In the Northern Hemisphere, at least, summer is coming: the days are getting longer, the higher sun is burning away memories of a particularly long, brutal winter, and the school year is ending, as students stare at clocks and calendars, willing them to turn faster. Summer, with its endless possibilities, is bearing down on us, and with it, the freedom to possibly do nothing but relax.
If you are studying abroad in America come fall, though, you should use this time to start planning ahead. We know that next semester seems endlessly far away. But the last thing you want is to arrive at the beginning of your adventure abroad and realize there were things for which you didn’t plan. The time you have right now is your friend, and if you take care of as much as possible in advance, you can have a stress-free summer while you prepare for your amazing time in the USA.
Maybe the most important thing you can do is to make sure that you have the correct documentation to come and study in America. Without the correct papers, you won’t be able to come into America, or may have trouble re-entering. You have to make sure that your passport is up-to-date and you have obtained an American entry visa. This seems obvious, but it is important not to wait until the last minute, or to just assume that your passport is still valid.
Remember also that just having a visa does not guarantee entry. You need to have the correct papers for being a long-term student visitor to the United States. The international department at both your home school and your U.S. school will help you with this, but it is important for you to stay on top of the game, and to know if your status is J-1 or F-1. The link in the above describes all the differences and everything you need. Remember that when working with these papers you are dealing with a bureaucracy- generally well-meaning but glacially-paced. Don’t wait until the last minute. That could be too late.
One nice thing about studying in the United States is that you don’t need any specific vaccinations to come over. However, that obviously doesn’t mean America is disease-and-germ-free and has roads paved with sterile cobblestones. There are diseases here, and you can monitor sites like the CDC to see if there is anything to which you are particularly susceptible.
But we don’t even have to be that dramatic. Coming to a different country means exposing yourself to different germs, bacteria, and even (especially) allergenic conditions. Learn about the area in which you’ll be studying. It might have more pollen than you are used to, wheat, more sunshine, or various other elements you might be allergic to. Finding out in advance can help you get ready for the year, and be able to ride it out in comfort.
Money is a big deal. You’ll need it to study abroad, for everything from food in town to movies with your new friends to road trips, weekend expeditions, bowling- you know, the stuff that you participate in when you are young, and have the freedom and a whole new world to explore. Sadly, not everything in life is free. Being in a natural park might be inexpensive, but getting there can be a different story.
Put some money aside every week so that you have a nice amount of savings when you are ready to leave. It can be frustrating during the summer to not be able to do everything you want, but part of this experience is testing yourself. If you save now, you’ll have a much less stressful, and possibly far more rewarding, time in the United States. There are a lot of ways for teens to save money that aren’t too onerous. You’ll be happy you did.
PLAN OUT SUMMER
Finally, plan out your summer. If there are things you think you’ll miss when you are gone, make sure you do them over the next few months. Spend time with family and friends you won’t be seeing for months or a year. Make sure you soak up the things you love about home. Homesickness is perfectly normal for people of all ages. Making sure that you have a lot of memories to draw on will help on those hard days abroad.
There are a few other things you can do. For our next article, we’re going to look at some resources you can check out to learn more about the U.S. before you arrive. It obviously isn’t an obscure country, but some resources are better than others to get a better understanding and clear idea of where you are going. But if you start planning in advance and use this time wisely, your stay in the United States can be everything you imagine.
The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.