Tips for a Semester Abroad
I feel now that I have completed my studies here in Santiago, Chile I can provide some tips to those of you who are about to embark on your own study abroad adventures. These are pretty broad tips and don’t just have to do with Chile so hopefully they will help you have a good time with as little stress as possible. Sidenote: These are in no particular order of importance.
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1. If you can help it do not take a full course load.
Let’s be honest shall we? No one studies abroad solely to study. If they did that, they would just stay at their own school and not waste money seeing the beauty of different cultures. Remember that every university is different and universities in other countries are EXTREMELY different from the university you currently attend. They often have different ways of grading, different assignments, different layouts, different ways to sign up for classes and that doesn’t even involve the possible language barrier. I took a full course load here because it’s my fourth year and I wanted to graduate the following semester but if I could go back I think I would change that so that I would have more free time to explore.
2. If you can help it try to study abroad in your second or third year rather than your fourth year.
Now I’m not saying that if you’re going into your fourth year you shouldn’t study abroad. I studied abroad in my fourth year and it was amazing. Really I did it because it was my last chance to do so so I jumped at the opportunity. However if you’re currently in first or second year and thinking of studying abroad try to do it earlier so that you don’t have to worry about taking as many courses and you can take some electives while abroad rather than having to worry about graduating etc.
3. Don’t stay in one place.
Obviously you are already following this suggestion by going to study abroad (YAY!) but what I mean is, don’t just stay in the city you are studying in. Go on weekend trips. Lots of weekend trips. While studying in Santiago, Chile I also managed to go to the Atacama desert, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, Con-Con, Pucon, Punta Arenas, Peru and Argentina. Travelling around the city/country you choose to study in is going to be cheaper than it will ever be in your life because you’re already there! Make the most of it.
4. That being said, plan classes wisely.
Even though I took a full course load I managed to plan my course schedule so that I didn’t have classes on Fridays. That way every weekend was a long weekend. Turns out lots of the friends I made while studying abroad had done the same thing so we went on weekend trips together!
5. Live like a local.
There are many ways to do this. One would be to live with locals. You can do this by renting a room from a family (this is what I did) or looking to rent a room in an apartment with locals for roommates. You do have to be careful about scams online but if you find a website that seems reliable you can always email or talk to the consulate (who you will probably have to meet up with to get a student visa) and ask them if they know anything about it. If you’re going to Chile I would recommend Contact Chile. (Google it). Another way to live like a local is to make friends with locals. This can be difficult sometimes especially if you’re starting school part way through the school year, but do it because you won’t be sorry. Also Tripr. Tripr is an app kind of like Tinder except it’s less for hooking up and more for travelers to connect with locals and vice versa.
6. That brings us to cell phones. Get your cell phone unlocked while you’re home!
If you want to have a functioning cell phone while you’re abroad take it in to a place in your hometown where they unlock cell phones. Basically what this means is they disconnect it from your carrier so that when you go abroad you just take out your SIM card and buy a new SIM card when you get there. I found this to be really simple and easy… until I lost my cell phone in Patagonia… but that’s besides the point. Sidenote: If you’re in the United States and you have a cell phone with Sprint, you will need to take your phone to Sprint to get it unlocked. Most other carriers are easier to unlock.
7. Plan your Student Visa process well in advance.
I wish I had planned my time more carefully when it came to this. Each country requires different things for your student visa and in some cases you may not even need a visa (depends on which country, for how long you’re staying etc.). As soon as you get accepted to study abroad find out whether or not you need a Student Visa. I needed one and I had to travel to a different city (5 hour drive from me) twice to go to different doctor’s appointments and to get certain documents. Plus some documents can take up to 6 weeks to process. It can be a nightmare (in fact I received my Student Visa the day before I left = super stressful) so get started early.
8. When planning weekend trips stay in hostels!
Hostels are one of my favorite parts about traveling. You get to meet people from all over the world and you all already have a common interest – traveling! Plus it’s cheap and sometimes breakfast is even included. The website I like to use is www.hostelworld.com because after you visit a hostel you can rate it and also see what other people have rated it as well as read reviews and be able to compare prices of multiple hostels on one website.
9. Learn the language!
I can’t believe I didn’t mention this sooner. Even if when you get to the country and you are taking all your classes in your mother tongue, try to learn as much of the language as possible. Before leaving I would suggest looking up how to say common phrases such as “hello, goodbye, please, thank you, where is the bathroom, one beer please” etc. The more you speak the language the more people will appreciate you trying AND the less likely you will get ripped off when shopping. “When you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. When you speak to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela.
10. Journal or blog.
Writing in both a journal and blog are good for different reasons. I keep a journal for thoughts and stories I’d rather not share online as well as to glue in different mementos from my trip (airplane tickets, movie stubs etc.). I also draw and paint in it. Your journal will probably end up being better than any souvenir you bring home because you will have recorded memories in it and going back and reading it in the future will be amazing. My blog has been mostly so that family and friends and whoever else can follow my travels and adventures. It lets people who love you know what you’re up to and how you’re doing. It also is a good way to just practice writing and to connect with other travelers.
11. Try new things.
This one is kind of a no-brainer. You’re in a new place and it can be intimidating at first but let go of fear and try new things! This means food, drinks and activities. For example while here in South America I have eaten alpaca in the Atacama desert and guinea pig in Peru. (Pssssttt the alpaca tastes way better than the guinea pig). I also went sand boarding for the first time and got a new tattoo! Try to do as many new things as possible. You’re in a different country so there are going to be so many opportunities for you to do new things.
12. Be safe.
While trying new things, don’t be stupid. If you want to go sky diving or bungee jumping check websites like Trip Advisor and make sure the agency you are going with is reliable and safe. If you want to get a tattoo make sure ahead of time that everything is extremely clean and safe. Also (and this is more for girls) be careful with taxis. I know that there are a lot of “unmarked” taxis in Europe that you have to be wary of and here in Santiago the taxis were known to be dangerous. I took a taxi alone here during my first month and almost got into a really terrible situation because of it. To be safe make sure you either have a friend (preferably male) share a taxi with you or download a Safe Taxi app on your cell phone. If you’re female and you know the taxis in your area can be dangerous then never ever take a taxi alone. My friends and I would sometimes just have sleepovers after a night out to avoid dangerous situations.
13. Don’t get involved in protests unless you know for a fact that it is safe.
Protests happen in Santiago almost every single day for a variety of different things. However the Canadian and American embassies strictly warn not to get involved with any protests here because they can turn ugly fast. If your embassy warns you not to get involved, listen! If you get in trouble at a protest and your embassy has already warned you about this it means that they will refuse to help you even if you get injured. Take warnings seriously.
14. Be yourself and have fun!
Going abroad means you have a new opportunity to start over completely. You are embarking on the journey of a lifetime (as cheesy as that sounds) and you won’t be the same person when you come back. Follow your heart and do things that make YOU happy. Most importantly have so much fun!
Good luck and have a great semester abroad!
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