Nobody can prepare you for the excitement, nerves, anticipation and fantastic experience of a year abroad. However, we can help with the practicalities. We have broken it down into simple titles, highlighting the most important things to remember. So read ahead for advice on how to prepare for your year abroad adventure.
The first practicality: sort out your health. Take a health check with your local doctor before you leave. Get enough medication to cover your time abroad or ask for a letter from you doctor that outlines your medical needs. It will make everything a lot easier in the end. Whatever you can do in advance to help your future year-abroad-self, do it.
Insurance is another necessity of moving to another country. You no longer have the security of your national health plan. So look into the requirements of your destination. UK students moving to Europe have fewer worries, just remember your EHIC card. However, for serious injuries, you might need insurance, so it is best to take some out just in case. Moving to another continent, taking out health care is more important. You will probably need private coverage for the whole time you are abroad. Remember: standard plans usually do not include dangerous activities like skiing, diving or extreme sports. So take out an extra insurance on your more adventurous days.
Student Money Saver has an excellent guide to student insurance, helping you catch common insurance mistakes before you even make them!
Are you staying in university accommodation or private? This is the main question when considering your existing plans. Imagining your room or flat for the year is one of the most exciting parts of planning. So make sure you find the best deal you can by researching early.
Not all universities in Europe offer student accommodation, and many students find their own local room. In North America, living on campus is a quintessential college experience you might not want to miss. Some people stay in a hostel for the first few weeks looking for a place to live, so that they can see their new home in person. Others confirm it before they leave, so they have somewhere to live immediately when they arrive. It’s up to you.
This is a big one - however prepared you are you cannot do anything without a passport. So make sure you have many little pictures of yourself, a photocopy of all your documents and, of course, an up-to-date passport. Remember: some countries only accept passports with at least six months left before their expiration date.
Visa applications can be a long and tedious process in many countries, especially those with strict border controls. You will need to send off numerous identity, academic and financial documents. If there is a problem, you might even need to go to the embassy in your home country. So give yourself plenty of time to reduce the stress of this experience.
Check out the GOV UK website for all your passport needs!
Depending on your perspective, years abroad can be either surprisingly cheap or surprisingly expensive. The UK is not exactly the cheapest country to live as a student. Going somewhere like Spain or Germany can be a pleasant surprise – where student life is much less expensive. However, the initial expenses and the lure of travel in a new country can really bulk up your budget.
There are some ways round added expenses. For a start, research any grants or scholarships for which you might be eligible. Erasmus offers great bursaries, giving you a set budget a month. Other programmes might cover your travel costs, or it is possible to get a grant from student finance. It is definitely worth a research.
What currency do you need? What is the exchange rate? Does my bank have a good overseas system? Should I set up a local account abroad? These are all important financial questions you should be asking before you leave. Speak to your university study abroad office for advice – that is why they are there.
The fun stuff!
Once practicalities are out the way, there are only good things left. So buy a notebook to record your adventures. Charge your camera to capture the best moments. Pack your hiking boots to explore the local landscape. Set up your Skype to keep in contact with home. This preparation is just as important.
Research from 2015 showed that nearly 30,000 students study internationally every year. The same survey reveals that a third of students are interested in taking a year abroad. What is there not to be interested in? A different culture, new exciting friends, exceptional experiences, a fresh university, new languages, customs, and landscapes - a year abroad really is the experience of a lifetime. So enjoy it!