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Before You Go

Photo of students sitting on a step in the Czech Republic
 

There are several important steps to take before you leave for your study abroad experience. The information on this page is designed to help show you what you need to consider and the resources available to you to ensure a productive, healthy, safe and successful study abroad experience.

Before You Go Checklist

  1. Read the Predeparture Handbook.
  2. Take the Online Cultural Training Resource for Study Abroad.
  3. Register with the local embassy where you will be studying. U.S. passport holders and citizens can do this through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. International students should check with their local embassies in the study abroad location to see if there is a similar service offered.

Planning for a Healthy Experience Abroad

Visit Health Services or your family physician to discuss your plans for managing your health and wellness while living abroad. A visit to the dentist is also highly recommended. Many programs will require a physician’s statement of good health. Before you travel, become familiar with the health care system and security issues of the country where you will be studying. AIG/Travel Guard can provide this information.

Discuss with your prescribing physician and family how you will obtain prescription medications while abroad, well in advance of your departure; in some cases there may be limitations on the amount of medications that you may receive before you go or on their availability abroad. Ask your physician to prescribe a supply of medication that will last the length of your stay, or make arrangements to purchase your medications abroad or have them sent to you. Carry a copy of your prescription and keep medications in the labeled containers in which they were dispensed.

If you have asthma, diabetes, allergies or other chronic conditions, learn the vocabulary to describe your condition in the host country language and carry a written explanation in that language in case you are unable to communicate in an emergency. Plan to wear your medical bracelet if you own one. Smith College recommends that you share your medical information with your overseas contact and ask for a copy of your program's in-country communicable diseases risk reduction and prevention plan prior to departure.

Going abroad and venturing out of your comfort zone is normally stressful, so you should plan to use typical stress reduction strategies such as exercise and relaxation to cope with all the changes you will encounter in your new host country. If you are currently seeing a therapist, discuss how you will continue your mental health care while you are abroad, and inquire with your program about counseling services that may be available to you abroad.

Learn about the regional diet, eating habits and meal schedule for your destination, as these are an integral part of the culture, and learn to explain your dietary restrictions in a culturally appropriate way. Be informed about food and water precautions recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization offer information about regional and country health risks and disease outbreaks, with recommendations for immunizations. Study abroad program providers also provide students with health advice. After researching the requirements and recommendations for your specific destination, discuss your choices with your physician, planning well in advance, since some immunizations are administered over a period of several months. Carry your certificate of immunizations with your passport when you enter the country and when you return to the U.S. The CDC International Travelers' Hotline is 404-332-4559.

All students returning to Smith College from areas of the world where MDR/XDR Tuberculosis (TB) is a threat are required to have a TB test by Smith College Health Services. Read the Smith College TB Policy. Before traveling to a country where TB is present, read the information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have symptoms (feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats) or if you think you have been exposed to someone with TB, you should contact your program provider, doctor or local health department about getting a TB skin or blood test.

Primary Insurance

All students are required to carry U.S.-based primary health insurance, and will be automatically enrolled in the Smith College student health insurance plan through Gallagher Student Health and Special Risk at the beginning of the term abroad. This insurance plan may be waived online at Gallagher Student Health and Special Risk if the student has another primary health insurance policy that provides comparable coverage, except in the case of international students, who must purchase the Smith College student health insurance plan through Gallagher Student Health and Special Risk. If you are an international student and plan to visit your home country during break, you may need additional insurance coverage in your home country during this period.

Supplemental Insurance

Students on a Smith program in Florence, Geneva, Hamburg or Paris are also covered by a supplemental international medical insurance policy through Gallagher Student Health and Special Risk. Students participating on an approved program are eligible to purchase this supplemental study abroad insurance through Gallagher Student Health and Special Risk at an additional cost if the program or host university does not provide supplemental insurance. All students and their families should review the coverage information about this plan:

 

Students on Smith-approved programs should consult with their program provider/host institution to see if any supplemental health insurance is provided. If not, check the "Shopping for Insurance" and "Additional Coverage Overseas" tabs for information on purchasing additional health insurance coverage. This can be particularly useful if a student's primary health insurance coverage isn't adequate while they're abroad.

AIG/Travel Guard is an independent service engaged by Five Colleges Inc. to provide students studying abroad access to a full range of medical information, travel assistance, and emergency services. It is important to remember that AIG/Travel Guard is NOT (and does not replace) international health insurance. It does, however, provide valuable services, such as:

  • Email or text alerts for your destination
  • Detailed and comprehensive country reports
  • Travel health concerns and vaccinations
  • General safety or security concerns

We strongly recommend that students register with AIG/Travel Guard and sign up for email updates and alerts for their destination. Registration is easy and free.

  • Go to the AIG Benefits Solution portal and click "register here."
  • Enter your name, email address, organization name (Five Colleges), and policy number (0009144090)

You will receive an email confirmation with a password. When you log in with the password provided, you will be asked to reset the password. Students must register in order to access the on-line resources. Registration is not required to access resources and assistance by telephone.

AIG/Travel Guard Contact Information:

Toll-free number: 877-244-6871
Overseas collect: +1 715-346-0859
Email: travelassist@aigbenefits.com
Policy Number: GTP 9144090

The AIG/Travel Guard plan also provides Medical Evacuation and Repatriation Coverage to students at no additional cost. If these services are needed they must be coordinated through the Five College Risk Management Office and AIG for coverage to apply.

What to Look For

When considering insurance policies, ask these questions:

  • Will the plan cover hospitalization for accidents and illness for the entire period abroad?
  • Is there a deductible? How much?
  • Is there a dollar limit to the amount of coverage provided?
  • What are the procedures for filing a claim for medical expenses abroad? Is it necessary to pay up front and then get reimbursed?
  • When does the plan begin and end?
  • What proof of international medical coverage is provided?
  • Will this policy provide coverage in the United States for the insured semester/year if the student decides, for medical or other reasons, to return to the United States before the end of the program? (It is vital to have coverage valid in the United States throughout the period of study abroad.)

If you or your family's insurance company does not provide coverage overseas, you will need to find a suitable provider for your time abroad. Providers include iNextHTH Worldwide, and International SOS.

You can compare a variety of insurance providers at insuremytrip.com.

Regardless of which plan a student chooses, she should contact the insurance company to ensure that coverage will be provided abroad and make sure that she understands the nature of the coverage, including how to submit claims and contact the insurer from outside the United States.


Identity & Study Abroad

A number of factors may influence your experience abroad, including your nationality; religious, racial or ethnic heritage; gender; sexual orientation; mobility; accessibility and disability; and personality. Attitudes toward women and minority groups vary greatly across cultures, as do experiences in gender identity and sexual orientation. In some cultures you may experience being in the minority (that is, a foreigner) or in the majority for the first time. How the “majority culture” defines itself also differs around the world. No place is monocultural, and learning about difference by living and studying outside the United States can bring new insights upon return. All students are encouraged to ask questions, explore resources and remember that all cultures have complexities, but finding opportunities to successfully live in another culture is extraordinary.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of study abroad is the opportunity to discover another culture and, thanks to that process, to understand oneself better. It is important to be aware of the cultural differences about disability and accommodations in order to have a successful and safe experience abroad.

Making friends with those who have grown up in a different culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. Please feel at ease to discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with any of the Office for International Study staff members.

How to Prepare

Begin now by doing the following:

  • Disclose your disability needs to program staff early so appropriate arrangements can be made in advance.
  • Remember that other cultures may provide disability access in a different way—learn about what types of accommodation are typically provided in your host country and be flexible and open to different ways of accommodating your disability.
  • Find out as much as you can about your host culture and how they view disability by reading, talking to other students and attending predeparture orientation sessions. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for the interaction between your disability and the new environment.
  • Think about how you will answer questions about your disability in the language of your host country—look up key vocabulary words ahead of time.

Related Links

Abroad With Disabilities (Facebook)

University of Minnesota's Learning Abroad Center is a federally funded project. Access Abroad seeks to enhance existing study abroad opportunities for students with disabilities.

Access-Able Travel Source provides access information to disabled travelers.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Submitted annually by the U.S. Department of State to the U.S. Congress, this site covers internationally recognized individual, civil, political and worker rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and includes summaries of policies toward individuals with disabilities.

Financial Aid for International Exchange and Disabilit is published by Mobility International USA. It explains how it may be possible to use supplementary security income or vocational rehabilitation funding toward study abroad.

Mobility International USA Mobility International USA (MIUSA) aspires to empower people with disabilities through international exchange, information, technical assistance and training, and to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in international exchange and development programs.

National Clearing House on Disability & Exchange is a comprehensive one-stop resource for people with disabilities, exchange and disability staff interested in study, work, intern, volunteer, research or teach abroad programs. It includes personal stories from study abroad participants sorted by region or by disability type.

Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities promotes opportunities in higher education across the U.K. for students with disabilities.

As a Smith student you may already be accustomed to addressing gender issues with an open mind. Our challenge to you is to now examine the differing patterns of gender roles and expectations in the spirit of intercultural learning.

Making friends with those who have grown up in a different culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. Please feel at ease to discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with any of the Office for International Study staff members.

How to Prepare

You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. For example, how is sexual harassment defined and responded to in the host culture? What added safety precautions must you follow while abroad? We strongly encourage you to discuss these and similar topics with your education abroad adviser prior to departure.

Related Links

Solo Woman Traveler: information for women travelers, solo travel, and more.

Transitions Abroad: helpful online resource.

Her Own Way: practical tips of interest to the female traveler.

Journeywoman Online Magazine: information for women travelers from women travelers; there is also a free e-mail newsletter you can subscribe to.

More Women Travel: adventures and advice ranging from booking your hostel to what events not to miss in more than 60 countries.

Sexual Harassment and Prevention in College Students Studying Abroad: article on sexual harassment while studying abroad, including women's experiences, causes and ways to prevent harassment.

Cross-Cultural Adaptation Among Women: "How Living Internationally Affects Your Life," a study by Erin Jansen.

Culturally Correct Clothing Advice for Women: a collection of country-specifc tips from women travelers.

Recommended Books & Articles

Go Girl! The Black Woman's Book of Travel and Adventure. 1997. Elaine Lee. 8th Mountain Press.

Nothing to Declare. 1991. Mary Morris, Penguin Books.

Safety and Security for Women Who Travel. 1998. Sheila Swan & Peter Laufer, Traveler's Tales Inc.

Traveler's Tales: A Woman's World. 1995. Marybeth Bond, Traveller's Tales, Inc.

Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin. 1991. Mary Morris, Penguin Books.

Women's Guide to Overseas Living. 1992. N. J. Piet-Pelon & B. Hornby, Intercultural Press.

As a nontraditional student you are faced with unique challenges when it comes to study abroad. You may not be able to leave for a semester-long program, you may need to make arrangements for other family members, etc. The resources listed here will inspire you to consider study abroad and help you to prepare once you've decided to apply.

Making friends with those who have grown up in a different culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. Please feel at ease to discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with any of the Office for International Study staff members.

How to Prepare

Begin researching now by looking at the resources below; exploring Smith College program offerings; talking with the staff in the Office for International Study and program alumnae; and continuing to learn while you are abroad by talking with your new friends.

Related Links

No Age Limit for Study Abroad: article about a 29-year-old woman's study abroad experience in France.

Study Abroad Programs: A Mirror for Adult Learning and Perspective Transformation: a study that examines qualitatively how study abroad programs in Third-World countries provide a means of fostering perspective transformation in adult learners.
 

Recommended Books & Articles

"An Older, More Diverse Group of American Students is Expected to Participate in Study-Abroad Programs." Desruisseaux. 1992, Nov 25. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"Study Abroad: An Opportunity for Adult and Continuing Education Students to Study in the Hispanic World." 1997, April. Sejut, M.P (Doctoral dissertation, The Union Institute, 1996). Dissertation Abstracts International.

"The Experiential Course: An Alternative to Study Abroad for Nontraditional Students." 1997, Foreign Language Annals. Long, D.

It is important to recognize how cultural differences impact perceptions of race and ethnicity.

Many students of color report that in the U.S. they self-identify with their race, but abroad they are recognized as simply American. Some students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds also report a real range of experiences in treatment as a "foreigner." Some students report feeling exhilarated by the freedom from the American context of race relations, while others report experiencing new types of prejudice and having to learn new coping strategies.

Making friends with those who have grown up in a different culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. Please feel at ease to discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with any of the Office for International Study staff members.

How to Prepare

You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living.

Smith Resources

Office of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity

International Students Organization

CISCO (Chinese Inter-Regional Student Cultural Organization)

EKTA (for students of South Asian heritage)

Latin American Students Organization (for Latina students)

SACSA (Smith African and Caribbean Students Association)

Southeast Asian Alliance at Smith

Related Links

Diversity Abroad: dedicated to helping students of color study abroad, including advice, scholarship information, student testimonials and more.

AllAbroad.us: advocating for increased participation and diversity in study abroad. There are sections for students, parents and faculty/staff. See the "Mentor" section with video clips of mentors answering questions about study abroad.

PLATO: Project for Learning Abroad, Training & Outreach: a project addressing some of the issues and challenges ethnicity may play in the study abroad experience for underrepresented students. The site links to additional information, resources and scholarships and includes the top-10 reasons for students from African American, Hispanic American, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander backgrounds to study abroad.

Scholarships for Students of Color, Michigan State University: a comprehensive list of scholarships available to students of color considering study abroad.

Though there may be commitment to religious diversity and freedom in the United States, this may not be the case in the country where you'll be living and studying. While abroad, you will likely have encounters that challenge your notions of spirituality.

Take the opportunity to understand the social and historical views of religious acceptance and tolerance within your host country. In doing so, you may also question your own values and beliefs and arrive at a better understanding of yourself.

Being familiar with the world's religions and how religious diversity is defined and understood across cultures will help you have a rewarding and safe international experience.

Making friends with those who have grown up in a different culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. Please feel at ease to discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with any of the Office for International Study staff members.

How to Prepare

Begin researching now by looking at the resources below, talking with international students and program alumni on campus. While abroad, talk with your new friends, host family, conversation partner, teachers and others who are interested in discussing religion, faith, spirituality and the ways these issues are understood.

Related Links

CU-Boulder's Resource Center for Media, Religion and Culture:highlights resources for understanding how the mass media are playing a role in commemoration, stereotyping and global peacemaking.

The Pluralism Project: engages students with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach and the active dissemination of resources. This site offers extensive information on world religions and focuses on emerging meanings of religious pluralism.

U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report:detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom and individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide.

World Religions: a comprehensive list of Web sites about world religions.

Being knowledgeable about sexual identity and how the cultural, legal and social issues regarding sexual identity vary from place to place will better enable you to have a safe and rewarding international experience. Learning as much as you can about how these issues are addressed in the host country will better enable you to have a safe and rewarding international experience.

Making friends with those who have grown up in a different culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. Please feel at ease to discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with any of the Office for International Study staff members.

How to Prepare

Begin researching now by looking at the resources below, talking with a study abroad adviser and program alumnae, and continue while you are abroad by talking with your new friends.

Related Links

An LGBT Student Guide to Studying Abroad (by GoAbroad.com) Note: Students may find the information in this guide to be quite hepful, but please note that not all of the programs listed in the guide are currently approved by Smith.

UMass Amherst Stonewall Center: a resource for services and information.

LGBT Rights by Country or Territory: information about current LGBT rights around the world.

Recommended Books & Articles

Are You Two...Together? A Gay and Lesbian Travel Guide to Europe. 1991. Lindsay Van Gelder and Pamela Brandt, Random House.

Out in the World: Gay and Lesbian Life from Buenos Aires to Bangkok. 1992. Neil Miller.

Sexual Orientation and Identity: Heterosexual, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Journeys. 1995. Heather Pierce and Carol Wishik.

The Third Pink Book: A Global View of Lesbian and Gay Liberation and Oppression. 1993. Art Hendricks.

The World Out There: Becoming Part of the Gay and Lesbian Community. 1996. Michael Ford.

If you have special eating habits, are committed to a particular way of eating (e.g., vegetarian, vegan, kosher, macrobiotic) or have health issues or food allergies that result in a special diet, you will need to research your study abroad destination carefully before assuming that the food you need will be available.

In many areas of the world certain special diets, such as vegetarian, are not common and in some cases, not eating food that has been prepared for you, even if for dietary reasons, is considered rude.

If, for cultural, religious or personal reasons you do not eat certain types of food you should contact your study abroad program administrator to see whether or not your dietary needs can be accommodated.

Making friends with those who have grown up in a different culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture where you'll be living. Please feel at ease to discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with any of the Office for International Study staff members.

How to Prepare

Learn what is and isn't available that so you can experience the food of the culture you're living in while at the same time having your dietary needs met. Being flexible, whenever possible, about what you eat will make your study abroad experience easier and more enriching.

Related Links

CIEE Knowledge Series: "Food, the Edible Part of Culture"

Select Wisely: links to helpful Web sites for people with food restrictions who are traveling or planning to travel.

Breakingbreadabroad.com: "BreakingBread is servicing a growing need: making travel worry-free for the gluten-free!"

Celiac.com: "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Tips for Gluten-Free Travel"

Celiactravel.com: "Get Gluten-Free Food Safely at Home or Away"

Have Crohn's, Can Travel

WebMD: "Traveling with Diabetes"

Vegetarian Guides

Koshurt.com: Kosher Travel

Volunteer International

An organization that provides information about best practices for selecting a high-quality volunteer abroad program. See especially the "Why Standards" and "Volunteer Stories" tabs on their website.

Brown University compiled a collection of student quotes addressing diversity issues including ethnicity, heritage, sexual orientation, religion, minority/majority issues, physical appearance and language.


Safety While Studying Abroad

Security Announcements

The U.S. Department of State has been issuing periodic “Worldwide Caution” public announcements since September 2001. This announcement underscores the importance for Americans living and traveling abroad to remain vigilant and security conscious.

Travel Advisories

As a first step in planning any travel abroad, students are encouraged to check the Travel Advisories issued by the US Department of State for their intended destination. Note that conditions can change rapidly in a country at any time. The OIS recommends that all travelers sign up to receive Travel Advisories and Alerts.

U.S. Department of State Websites

We advise all students studying abroad to consult the U.S. State Department website on a regular basis. This site includes valuable information about countries throughout the world.

Students Abroad U.S. Embassies Around the World
Current Travel Advisories  Emergencies Abroad
Country-Specific Information Traveler's Checklist

 


Sustainable Travel

Curious about how to minimize your ecological footprint within the study abroad context? Explore the following resources to become more informed about green initiatives abroad and how to travel “lightly.”

Additional Resources