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How to prepare for studying abroad in 5 months or less

(photo by: gotimetraining.com)

I know that right now all you can think about is finals and the sleep that you’ll finally be able to catch up on once the semester’s over. But before you get ready for a summer fun & snooze fest, you need to make sure that you’re fully prepared for your study abroad this fall. Let’s take a look at how to prepare for studying abroad in 5 months or less:

 

5 Months to Go

Foreign Language –Language skills can slip away during the summer. Sign up for a foreign language class during the summer at a local cultural center (for French this would be Alliance Française) or at your university. A bonus for taking a class at your college is it can count towards a general elective requirement or foreign language major/minor. It’s a little more out of pocket now could save on tuition money when you return (1 less class to take) and will help keep your language skills up to speed.

Culture- Start following the news of the host country for a few minutes per day. The Yahoo! News App covers the news for practically every country and the articles are in the host language- an excellent way to practice. Want to be hard-core? Download the news app for a popular newspaper of the host country.

Living abroad – It’s never too late to start saving money. Save your summer job money for your time abroad. Wanna travel while abroad? Write down your travel / sight-seeing goals to help determine how much money needs to be in your account to make it happen. Don’t forget to start applying for your student visa!

University Life – Before the end of the semester go to your university’s study abroad office and ask about the host college (How are classes organized? How many hours is each class? How will your grades be earned?). Also ask for a previous student’s contact info for your host country to see if you can reach out to them for additional info.

4 Months to Go

 Foreign Language – Keep up the hard work in the language class. Not able to take a class at your university? Try a private tutor and/or weekly language exchanges via Skype. You can find students looking to practice foreign languages on mylanguageexchange.com. Do this at least 1x/week for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

Culture- Keep following the news daily and start to watch news clips online. This will not only help you to improve linguistic skills but will also help you to see which issues are important to the host culture and how they handle them which creates and understanding and awareness of the host culture.

Living abroad: Create a monthly expenses budget and travel budget- they must be separate! Make sure you’re saving enough money to cover these things. If not, try these 6 creative ways to fund studying abroad (link to SU article). You also need to start preparing for life alone by doing things alone –eating, going to the movies, and dealing with a bad day.

University Life – Contact that former study abroad student if you can and read up on study abroad blogs for your country. Research the host university atmosphere and familiarize yourself with its website.

3 Months to Go

Foreign Language – Increase weekly language exchanges with native student speakers from mylanguageexchange.com or tutoring sessions. If taking a class, participate to the maximum.

Culture- Continue to read/watch host country news daily. For fun, watch host country films and ask about current culture from language exchanges, tutor and/or classes.

Living abroad – Continue with student visa process and getting used to life on your own. You should also start practicing for living on a budget by creating and following one.

University Life – Continue to read up on study abroad blogs for your host country. Do you have your host country’s program director’s email? If so, contact them to find out what college is like overseas. Don’t have it? Ask your American university program for this info.

2 Months to Go

Foreign Language- Maintain the increased weekly language exchanges with native speakers, tutoring and/or classes interaction. You need to be living and breathing the foreign language.

Culture –Same as previous month. Also start to research host country customs, mannerisms and public appearance. Start to look and act the part so that it is 2nd nature when you arrive abroad.

Living abroad –– Finish student visa process, continue getting used to life on your own, continue living on monthly budget, do one new thing a day to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

University Life – Take advantage of back to school sales and buy 1 packet of pens/pencils and a few notebooks. They are much easier and cheaper to get at home.

1 Month to Go

Foreign Language – Keep up the pace! You’ll need those skills starting your first day abroad.

Culture – Continue to keep up on current news and asking culture questions as well as practicing the mannerisms/dress of the host culture.

Living abroad – Set up banking arrangement so that you have debit and credit for overseas use; upgrade cell phone plan for international use; buy adapter for electronic devices; set up communication plan with family.

University Life- Re-familiarize yourself with the host college website and campus via maps, photos, and videos if possible.

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Have you gone to all your university study abroad meetings but still have questions? Answer all of your questions about what the experience of living and going to college abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa this summer? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris. Don’t have a Kindle? Download the free Kindle App to your iPad, your phone or any other e-reader device.

  
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My Study Abroad Hero

(Wolverine is a typical comic book hero but he’s not the only kind. Photo by: http://www.bang2write.com)

The word “hero” is very popular in American culture. So much so that I feel it gets overused for scenarios that do not qualify as heroic behavior based upon the definition. I located the below, satisfactory Google definition of hero. Essentially it is someone who is brave and showed courage.

hero definition

Now typically when you think of study abroad you don’t think of anyone being a hero. But there is someone who has showed courage, bravery, and relentless persistence in the face of numerous adversities abroad- if that’s not being a hero, I don’t know what is. A study abroad hero may seem unnecessary but I can tell you when I was at my low point during studying abroad, I could have used a hero; a source of inspiration to know that I wasn’t alone and that someone had gone through worse and stuck it out. She’s a few years too late for my study abroad but she is just in time for yours. Chelsea Fairless- you are my study abroad hero.

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When Chelsea first contacted me a few months ago about being a guest blogger, I had no idea what her story entailed other than she was a student in Geneva. Like you, I have come to learn of Chelsea’s story through her weekly posts and on her blog Parole Passport. One nightmare au pair family situation after another would have sent most students packing and swearing off living abroad ever again. Not Chelsea. She had a goal to live abroad, to discover a new her and a new culture, to improve her French skills and nothing was going to convince her to give up her dream.

Reading Chelsea’s posts each week summon in me 2 opposing feelings. The first is one of admiration. The second is one of jealously. I admire Chelsea for her determination, her optimism, her ability to keep going despite difficult living arrangements. I’m a firm believer that home is where the heart is and when you can’t even feel like you have a home, this can be so depressing. And this is where the (healthy) jealousy kicks in. I allowed the lack of home feeling due to an unforeseen host family situation (along with no cultural preparation and lack of linguistic skills) make me want to come home. What kept me abroad wasn’t my determination or optimism- it was my fear of having to tell Tatie that I wanted to go home before the end of the year. That was the initial reason why I stayed the year in Paris. The final reason came about a month later when I realized how much I had learned about French culture and how much my language had improved despite being in a homesick, depressive funk. Although I finally came out of my funk, it would have been nice to have a hero to look to for inspiration during that time. But thankfully for you, that source of inspiration is out there.

If you’re studying abroad and missing home or thinking that things may be too much and you need a reason to keep going, just look to Chelsea- your study abroad hero.

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Have you gone to all your university study abroad meetings but still have questions? Answer all of your questions about what the experience of living and going to college abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa this summer? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris. Don’t have a Kindle? Download the free Kindle App to your iPad or any other e-reader device.

  

Twenty in Paris Approved Study Abroad Blogs

Bon weekend à tous. If this trend of awesome study abroad blogs continue (which I hope it does), I plan to make this a weekly feature! This week’s study abroad blogs that have earned the official Twenty in Paris seal of approval are:

 san diego

Blog name: De San Diego à Paris

URL: http://desandiegoaparis.blogspot.com/

Who: Laura Neuzeth

What: Laura is a California girl with a passion for French who studies abroad in the City of Light for an academic year. Her blog also includes video updates in addition to written posts where she talks about French university system, her own personal observations about French culture, a trip to Disney Euro and much, much more. Laura was in France in 2012 but the information she provides is still current.

 

octopus

Blog name: Octopus Traveling

URL: http://polpoviaggio.tumblr.com/

Who: Vittoria

What: Vittoria is a Texan Christian University Journalism student who is also minoring in Italian. She is currently studying abroad in Genova, Italy. In addition to having my favorite animal as the title of her blog, she has candid posts on the differences between Italian and American culture and how being abroad makes her reflect on what she always viewed as normal. This blog is a great asset not only to students  interested in Italy but also in general study abroad. Ms. Vittoria’s observations are oh-so true, light and show you how studying abroad redefines your views on everything you thought you knew.

 

local

 

Blog name: The Local

URL: http://www.thelocal.fr/

Who: France Edition

What: I am always say that you should read the news of your host country in its native language (if applicable) before going abroad to familiarize yourself with the current culture. While I still stick to that philosophy, I know that right now is finals time and that everyone’s brain could use a break. So here is a blog that shares the news about multiple host countries (France, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) in English. And when I say news, it’s not dry politics- it’s fun, quirky fun stories. My favorite for this week from the France edition of The Local is What the French Find Weird About Americans. These posts really give you great insight into the host culture from natives and expats living abroad who have discovered many aspects about the host culture that you can prepare for in advance.

 

scout

Blog name: Study Abroad Scout

URL:http://www.studyabroadscout.com/blog

Who: N/A

What: I came across this blog thanks to an article titled Unspoken Rules in Study Abroad. This blog has student bloggers in addition to the website masters who write about about studying abroad tips on every continent in addition to rating study abroad programs, providing information on numerous destinations and even giving info for scholarships.

 

SGG

Blog name: Students Gone Global

URL: http://studentsgoneglobal.com/

Who: N/A

What: Students Gone Global is a community blogging site where students from every (Anglophone) country who are studying abroad in almost every country share their story on practically every topic to being sick abroad and having to go to the doctor, not being able to find school supplies so easily abroad, traveling, sight seeing, classes, home life and much, much more. This is a very interactive site and one of my favorite aspects of the SGG community. It’s free to join and be a part of.

 

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Have you only been told about all the great things you are going to do abroad but aren’t quite buying? Are you someone who is looking for the truth? Answer all of your questions about what the experience of living and going to college abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris. Don’t have a Kindle? Download the free Kindle App to your iPad or any other e-reader device.

  
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I Like College but Love Study Abroad

(This is the closet thing I could find to someone saying I LOVE college. Photo by: www.communicatingideas.com)

On Twitter yesterday, I came across a university study abroad office tweet that said “What do you LOVE about #studyabroad?” with love written just like that in capital letters. Now as a former study abroad student whose sole mission is to debunk this romantic, perfection fantasy of studying abroad, this really flipped my noodle. That tweet got me thinking that maybe at 5 o’clock in the morning without any breakfast yet I may be a little cranky and overreacting. So I looked at a few universities’ general Twitter accounts to see if I could find something familiar. Guess what? I couldn’t find one that said “What do you LOVE about #college?”. So why was my proverbial noodle flipped?

Because I was once sold on this dream that studying abroad somehow transcends normal life and is a picture perfect experience and this university was trying to sell it to unsuspecting students. If you’re new to the Twenty in Paris blog/ books, I was super disappointed how the Paris study abroad experience was not magical but rather filled with real life ups and downs heightened by cultural differences and language ineptitude. Anyhoo, here is a university whose study abroad professionals are promoting a myth when they know better! Studying abroad is a more challenging version, not an easier one, of college. It tests you in ways that college in your home country has never challenged you before. Now this does not mean to say that studying abroad is not a rewarding experience whose benefits, I feel, far outweigh the challenge. Just simply means that like going to college in your home country, it is complex with the added bonus of a foreign school system, country, language, and living arrangement all while being away from your loved ones. Sounds easy enough, right?

So why isn’t college marketed this way? How come colleges aren’t tweeting about how much you’ll LOVE their university? Why is that you’ll like college but love study abroad? When I was in high school, I knew that college was not easy- that there are things like papers (lots of them), mid-terms and finals, presentations, internships, staying up late, crazy tuition costs, high student loans, etc… Was I or other high school students deterred from going to college? Nooooo. And why? I believe it is because we knew that the hard work that is college will give us a better edge with employers to get a job one day. We were provided a realistic picture of college but also advised of its benefits and determined that the pros outweighed the cons.

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(Example of study abroad marketing- doubt you’ll see the whole experience covered. Photo by: passport.gwu.edu)

So why don’t we do this with studying abroad? I started thinking that maybe college is not portrayed as this dream experience because many of us know at least 1 person, often in our family, who went and told us all about it so no one would buy that college is a perfect dream experience. But how many of you know someone who studied abroad? I was the first and only person in my family/friends and the same may be true for many students. So in that respect, it’s easier to sell the study abroad dream because who is going to refute it?

Studying abroad is like an adventure- personal/spiritual as well as cultural. If you budget correctly, you can travel around the host country and to neighboring countries; you can see historical sites, world class museums; expand your palette and improve your linguistic skills; and discover who you are. It is with studying abroad where you will really find out what are your strengths and weaknesses; what you can and cannot do (you’ll be surprised at how much you can do); how you have to be self-reliant and independent. These are all wonderful things but to disregard their accompanying challenging aspects will only be a disservice to you.

Don’t get me wrong- your university study abroad office is doing a great job and they are there for you as they want you to succeed. But I put each student and study abroad advisor up to this test- every time study abroad is mentioned, count how many times the idea / romantic notion of study abroad is hinted at or out-right said versus how many times the challenging aspects and how to deal with them abroad is mentioned. If you hear/ observe that the trials of living and studying abroad are not being discussed, bring them up! The only way to know how to prepare for them is to identify the challenges and talk about how to get past them. And then maybe, just maybe, you’ll like studying abroad just like you like college.

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Have you only been told about all the great things you are going to do abroad but aren’t quite buying? Are you someone who is looking for the truth? Answer all of your questions about what the experience of living and going to college abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris.