Trevlig Resa! / God Rejsa!: Bon Voyage!
This is part two of my summer study abroad series! Follow along this summer as I post about my travels in Sweden and Denmark while I study in Stockholm and Copenhagen through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS).
Once you’ve completed the hardest part of studying abroad -- deciding where you want to go -- you get to focus on the next part: actually getting there. Sure, applying to programs and waiting for decisions is often intimidating, but once you get in, there’s the matter of booking your plane ticket, smoothing out the details of your study abroad with relevant offices at your home school, signing waivers, and sometimes even applying for a visa. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are some things that most students check off their to-do list before getting on a plane and starting their program:
Applying for a visa. This should be the first priority on your list because this process can often be extensive and require gathering the proper documentation together before it can be done. For my summer program, since it is only a short program and I will be out of the Schengen area within 90 days, I don’t need to apply for a student visa. However, for semester and year long programs, you almost certainly will need to apply for a visa in order to study abroad. Barnard’s office will help you, but you should still get all your ducks in a row so the process is as efficient as possible.
Booking your plane ticket. Buying as soon as you’ve confirmed that you’re going abroad (i.e., getting into the program and submitting your deposit) is definitely the way to go, especially because your program and Barnard will want to know your flight details and you will probably get a cheaper price the earlier you book. You can book a round-trip ticket, but if you’re going to be staying for an entire semester or you’re departing from a different city like I am this summer, you can also buy one-way tickets.
Talking to your advisor/the registrar/etc. I personally believe any opportunity to go abroad is worthwhile, but obviously, if you’re taking classes abroad, you’re going to want to know that you’ll receive credit for them once you come back. In order to confirm this, you should talk to the Registrar or to the Dean of Studies to confirm if your classes will receive credit and/or fulfill any curriculum requirements. To see if your classes will fulfill major requirements, you should definitely talk to your advisor.
Signing waivers and registering your travel with Barnard. Like I said, Barnard will help you as much as they can with making sure you have all the important information you will need before and during your study abroad, including having you sign some waivers and familiarizing you with the International SOS tracker Columbia students and faculty use while abroad. They will also give you a lot of useful information about the countries you’re visiting, such as vaccinations you may need before going abroad, higher risk areas of the country, and things to be vigilant about as a foreigner. They will send you all the information in a concise two or three page document -- they definitely save you hours upon hours of Googling your destination!
Getting acquainted with your new temporary home. Read all about your destination! What’s the weather like when you’ll be there? What are the must-see attractions? How do the locals get around town? What is the national cuisine like? These are all things you should familiarize yourself with before you arrive. Culture shock will happen regardless of how many articles you read (more on that in next week’s post!), but knowing what to expect will definitely help you ease in a little more.
Emotionally preparing yourself for leaving home. Studying abroad is a great experience to have had, but of course, there are some downsides to it as well. The one most people --myself included -- find hardest to deal with is leaving your friends and family back home. Spend as much time as you can with your loved ones before you go abroad. And of course, be sure to keep in touch while you’re away! In the age of social media, you can share your experiences and plenty of photos with all the important people in your life, but keeping in touch through texting and phone calls is also a nice way to keep them close even when you’re far away.
Printing/photocopying relevant materials. Do you have a photocopy of your passport? Do you know where the consulate/embassy is in your destination country? Do you know the address of the place where you will be staying? All of these details are extremely important to know before you get on the plane. Much better to stress a little about it at your desk than to freak out in the middle of a country where you don’t know the local language! My suggestion is you make a word document with all the relevant addresses and phone numbers you may need and keep a copy in your suitcase as well as a copy on your person for your flight.
Navigating the airport alone. For many people, this part is not a big deal, but at the same time, it’s completely not uncommon to have your first time on a big international flight alone be when you’re studying abroad. I would put myself in the camp of being a fairly well-traveled person, but getting on the plane to come to Sweden was definitely a big deal and I was freaking out the entire way here! It’s completely normal and understandable.
Stay calm at the airport. You don’t need to be scared of planes or heights to get anxiety about being in an airport. Some of my best tips for reducing your anxiety include getting to the airport laughably early — your parents (I’m looking at you, Dad) might make fun of you for doing so, but waiting an extra hour by your gate certainly beats missing your flight due to long security lines! — and getting something to eat or drink at the airport before the plane takes off. Drinking a cup of tea (or coffee, if you’re like me and caffeine actually puts you at ease) can help calm you down and soothe you as you wait. If you’re not too anxious to eat, eating is also a good idea: if you’re full, you may fall asleep on the plane (great idea for killing time on a transatlantic flight!) and United Airlines isn’t exactly known for their gourmet cuisine. If you didn’t bring a book and want to read on the plane, you could also get a magazine or a book in the airport before your flight.
Prepare to have a great time! Whether you’re someone who always goes with the flow or prepares a list with dozens upon dozens of things to do in your new home (me), allow yourself to relax and enjoy! It’s alright to have expectations for what you’ll get out of your time abroad, but realize that things never work out quite how we expect them to--and that’s the beauty of life!
In my next post, I will be writing about the new cultural experiences I’ve encountered here in Sweden, everything from fika and lagom to Swedish 7-Elevens and Scandinavian summers. Hej då! Until next time!
Want to read more about my study abroad adventures? Check out my first post, Summer Study Abroad: Oh, the Places You Could Go!