Office of Global Citizenship

Preparing to Study Abroad

If you are planning to study abroad, it is imperative to have a valid passport, usually with an expiration date that is two months beyond the duration of your time abroad. Depending on the duration and location of your study abroad program, a visa may be required for the country(ies) that you visit. Visas can take a great deal of time to issue, so securing a valid passport and submitting visa applications early is crucial. Sewanee does not directly support passport and visa applications, but providers of approved programs have information about visa application procedures for the country(ies) visited by programs that they operate.

Any checklist of preparations is bound to be partial, but the below checklist can help students prepare for their time abroad:

  • Apply for a passport if you do not have one, or renew your passports if expired or will expire within six months of completion of your trip. Start the application or renewal process early. The State Department recommends, and many countries and airlines require, that a traveler have six months validity on an existing passport.

  • Have a valid credit card and/or ATM card. Limit the amount of cash that carry on your person. ATMs are a convenient way to withdraw money in local currency units, and you may wish to contact your bank to ensure that your bank network has ATMs in the country(ies) in which you will travel.

  • Make copies of your passport (and visa, if applicable), credit cards, and ATM card. Leave one copy with your family, and take one in your travel bags, separated from the originals.

  • Several months before traveling, review the immunization recommendations on the website for the Center for Disease Control for the country or countries that you plan to visit. In addition, visit a doctor or health clinic to discuss and to receive immunizations that will help prevent illness. Some immunizations require more than one dose, so begin this process early.

  • See a doctor(s) to receive prescriptions for required medications that will last for the duration of the time abroad. In some countries, prescriptions may be difficult to fill, so, if possible, fill the prescriptions in the U.S. before you leave. Similarly, it is good to have a copy of your eye glass prescription when you travel.

  • Bring copies of immunization records that may be required or recommended for the country or countries that you will visit.

  • Consider purchasing a temporary plan for a cell phone or android that allows international calling. Make arrangements for how to communicate with family, friends, and Sewanee during emergency situations or on a regular basis.

  • Take several additional passport size photos with you, which may be used for identifications at your host institution or in case you lose travel documents.

  • Carry a small medical kit with basic medicines, bandages, sunscreen, diarrheal medicine, antiseptic cleanser, and antibacterial soap.

  • If your destination uses a different current of electricity, you may wish to purchase an appropriate adaptor. Alternatively, you may purchase one while abroad.

  • Do not pack more luggage than you can reasonably carry.

  • Bring a few token gifts from your university or home to give to friends and faculty that you will meet. If you have a host family, you may wish to bring a more significant gift.

Studying abroad or in another part of the U.S. requires careful planning. In this section, you will find important information and a list of preparations you should make.

While You Are Away

Living abroad, students may come into contact with new illnesses or engage in behavior that lowers their immune system. Additionally, while interacting with new people and experiencing new cultures is exhilarating, it can be exhausting. Students need to think about and prepare for the experiences that they will have.

Students abroad, especially those on semester- or year-long programs, are likely to encounter both "highs" and "lows," a kind of emotional roller coaster. Studying abroad is hard, and it presents physical and emotional challenges. For the above reasons, students, their families and doctors need to discuss whether or not studying abroad is appropriate for the students and, if so, what type of program is suitable. Even students who do not face recurring psychological challenges are likely to encounter "culture shock," which can affect students' emotional states. Our website has a special section on "culture shock" to make students aware of this issue and to help them prepare for it.

Students experience intense personal growth while away from Sewanee because they learn to navigate across cultural, linguistic, religious, and racial divides. The enhanced autonomy that students experience also fosters responsibility. As part of their training as global citizens, students should make time "to give back" to their host communities and to act responsibly toward their hosts, including respectfully following local customs and practices. In this section of the website, the Office of Global Citizenship offers advice on how to manage challenges and maximize opportunities while abroad. We have organized the information into the following sections:

Studying abroad offers students unique opportunities for exploration, both geographical and personal. Most students enter their study abroad program with a great deal of excitement, but they tend to overlook the difficulties that they may encounter while abroad.

Returning Home

The end of a study abroad experience is a period of mixed emotions. Students who have spent several months in a country likely have adjusted to their host culture, and they may be saddened to leave their new “home.” At the same time, students typically are excited to return to their home culture to see family, classmates and friends. The mixture of emotions alone can lead to a great deal of emotional confusion. In addition, students likely go through a “reverse culture shock” in their re-entry into their family, hometown and college or university.

Although returning home is filled with expectations of familiarity and comfort, the process is more complicated because study abroad is a period of intense personal growth and change. This situation seems to be a case of Heraclitis’s dictum: “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Study abroad changes a student, and the student’s friends and family have grown, too, but not necessarily in compatible ways. What used to seem normal and exciting activities at home or in college may appear mundane or immature after studying abroad. As the student’s worldview changes, family, friends, and classmates may have difficulty adjusting to the returned student, and vice versa. Some people in the returned student’s social network may even resent that the student was able to go abroad while others were left behind. Such tensions can be exacerbated by a returned student’s excitement to recount stories and adventures from the study abroad experience.

As with culture shock when studying abroad, there are no easy fixes but awareness of the adjustment process helps to make sense of the emotional turmoil that a returned student may feel. Coping with reverse culture shock often involves reconciling the confusing feelings of attachment to two (or more) cultures. Maintaining contact with friends in the study abroad site, keeping a journal, and finding ways to incorporate the study abroad experience into life at “home” are all ways to reintegrate. The USA Today has written a very helpful article on strategies for re-entry after studying abroad.

Some of the challenges that students are likely to face when they return from abroad include:

  • difficulty articulating the depth of their experience in short conversation
  • trouble processing their mixed emotions for the culture(s) that they visited and their home culture
  • feeling that they have matured while abroad and their friends have not
  • estrangement from friends and family
  • a sense of a loss of responsibility upon returning home
  • inability to relate their study abroad experience to their course of study at Sewanee

All of the above difficulties are to be expected, and the Office of Global Citizenship seeks to help students successfully re-enter life on campus. The Office is developing short courses to help students address the above issues and to encourage academic and personal reflection on the time spent abroad.

For more information about coping with re-entry, students and families should consult this section.

Students often experience a number of different emotions when returning home from their time abroad. Learn how you can prepare for re-entry to ease the process.