Semester abroad: What you should keep in mind
You want to spend a semester abroad, but have no idea what you have to think about? No problem! With our tips you can prepare yourself optimally for your semester abroad.
#1 Educate yourself about your destination
Knowing regional customs and practices is immensely important for behaving properly as a guest in a foreign country.
Do not underestimate this point, because in many parts of the world (e.g. Asia, Muslim countries) behavior that we find normal in this country can lead to problems – revealing swimwear, for example, or entering a temple with shoes, which is an absolute no-go in many countries.
We experienced something like that in Singapore, for example: At some temples there was a notice that you are not allowed to enter with shoes or shorts. At some temples, this notice was not found, which is why tourists thought that this behavior does not apply there. A mistake that was not well received by the local population.
- Our tip: Be sure to check the website of the German Foreign Office for information about your destination. There you will also find current travel and safety information.
#2 Plan your trip
Which flight do you want to book? Where do you want to depart from and when? How will you get to the airport? Which public transport will take you to your accommodation at your destination? These and other questions should be answered before you start your semester abroad.
Our editor once made the mistake of booking a connecting flight that was too close. So it happened as it had to: Although he ran to the gate, he missed the next flight because he underestimated the size of the airport. So you should definitely pay attention to that, too.
#3 Clarify all university matters
Imagine arriving at your destination and not being able to attend classes because you didn’t register for them in time. Sounds unimaginable? Unfortunately, this happens to many students, including a friend of ours: She flew to Latin America, confident that she would be able to start her courses at the university.
There was only one problem: The university administration had informed her weeks before via e-mail that the start of the new semester would be delayed. Our friend had only checked her e-mails on site and learned about the delay. Annoying, since she had hoped to be able to start studying right after her arrival instead of being left.
Moral of the story: log into your accounts regularly before you travel so you don’t miss any important info.
- Our tip: Take care of log-ins to your university mail client and course portal as early as possible. Also contact the contact person at the university abroad if you have any questions.
Your goal should be to settle all matters before the journey begins. This way, you can fully focus on your studies on site.
#4 Take care of the finances
When it comes to finances, here are some hugely important aspects you should tackle:
The more you know in advance what expenses you will incur during your semester abroad, the better you can prepare financially. Rent for accommodation, expenses for food, clothing, medication: All of this should be part of your budget planning.
Banking & bank card usage
It is often the case that cash withdrawals and transfers abroad are subject to charges. If you are not careful, you may incur unnecessary fees. Also, certain bank cards may not work locally.
This is exactly what happened to the author of this article in Uganda: He tried to withdraw money locally with his credit card, which the machine refused to do. If he had read the fine print more carefully, he would have learned that using the card in non-EU countries must be requested in writing from his bank. So there he was in the middle of Africa, without any cash.
We therefore advise you to read the terms and conditions and price lists of your bank carefully before starting your trip. If necessary, it makes sense to change banks or to choose a separate travel account at a bank with more favorable conditions. Use specialized comparison portals such as Finanzfluss or a current account calculator from Finanztip.
Scholarships and other grants
Scholarships and grants exist for students who want to spend a semester abroad, including the GoEuro scholarship, Erasmus+, and the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes e. V. study abroad grant.
In our experience, early registration in the DAAD database is an ideal start for applying for scholarships abroad. Make sure that you provide complete and correct information.
Also, take the time to write a motivation letter that creatively addresses the question of why. For example, we know the story of a student friend of ours who explained his fascination for architecture in the Baltic States and was subsequently granted funding for his stay in Estonia. The fact that during his stay he was rather seldom in Baltic castles, but in party cellars – so what? 😉
#5 Learn the local language
Many students underestimate this point before starting their semester abroad. After all, English is the world language that almost everyone has learned. So why learn the language of the host country? Answer: Because it will give you a lot of advantages.
- Our tip: In addition to the numerous language learning apps, it is very effective and free of charge to watch videos by local YouTubers. Choose topics that interest you and turn on subtitles in German for the videos. This way you can learn the language in a playful way and also hear how native speakers talk.
We got the tip from a Swiss buddy who emigrated to Costa Rica over ten years ago. He explained to us that Spanish in Costa Rica is massively different from European Spanish, it is pragmatic and sounds different for many vocabulary words. Without his tip and without the YouTube videos of Costa Ricans, we would never have been able to prepare so well for the trip there.
These are the advantages of learning the local language:
- Independence: Especially in rural areas, millions of people around the world do not speak English. If you speak the local language, you can travel to remote places without having to struggle with language barriers.
- Sympathy: When traveling, have you ever seen people suddenly light up when you speak their language? It doesn’t have to be perfect or fluent, it’s all about the gesture that you’re making an effort.
- Qualification for the job market: In a globalized world, language skills are valuable. Large companies in particular have locations in different countries, which can open unexpected doors for your future career.
As you can see, learning the language of your destination country has many advantages. Basics are enough, and you will become a language pro over time anyway, if you regularly communicate with locals on site.
#6 Take out insurance
If you are going to spend a semester abroad, you should urgently clarify your insurance coverage in advance.
These insurances are particularly important:
- Health Insurance
- Travel Catch-Up Insurance
- Accident Insurance
- Liability Insurance
- Travel Cancellation Insurance
- Legal Expenses Insurance
- Baggage Insurance
All these insurances are important to protect you optimally abroad.
Be sure to ask your parents if they have already taken out insurance for you, and if so, which ones, so that you don’t take out duplicate insurance unnecessarily. That’s what we did and were sometimes surprised what we were already insured for (e.g. with an international health insurance).
#7 Make preparations for emergencies
No one wishes for an emergency to occur. Nevertheless, it is important that you make preparations for such an eventuality.
These are the most important emergency preparations:
In the contact list, which you always have with you, you collect contact details of family members, friends, local contacts, your embassy and emergency numbers of your insurance. If something should happen to you, the helpers will know immediately who to contact.
- Our tip: Inform your most important personal contacts about your plans for the semester abroad so that they know when, where and for how long you will be traveling. We use in-house features in smartphones for this; on Android, for example, contacts can be saved as emergency contacts. Helpers can access these contacts even if they can’t unlock your phone.
On a separate printout, you should summarize important medical information about yourself: What medications are you taking? Are there any allergies and/or pre-existing conditions? What blood group and vaccinations (keyword: vaccination certificate) do you have?
Memorize the phone numbers of local safety agencies and support organizations, including police, ambulance, fire and other emergency services. To be on the safe side, print out a list of numbers in case your phone goes dead, so you can still call for help, for example, from a local phone.
What’s also useful, in our experience, is to wear a smartwatch with an emergency call function on your wrist. Yes, we know these things aren’t fashionable for everyone. But it gives us a good feeling somewhere in the middle of nowhere to know that we can get help even if we can’t get to our cell phone, for example.
#8 Find accommodation
As a rule, students are responsible for finding accommodation for the duration of their semester abroad. Dormitory places and shared rooms are in high demand, especially at the beginning of the semester, which is why you should look for a place to stay as early as possible.
When we want to go abroad, we contact friends who travel a lot and have ideally already been to our destination country. They give us great tips on where we can stay cheaply and nicely, put us in touch with the local hosts, etc.
#9 Secure your records
For a safe and worry-free time during your semester abroad, make copies of your most important documents before you travel.
Key documents include:
- Insurance Certificates (Health Insurance, Accident Insurance, etc.)
- Airline Tickets
- Driver’s License
- Certificate of Enrollment
- Proof of Qualifications (e.g. Language Certificates, Diplomas, Certificates)
- Contract for Accommodation
We recommend that you make both physical and digital copies of the documents in case you lose the printed copies. For example, there are fireproof bags in which we always carry copies. Chest pouches are also high on our list, where we always have copies of our IDs and some emergency cash on hand.
You can upload your digital copies to a cloud, but be sure to check the security and integrity of the cloud provider. Among other things, we use the free online storage of our mail client to store files securely and access them from any location. Do you also have a login with a German mail provider? Then take a look right now to see if they offer you a similar function.
More articles in our blog
Phew, that was a lot of organizational stuff, but with our tips on how to prepare for your semester abroad, you’ll make sure you start your adventure safe and organized. Want more know-how? Then read on right away:
All that remains for us to say is: We wish you much joy and success during your semester abroad. You will get to know new cultures and people and enrich your studies enormously. Ahoy and see you soon!