The title of this post gives away the topic for today rather blatantly. Today, I’m going to go over all the necessary preparations that need to be made in order to leave the country for an extended period of time. Since I will be gone longer than I was while I was in Spain, more thought had to be put into such steps. Hopefully this post helps other “study abroaders” like myself!
Feel free to skim this article for what you need. I won’t be offended. This is intended to be a “buffet post”, so to speak. Take what you need, ignore what doesn’t interest you. Go ahead.
Okay, so the first thing I did was I made a list of all the loose ends I needed to tie before I could go. On that list included calling my bank, credit card company, cell phone company and my car insurance provider to see my options. This time, I also had to e-mail my future landlord for while I’m abroad to inform her when I would be arriving. This all seems a little daunting, I know, so I’ll break it down for you:
Bank: I had to physically go down to my bank and tell them that I would be abroad so that my account doesn’t freeze when I try to run a foreign transaction. This is SUPER important! You can’t do much in another country without any money. This whole process was very easy, and the lady who helped me when I was going to Spain was the same one who helped me with the forms again. All I had to do was show her my license and write down ANY possible countries I would visit as well as the time periods I would be gone. So I didn’t just write down Argentina, but also Chile and Brazil. For other country weekend trips, I’ll just withdraw a little spending money beforehand like I did in Europe.
On another related note, in Argentina, foreigners apparently can’t open bank accounts. This was an option for me in Spain, but not it’s not. To avoid foreign transaction and conversion fees, I’m looking into online banking. I’m still in the process of that, since I’m looking for something with minimal maintenance and conversion fees. Hopefully I find something good—soon!
Credit card: I called my credit card provider and pretty much did the same thing I did with my bank, letting them know I would be gone. I also found out whether or not their card is even accepted in Argentina, because I remember it was useless in Spain. Literally NO ONE took it. Luckily, there are places in Argentina that take my card.
Cell phone: I use Virgin Mobile, which is really nice because I don’t have to deal with the repercussions of breaking any contracts. When I went to Spain, all I did was not pay my bill (because it wouldn’t do me any good anyway), and I brought my phone for its wi-fi and picture taking capabilities for free! Some people buy sim cards, but I just used Skype and now I downloaded Viber so I can still communicate with loved ones back home. I actually paid for a year of unlimited Skype calls to landlines and cells anywhere in the U.S. and that saved me while I was gone last time because I had to make urgent calls to my college, bank, etc. I was also able to call my sister, parents and best friend and not worry about going over on minutes!! So worth it—I would highly recommend looking into this.
Car insurance: I personally work with Geico for my insurance, and I love them. Not to sound cliché but they really did save my 15% or more when I switched and they are always super friendly and accommodating on the phone. So last time, since I was going to be gone for only 5 months, I did the plan where they lower the expected mileage on my car to 1 mile/month, thus lowering the bill to the lowest possible without taking my car off the road. It would have cost more to take it off the road.
This time, due to the longer duration of time I will be gone, their storage plan is a more viable option for me. This requires me to surrender my plates to the DMV and then call up Geico and get their storage plan. This plan takes off my liability and replaces it with comprehensive, which basically means that I’m covered by anything that’s not my fault: theft, weather damage, broken glass, etc. So my bill is more than half the amount it is normally.
Storage: Being of a ripe 22 years of age, I have accumulated a house-worth’s of necessities for living room, bedroom and kitchen. (Mostly kitchen—I love to cook and bake!) I have a lot more furniture than I did a couple years back and I am ready to basically settle down. (Wahhhh, where did the time go!?) This meant that I needed to look into storage units for everything. I found a place that was within my budget and their security is very good, with cameras, gates, and an entry code to get in. If I paid for a whole year at once, I would get one month free. So I did that, and although it really hurt my wallet (over a grand for a year and a half), I knew it was a necessity. So now my whole life is essentially crammed into a 10×10 metal space. Lovely.
Course Approval Forms: This is another important point. You don’t want to spend all your time and energy (and money!) on courses that won’t transfer as anything when you get back! I know every college is different, but for me, I had to go to the head of the department and give them the course descriptions and have them sign off stating that my specific courses abroad would count as what I need on my home campus. Your university should have a specific form for this. Write down ANY possible course you will take, not just the ones you plan on taking, in case your first choices are full. My advice to you: expect the worse.
Thank-you notes: I also wrote a couple thank-you notes to those who granted me scholarships, and thus made this whole journey possible. Let them know what a difference they made in your life!
Visa: Every country is different with their visa requirements. For Spain, I had to do it all 6 months ahead of time, going to the Spanish consulate in NYC with a number of documents. Luckily, our study abroad department walks us through this process and makes sure all of our papers are meet the specific requirements of the consulate. For Argentina, I have to do the visa while I’m there. So we’ll see how that goes! However, Argentina, as well as many other South American countries, require that visitors pay a reciprocity fee, which I will now discuss.
Reciprocity fee: THIS IS SOOO IMPORTANT!! Before you can even step foot into some South American countries, you need to pay this fee within the ballpark of $160 dollars in order to be admitted through customs. You can do this all online and then you print this form. I haven’t done this yet because all my money has been spent on other travel preparations, but I plan on doing it soon. This step is so important because they can literally deny you entry into the country, even after all your travelling and investments. They’ll be all like, “sorry kid, sucks to be you,” and give you the boot. So yeah, get this done and have a printer nearby.
In-Between Travel: Yes, I live in New York. NO, I DO NOT LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY. People underestimate how big New York State is. I live on the complete opposite end, so I can’t just take a walk to the city whenever I feel like it. I need to take an 8-hour long bus ride in order to get to the big apple. This travel needed to be factored into my plans. I personally like to travel with Greyhound, as I’ve always had a positive experience with them and their price is pretty reasonable. Metrobus is a cheaper option but it comes with some pitfalls. You need to arrive very early (even though the busses are sometimes late) so that you get a seat. Yes, people have been denied a seat even through the wait and even though they had a ticket, all because the bus was overbooked. I’m going to play it safe with Greyhound. Buy your tickets about a month or more ahead of time, factor in delays, and make sure you leave AMPLE time to arrive at the airport and get through security and all that. I’d rather be super early and bored than late and stressed and in a rush!!
PRINT PRINT PRINT!: There were a number of things I had to print off because my university abroad requires certain, original copies and there are other things I’ll need like my health insurance card, tickets, itineraries, boarding passes, information and useful numbers, and confirmation pages for every imaginable circumstance. When traveling, heed by Murphy’s Law: anything that COULD go wrong WILL go wrong. It’s not paranoia, it is anticipation and organization. As I mentioned in the previous post, I made a binder that I will guard with my life, which holds all this information.
I. LOVE. ORGANIZATION.
Finish your university preparations: Make sure you financial aid (loans, scholarships, grants, aid) is all a go. Make sure you’re registered. Make sure your study abroad forms have all been completed. The last thing you want to do while enjoying another country is worry about administrative stuff back at home. Call or visit all the offices, and be annoying like I was, ensuring that literally EVERYTHING is done and taken care of.
Download Whatsapp/Viber/Other Communication Apps: Why do that now? Because they’ll send a confirmation code through text message, which you can only receive while you’re still paying for the cell service. Obviously, you won’t be able to get this when you stop paying your cell bill and only use your phone for wi-fi. Think ahead, son.
Contact Information: I asked everyone to whom I would want to send post cards for their addresses to add to my address book. I also started a new thing where before I leave, I’m sending them a contact card with a variety of ways to reach me. That way, people aren’t constantly asking me for my address, number, blog site, etc. It’s all right there on the card! Have people hang it on their fridge so that they don’t lose it!
These are the ones I made!
Research: Do your research on the university you will be studying at as well as the surrounding town. Discover what little treasures there are around you, look into extracurricular activities on campus so you can meet more people. Research the country as a whole and be informed on current events. What traditions do they have? What is their daily schedule like? What are some cultural faux pas you need to watch out for? How about their currency? What is the country dialing code? What transportation options are available? Seriously, delve into all of it! This is also something I compiled into its own section in my little handy dandy binder.
Start saving!: Remember: every extra hour you log on the clock now equals more travel opportunities for when you’re gone! Although it stinks now, remember that you probably won’t be (or won’t be allowed to) work in another country, so you need to save up as much as possible now! Babysit, pick up a temp job, shovel driveways, clean people’s houses…let people know that you’re willing to work and pick up extra hours so that you can enjoy your experience to the fullest. It would suck to have traveled all that way and not be able to go anywhere. This tip is especially important to those going to Europe, because the euro conversion sucks for us Americans and there are so many countries to visit while you’re there, at a great rate thanks to Ryanair. Save enough to live and travel comfortably, with enough extra for emergencies. If possible, put a little aside for when you get back to live off of until you get back on your feet.
Pack: This is something you’re going to do at the very end, but be prudent in what you bring. Think of the weather, cultural norms, what you really need and what you can leave behind. Look up packing checklists for brainstorming. Pack essentials in your carry-on. Leave space in your checked bag to bring stuff back with you. In your carry-on, put everything that you will need to take out for security in one section, like liquids, computer, etc. to make it easier for when you go through security. Make sure your luggage is sturdy! Get some tags with contact information on them in case they get lost.
Here are a few other things I’ve brought with me and plan on bringing again:
~Journal: Write all of your experiences down so you can reminisce later on!
~3.4 fl. oz bottles: I got these nifty colored ones with labels at Wegmans the other day!
This is the bag size requirement, right from the TSA website:
~Agenda: To write down important reminders, homework and contact information for those back home
~Headphone splitters: If you’re traveling with a friend, it’s nice to be able to share a song or video every now and then with each other without craning your necks sharing the same headphone set!
~Makeup bag: Girls, this is for you. Put your tweezers, fingernail clippers, make-up, 3.4 oz fluids, perfume, all of that good stuff in here. Put all the liquids into one quart-size bag so you can just pull it out during security.
~Crossover bag: A small cross-body purse is ESSENTIAL for travel because you can keep everything right there in front of you guarded by your hand from pickpocketers. Pickpocketing is HUGE in big cities, and you don’t want to fall prey to their tactics!
~Locks: I have two: A small cable lock for my backpack and for small lockers in hostels and a larger one for lockers. If you’re staying at a hostel (which I’m sure you will be), this is a must.
~My travel monkey: What, you don’t have a travel monkey? This is an idea I picked up somewhere on Pinterest (I’m an addict.) and my sister reminded me of it when she got me this cute little “mono” for Christmas. I named him Miguel, and everywhere I go I will take a picture of him in front of important places to show my future students. I wish I did this in Europe!! Oh well, another excuse to go back! So yeah, that’s the story behind him.
This is what mine kind of looks like!
Here’s an example of what I was talking about:
~Appropriate clothing: In my case, I will be arriving in Argentina in the end of their summer, which is a stark contrast to the 2 degree weather here in New York. Their winter, which takes place from roughly June to August is very mild too. So I’ll need light outerwear and mostly warm-weather clothing, with lots of layers to account for weather changes. Cardigans are my best friend!
~Travel documents: Passport, visa, reciprocity fee confirmation, boarding passes, other travel and accommodation confirmations, student ID (I have the ISIC card), health insurance card, and anything else you can think of that I didn’t mention!
~Electronics: Computer, camera, phone, iPod, this should be pretty much all you’ll need. Don’t forget their chargers!
~Converters and adaptors: You’ll obviously need to plug things in! Bring one or a couple. You can also buy some while you’re there.
~Money: I always bring a little cash that’s been converted to my host country’s currency, just in case. Everyone always accepts cash! I’m also going to bring some U.S. money to trade under the table because the conversion rate is WAY better. I will be getting double than what I would get trading it at a bank or post office. Although my friend laughs at me, I like to keep my money in a little fanny pack thing underneath my clothes. Giggle all you want, but better safe than sorry!
I ROCK this fanny pack.
This is the currency I’ll be getting used to!
Spending time with Friends and Family: Last but not least, I’ve been cherishing the moments with my loved ones before I leave again. One of the relationships that admittedly has most plagued my mind is the one between my kid brother and I. He is only 10 (going on 11), and due to college and travel, I’ve missed a lot of his growing up, which breaks my heart. I know he won’t be this young little kid forever and it’s tough to miss all those moments. So when I am home, I spend as much time with him as possible, even if he wants to play games I don’t like. I know that when I’m gone, I will give anything to share these moments.
I love this little guy!! ❤
With my Geneseo friends, there is a good chance I will never see them again because “real life” starts when I get back, and I won’t be back on campus. I plan to go out with a bang, and since I won’t have any classes on campus, I will most definitely be going out a lot during my last few weeks so I can say good-bye to everyone. I am also arranging to spend some time with other close friends before I go and giving them my contact information as well as my address. While I’m on the topic, get their addresses and keep them in a safe place so that you can send them postcards!!
Okay, friends—that is all for today! In my next post, I will be giving you the 411 on Argentina, all you need to know about the country and its traditions, cultural customs, etc. See you then!