Most students find studying abroad an invaluable experience, and there is no reason for it not to be safe, easy and fun. However, a few problems are inevitable. To prevent these from becoming full-blown emergencies, plan for them as early as possible. Get problems like health insurance and finances under control from the start, and you’ll be free to enjoy your time abroad to the full.
Accidents can happen to the most prudent traveller, and, of course, anyone can get ill. Some illnesses, like ear infections, aren’t dangerous but will knock you out until you can get medical attention. Make sure all your potential healthcare needs, including dentistry, are provided for before you go. In the European Economic Area (EEU), you will need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). In other countries, things can be more complicated, so make sure you research the healthcare system thoroughly before you go.
Remember that even buying over-the-counter medications will be more complicated in an unfamiliar city, particularly if you don’t speak the language well. Pack a basic medicine kit – antiseptic cream, painkillers and travel sickness tablets might all come in handy. And if you have a medical condition, ensure a supply of the medication you need, taking enough with you to last the length of your trip if possible.
Navigating a new city can also be complicated at first. A little forethought can help stop complications from turning into emergencies. Before travelling abroad, study and pre-book each leg of your journey. Find a map of your daily commute and learn useful places and important landmarks. During your hectic first few days, knowing the layout of the city will make things that much easier.
You will need to know your way around your new academic department as well as your way around the city. Establish contact with key academics and administrators before you set off, and make them your first port of call when you arrive at your new university. This will both allow you to make sure that everything is in order, and establish you as organised and proactive, making it easier for you to ask for help later on.
Finally, plan your finances carefully, as running out of money can be the worst crisis of all. Savings from a summer job or floats from parents are helpful, but unavailable to many. Grants and loans, be it Erasmus funding or private sponsorship, are also available – search around to get as much help as possible. However, most important is to efficiently use the funds you have. Draw up a monthly budget, anticipate any one-off expenses, such as housing deposits and textbooks, and try to leave a safety margin. Precautions such as a bank account with planned overdraft can also help prevent money worries from becoming disasters.
A year abroad should be about new experiences, and about fun. Forcing yourself to focus on administration, finances and health can be difficult, but the better-prepared you are, the more quickly and easily you can solve problems abroad, and get back to enjoying student life in a new place.
Useful Links European Immigration and Visas
European Postgraduate Study
Postgrad Study In America
Studying Abroad: Making Contacts Before You Move