My parent’s told me as long as I had good grades, they would financially support me through college. Therefore, I chose where I went to school, what my major would be and everything I did. The best part about what my parents had told me, was that it was so vague. So as part of our agreement, I researched, prepped and spent the spring of my junior year in Sydney, Australia.
My sister had studied abroad the year before I had in Capetown, South Africa with a couple of close friends. I’d like to say she was a great resource for my study abroad experience, but truthfully, I did a lot of work on my own. I’m going to share with you the steps I took to make studying abroad a reality.
Where do I want to go?
I went to Colorado State University, so they had a lot of options for studying abroad, but I knew I wanted to go to Australia, and likely stay near Sydney. I did this because I wanted to get a great cultural experience, but I also wanted to choose a good university where I could take courses that applied to my major (it also helped that English was their primary language).
The best way to go about this was to look on my college’s website and see what countries they were affiliated with (the bigger the university, the more options there are). Many schools usually have an office for studying abroad which I visited frequently. I started my research online and then made my way to the office once I knew what part of Australia I wanted to go to. That way I could move to the next step, which is figuring out a program.
Choosing a program
A friend in one of my classes was studying abroad from Sydney. He joked about me attending his university, but in the end, it turned out to be the one that was perfect for my study abroad needs. The university was 20 minutes outside the city and had classes that would apply to my degree. It was called Macquarie (Mah-core-ee) University and was located in North Ryde. I looked into a few different programs my school supported, but in the end chose to go through an affiliate called GlobaLinks. They were the best decision I could’ve made: great reviews, organized website and they had checklists for my trip that I could refer back to!
I took measures to ensure the classes I was interested in would transfer back either as elective credits or ones that would apply to my major. I met with my adviser with twice the amount of credits in a semester for a full time student (each class will differ in credits) so that I would have options when it came to registration and made sure all those courses would transfer back. In order for anything to transfer over, I had to get a grade of a C or higher. To be a full-time student, I had to take at least 12 credits, even abroad. I took exactly this many credits so that I would be full-time, but wouldn’t overload myself with school work.
The biggest thing people don’t know about getting a passport is that it takes months to be issued one. The easiest part is filling out the paperwork and getting your picture taken. From there it needs to go through all sorts of background checks and processes before it will be approved, issued and mailed out. I went into the clerks office in my home town with my mom and we got ours together about eight months before my trip. Once I had my passport issued, I could apply for my student visa.
Most countries will require a visa stating residency status and what you’re there for. I can’t quite recall how long the application was, but I gave myself an uninterrupted 2 hours just in case. I would only be there for a semester, so my residency was 4-6 months. After that time period, the Australian government had the right to tax me, strip me of my rights, and ship me back to the States. Something best avoided. The program I chose prepared me well for my trip and how to plan, so really at this point I was just making my way down a checklist.
International Student Identification Card (ISIC)
My program made this a requirement for me to have. It offered discounts for transportation, tours, travel insurance and many other things. You can look into more detail on ISIC’s website. Essentially this was my ID card while I traveled. It had medical, emergency and basic information about me in case something were to happen. It was essentially an extra precaution, but not a bad idea.
Not every country will require travel insurance but many will. I probably invested in this just because of all the perks it had to offer. Plus, I was traveling solo internationally, so I took many precautions. Travel insurance covers many areas: theft, medical needs, etc. Australia also required me to have international medical coverage, which I purchased through my program.
I don’t have any specific reason why I chose Sydney, I just knew I had to go to Australia, it was in my gut. But I didn’t know anything about Australia, other than the fact that they have the most deadliest animals in the world hiding out in the Outback. Therefore, I took the time to research the geography, the culture and the places of interest I’d want to see. I looked online a lot, but I also reached out to my friend to ask him all the questions I couldn’t find online: what’s the nightlife like? what’s the hot spot around campus? what are some laws I’ll need to know? is there a medical center on campus? That way, I could prepare myself through reading articles and such as well as have that second hand source with the dirt on what college life was really like there.
Some things that I had to look into was: currency, public transportation, language, and appearance. Many people will witness “culture shock” and find themselves in a mild panic. The first 3 days of my trip were already planned though my program, which included cultural classes, so I knew that even if I felt unprepared, I would still learn more once I was there.
Look into what your school or the program you chose may have for offering in international study aid. I had a few friends who had some sort of scholarship while there; even a couple hundred or thousand will go a long ways!
Once I was familiar with the currency and exchange rate, I was able to calculate how much money I would need on my journey and during my stay. I looked into credit card companies and researched which would exchange my current countries’ currency over to Australian dollars at a low rate. Eventually, I found a card through the help of my bank at home and set it so I could access my account as well as allow my parents to transfer me funds. I found this article to be very helpful, especially if you are looking for something soon-ish: 11 Top Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees for 2017.
I had to keep in mind all of the expenses I would have along the way too, like: airport fees (baggage), meals, drinks etc. Everywhere I read said to always carry CASH, since many of the ATM’s will charge a fee to withdraw money, and the U.S. dollar is commonly accepted around the world, especially in international airports. However, if this was not the case, I would still have my credit card. If I was running low on the local currency, I would ask if they accepted U.S. dollars and the answer was almost always yes. Besides, half of my journey was in the U.S. getting from Denver to L.A., so I would need those U.S. dollars anyways. If I didn’t use all that cash, I would also have some upon my return.
Before I left, I had to be sure to notify my bank that I was leaving the country. This way, they would know where I was and could accurately file fraud claims on my account. They asked me where I would be flying to and from and the dates so they knew when I would be back.
Since I was leaving half way through my junior year, I needed to let my landlord know that I was planning on leaving. This gave me access to sign over my lease with either a small fee or none at all. I had 3 roommates, and I had to collaborate with all of them before I left. When we decided to be roommates that fall, I already knew I’d be leaving in February of the following year, so they had plenty of time to find a replacement for my room. Since I was staying half the year too, this meant I got last dibs on bedrooms, which was fine since I would only be there 5 months anyway. I was sure to make my room squeaky clean and get my deposit back before my flight. I would be wanting that $400 on my trip (skydiving here we come)!
Meet all medical needs
I looked up all the vaccinations I would need before leaving. This needs to be done months in advance because it can take months for vaccinations to take effect. I was sure to meet with my doctor so I could stock up on prescriptions so I had them all on hand as well as get a physical, since my program required me to send my medical records. I also had to make sure I had enough contacts and some spares, and saved my glasses for the long flight so I wouldn’t dry my eyes out.
Book your flight(s)
I booked a one-way flight out to Australia. The flights were expensive either way, so I decided to just do the one-way and see where I was at later on. This worked out in my favor, since I ended my study abroad experience on vacation in Bali, Indonesia and flew back to the States from there (which was $400 cheaper than Sydney). I did my research and got the most competitive price between these sites: Expedia, Travelocity , Skyscanner and Travel Zoo.
I had the option to purchase an international plan on my phone, but I knew that would be extremely expensive and I could just get a basic phone when I got there to contact local people. I knew there would be Wi-Fi (which was invented in Australia, I’ll have you know) at my apartment and on campus, so I could skype my family. When I got there, I purchased a basic phone for about $50 and used it for calling and messaging my friends for $20/month. I used my Kindle Fire, iPhone and laptop for any internet needs. I had to let my carrier know that I was traveling abroad, so I wouldn’t be charged extra fees, but also so I would know how to turn off my cellular data and roaming and have them freeze my number on my account.
This is a huge thing I needed to look into! The U.S. believes in making a lot of things their own (the metric system in schools, American Football, ‘Fall’ instead of Autumn, etc.) including outlets and voltage. I went out and bought a Universal Travel Adapter. I had to look up the difference between an adapter and converter (an adapter is just a change of plug type and the converter changes the voltage) after I broke my adapter when I plugged in a hair straightener.
Double check everything
That week I was constantly checking online to make sure I had my ticket and the right time for my flight. I made sure I sent everything off that I needed to (medical insurance, transcripts, checks etc.) and made hard and digital copies of everything, just in case. I checked my luggage a hundred times, I was so excited to leave!
I was leaving for a semester, so I needed enough clothes and shoes to get me through that time span. It was summer transitioning to autumn when I would be there. I was sure to back clothes for the beach, for school, the club and professional clothing for presentations or what-not.
Australian cosmetics were outrageously expensive, and I was so grateful I packed all of mine generously. About halfway through the semester, I had my mom send me a care package of mascara and tampons because it was nearly $18 (Australian dollars) for a box of 12 tampons. I was sure to pack everything as a travel size on my way out and keep it in my carry on in case something happened with my check bag. This way I could go to the airport bathroom and brush my teeth or wash my face or change outfits. The flight from L.A. to Sydney was 14 hours, so I was going to need some time to freshen up with only my backpack at the ready.
Finally, I was ready to take off! I made sure to keep my wallet, passport and phone in a safe location with easy access to get you through security quickly. I dressed comfortably and brought entertainment for during the flight: a book, tablet, neck pillow for sleeping etc. My flight was a red-eye, so I planned on sleeping, but should’ve taken something to help me (Tylonol or Advil P.M.). I watched several movies and slept for maybe a total of 4 of the 14 hours sleeping because I was just too excited (and there’s an 18 hour time difference). The worst was over, now I just had to anticipate my semester.
Related Reading: Groupon Travel: Pros and Cons