of short-term faculty-led study away programs with Smart Traveler Emergency Program (STEP) (US passport holders only). For semester students, be sure to register yourself with STEP.
- STEP is a program of the US State Department that provides US citizens with safety information and on-the-ground assistance in time of overseas emergencies.
- For a comprehensive list of resources and suggestions for U.S. students traveling abroad, visit the State Department website.
- Review the travel advisories for your host country/region through the US State Department
- Safety and Security Recommendations Traveling Abroad (compiled by current and former PLU employees, Dr. Mulder and Mr. Premo)
Personal Reflection Questions
If you have a pre-existing condition, and know that you will require medical services abroad, what is your plan? Have you purchased additional health insurance? Remember that PLU’s health insurance policy only covers emergency medical needs.
If you have allergies or dietary restrictions, what is your plan for avoiding such substances? Have you researched the country where you will be studying to find out how easy or difficult it might be to follow your dietary requirements?
If you take prescription medication, what is your plan for continuing with your medication? Can you bring enough for the entire program? Can you get access while abroad? If so, what is the cost?
What could your self-care practices look like during your program? How might this be different from what you do at home? PLU recommends you create a self-care plan for your study away experience. This may include mental, emotional, and physical health.
- Traveler Health Resources – Center for Disease Control
- Resilient Traveling: Stress Management & Enhancing your Experience Abroad (University of Michigan)
- Resources from PLU Counseling, Health and Wellness Services
In the U.S., we often focus on various appearances, backgrounds, and other personal characteristics to help us understand how we fit within our culture and population. Typically, we identify with several groups simultaneously.
It is likely that your social identities may feel different while you study away. The host culture may perceive them outside of how you are accustomed. For example, if your regional identity is a huge identifying factor for you at home, you might be surprised to learn that while abroad, your citizenship could be more important to locals. Based on your experience and personal research, you may want to consider what, how, and when you choose to disclose parts of your identity.
As you prepare for your study away experience, it is important to reflect on your own identities and consider how they may be perceived in a new culture; consider what this could mean for your day-to-day life.
To help you prepare for your time away, the Wang Center has prepared some resources and things to consider in your preparations for going abroad, as well as a number of stories from study away alumni:
Our colleague in the Anthropology Department defined culture as:
A learned set of ideas and behaviors that are acquired by people as members of society, widely shared by members of a society or group and responsible for most differences in ways of thinking and behaving that exist between human societies or groups.
Everyone’s experience with adjusting to living in a different cultural context is unique. It’s important to start thinking now about what it will be like for you to manage a set of unspoken societal rules, values and beliefs that are different than the ones ingrained in you throughout your lifetime. Cultural adjustment is deeply challenging at times, but is also one of the best reasons for going abroad – it is an incredible opportunity to examine your own values and culture and understand how your perspectives may be different and similar to others. There may be things you encounter about your host culture that you find fascinating and wish you could bring home with you, and you are also likely to encounter things about your host culture that you disagree with, are frustrated by, or wish you could change.
So take a moment now to consider – what do you think are some of the cultural beliefs that have shaped you that may be challenged while you’re abroad? What assumptions might you make about people in your host community when you arrive? What might people in the host community misunderstand about you?
Consider the following areas when thinking of ways to make the most of your study away experience!
Why does goal setting matter? Growth and development can be enhanced and more easily recognized by setting goals for oneself.
Consider your goals in terms of personal, professional, and academic. If you’re unsure which professional goals you may consider, review the top career competencies published by NACE. Ask yourself, “which competencies could I improve upon and/or which competencies are the most likely for me to work on while away?” Then ask yourself, “What actions (manageable steps) will I take to achieve my goal?”, and finally, “How often and through what format will I evaluate progress made toward my goal?” See below for an example.
|What is one professional goal you have for your study away experience?
|While I study away, I would like to strengthen my ability to be more detail-oriented.
|What actions (manageable steps) will you take to achieve your goal?
|I will begin this process during the pre-departure phase by ensuring that I understand all requirements I must complete before leaving; before leaving, I will create a monthly budget and then re-evaluate after two weeks of being in the country – this will help me to have a better sense of the pieces that make up a budget and how to stay on track; as I engage in weekend and school break travel experiences, I will create detailed itineraries that include lodging, transportation, eating/leisure expenses; as a student in an international format, I will keep an online planning system where I track assignment due dates, exam dates, and then track how/when I will accomplish manageable steps toward successful completion of assignments and assessments.
|How often and through what format will you evaluate progress made toward your goal?
|At the end of each week, I will spend at least 10 minutes journaling to report my efforts toward the steps listed above, celebrate the successes I’ve found, and then decide what I can alter to more effectively work toward these steps in the coming week(s).
Get to Know your Host Community
Intercultural Communication: Think about how communication is different when you’re in a different cultural environment. How do people communicate in your host country, and how does that differ from what you’re used to?
- Learn about High Context vs. Low Context communication in this short video.
Dimensions of Culture: Part of your research into your host culture should be taking a moment to check out Geert Hoftstede’s interactive website. Type in your host country and your home country and you’ll see a graph. Click on “Read More About Chosen Countries” to learn what this means, and how your host culture compares to your home culture.
How to Get Involved: Another thing to think of is how you will engage with your host community while you’re there. Are there clubs at your host university you can join? What are some ways past participants of the program met local students and made friends that aren’t studying abroad from a US university? Are there internship or service learning opportunities? This is something onsite staff typically will help you with while you’re abroad, but it’s important to start thinking about it now.
How and where we spend our money can demonstrate what is most important to us. Like most people, you likely don’t have an unlimited amount to spend during your program. Before you leave, research which (if any) independent trips you would like to take and make a budget for this. Additionally, research the cost of living in your host community to determine how much daily spending money you will need.
One of the best ways to prepare for engaging with your host community is studying the language. If you’ve never studied the language before, if the language spoken in your host country is available on Duolingo (free app/website) start learning some basics on Duolingo before you go! Search online for basic phrases and things you should know how to say before you arrive. And if you have the opportunity to sign up for a language class while you’re there, take it! It will be a rewarding challenge to put in the time and effort to try to communicate with those around you while abroad.