Nuts and Bolts of Travel Abroad

As soon as you decide to study abroad, you should begin making sure all your travel documents, transportation arrangements, and accommodations in your host country are in order. Applying for some documents like passports and visas can be a lengthy process, so don’t put this off!  You can get started by following the links on this page.

 Travel Documents

Passport. You need a passport for travel to and from a foreign country. You will need to apply for a passport by the time you apply to study abroad.  Allow a minimum of six weeks (longer during April - September) for processing. Applications can be obtained at designated U.S. post offices. For passport applications, and also a general list of requirements for a passport application, please visit http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html.

If you already have a passport, check to make sure it will be valid for at least six months following the return of your study abroad program.  Many countries will not let you enter if it is not.

Before you go, make several photocopies of your passport. Leave a copy at home with your family and carry a copy with you at all times when you are overseas.

Visas and Residence Permits. Some countries require that U.S. citizens (and citizens of other countries) have a visa or residence permit, depending on the length and purpose of their stay.  A visa is an official document giving permission to enter a country and can be obtained from the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to enter.  Visa and residency requirements vary from country to country, and the rules are often different depending on whether you visit, whether you are a student, or whether you plan to work.  It is YOUR responsibility to ensure that you have all the necessary visas for what you plan to do.  It can take up to three to four months to obtain a visa, and may require you to travel in person to the consulate, so it is important to find out early whether or not you will need to get any additional documents for your stay abroad. 

You apply for a visa at the embassy or consulate of your host country once you have a letter of acceptance from your host institution. To find embassies and consulates in the U.S. visit http://www.embassy.org/embassies/. Talk to the Center for International Education for information about what the requirements are for your host country or study abroad program.

Certificate of Vaccination. Some countries require proof of vaccination for entry into the country. To find out what vaccinations are required and recommended for the country or countries where you will study abroad, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/.

International Student Identity Card (ISIC Card) This is a useful, optional document that entitles the student to numerous discounts and travel benefits. For more information: http://www.isic.org/.

Customs

Make sure you are familiar with your home and host countries’ customs regulations.  These regulations govern what you can and can not bring into a country.  

 You are allowed to bring a limited amount of souvenirs and goods home with you from your travels.  Be sure to look at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection site at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/ to know what the current regulations are.  Google your “host country” and “customs regulations” to find the website for your host country information.

 Money

 Currency Exchange: Carrying large amounts of money (cash) with you when you travel is not recommended. You need to be prepared to use several different forms of payment while you are abroad. Traveler's checks, credit cards, ATM cards and cash may all be good options depending on the country.  Familiarize yourself with the local currency by using a currency converter online like http://www.xe.com/ucc/.

It is always good to have some local currency when you arrive on site. You should exchange some U.S. dollars either at your departing airport in the U.S.A., or upon arrival at the international arrival airport.  Which one you use may depend on the time of day you are arriving, as these services are only available during daytime hours.  More information on money can be found in the Education Abroad Handbook.

 Arrival Plans & Transportation

After you have booked your flight, make sure you have a plan for getting from the airport to your final destination in your host country.  Familiarize yourself with the modes of transportation in your host country, the cost of transportation, and how much space you will have for your luggage.  Talk to travel agents and people who have been to your host country to learn more.

If you are traveling on a January-Term program, you will travel as a part of a group of Maryville College students, and your faculty leaders will make your travel arrangements.

You will be responsible for making your own travel arrangements to your host country if you are studying on a semester or summer program.  Be sure to book your flights well before you leave, especially if you plan to travel during the summer or peak travel periods. Make sure you know:

  • Whether you have been fully accepted to study at your host institution.  Do you have an acceptance letter from your host institution in hand?
  • What arrangements have been made for the arrival of students in your host country before finalizing your flight reservations. Often a designated meeting place and time are established so that program staff can greet students upon their arrival.
  • Many countries list a round-trip ticket as one of their entry requirements. Don't buy a one-way ticket, even if you don't know when you want to return home.
  • Whether you need to purchase an airline ticket in order to get a student visa.  In some cases this may be required. In other cases, it may be recommended that you wait until you have gotten a visa.

Advice from studyabroad.com: “Even though you may not know when you want to return home and you may have to pay a surcharge to change your return ticket, it is still cheaper to buy the round-trip ticket instead of buying two one-way tickets. Shop carefully to find a flight that best suits your needs. Compare the price of open-ended tickets, in which you return at any point within a specified length of time, with the price of a ticket bearing a stated return date. If you are planning to travel on your own after your program ends, you might want to investigate "open jaw" fares, which let you return from a different location from your point of arrival.”

You should look at various online search engines for airfares (like www.kayak.com, www.mobissimo.com, www.expedia.com, www.travelocity.com).  Another online search engine to check out is www.cheapflights.com.  Not only can you search for flights, but they have a useful tab called "Travel 101" that has useful tools like Airport Guides, Destination Guides, and Travel Tips.

It is a good idea to also talk with a student travel agent to compare fares, and see if you can find comparable fares that are refundable, cancellable and changeable.

STA Travel is one of the top student travel agents in the world. More information about STA Travel and its travel services is available online at: www.statravel.com. Talk to the Center for International Education to get the contact information for our regional STA contact. Their most discounted rates are not online, but available through an agent. They also have an airfare deposit program for study abroad students that lets you book now and pay later (and use your financial aid!). Learn more at http://www.statravel.com/airfare-deposit-program.htm

Another good travel site is  http://www.studentuniverse.com/

Free travel literature is usually available from the government tourist office, consulate or embassy of the country or countries to which you travel. You can also learn more about discount airfares from the following websites:

Useful Websites:

Academics

Credit Transfer

If  you are participating in an approved MC Study Abroad Program, then all of your credits taken while abroad will count as non-resident credit, and will count towards the 128 credits required for graduation. However, before you leave and after arrival , you need to work closely with your academic advisor to get pre-approval for your coursework abroad so that you know how those courses will apply towards your degree.  If you choose to study abroad at a program that is not on Maryville College’s list of approved programs, it is still possible to get transfer credit for your studies at accredited institutions.  There is a special approval process for transfer credit in this case.  Talk to the Center for International Education for information.

MC January-Term programs offer students the chance to take one three-credit MC course abroad.  As a Maryville College course, it will show up on your transcript.

Grades

Will grades I earn at foreign institutions affect my grade point average (GPA) at MC?

Grades earned at any MC study abroad program will be factored into your GPA here at MC.

How many credit hours am I expected to earn while abroad?

Students are expected to take a full course load abroad.  The number of credits varies from country to country.  It will be important for you to learn how the academic system is different, and the Center for International Education can help you figure this out.  You want to be sure that you are transferring 12-18 US credits/semester back to Maryville College.  How many credits within this range may depend on how many credits you need to stay on track for graduation.

Graduation

Studying abroad should not necessarily delay your graduation. In fact, for most students who plan to study abroad from their freshman/sophomore year, it fits easily into a MC program. Careful prior planning with your academic advisor, the Registrar, and the Center for International Education should be done in advance to determine whether a delay in graduation will occur.

If you don’t think you can fit in a study abroad program, think about a January-Term program during your sophomore or junior year.  These are open to all students and shouldn’t conflict with any degree requirements.  In fact, these courses help you meet a degree requirement by fulfilling your experiential requirement.

Did you know? Studying abroad for a semester means that you've fulfilled your experiential requirement too! 

Taking Courses Abroad

Deciding What Courses To Take Abroad:

 You can obtain information about specific courses offered at your exchange site through the websites of the institutions you are interested in.  Look for classes that you are interested in, and also classes that look similar to courses offered at Maryville College on your paradigm.  Please be flexible, as particular sites may not have the exact courses your need. 

Meet with your academic advisor as you are filling out your application form to make sure you have a good understanding of what courses you should be looking for during your study abroad program. Do you need to look for specific courses for your major, minor, or general education requirements? Or can you take all electives?  You will also need to meet with your advisor soon after acceptance to get approval for courses you will take while abroad, your schedule when you return, and your progress towards graduation. 

Finances

Think that study abroad will be too expensive?  Think again – study abroad can be made affordable for any Maryville College student!  Many factors, such as location and type of exchange program, influence the cost of a program.  No matter what program you choose, there are financial aid and scholarship options available to help you pay for your trip.  Check out the links below, and schedule a visit to the Center for International Education to discuss options for financing your trip.

How much do the programs cost?

Bilateral and ISEP Exchanges: You will pay your regular tuition and fees to Maryville College, so these costs are not different from a semester at MC. Generally students also pay room and board to Maryville College.  In some cases, students pay room and board to the host institution, however the costs are often lower, and these costs are still covered by MC financial aid.

Students need to budget for costs such as: airfare, passport, visa, immunization (if required), travel health insurance, books, and personal or travel expenses.

Financial Aid And Scholarships

 MC has funding available for travel grants for study abroad.  Application for these grants is concurrent with your study abroad application.  These grants include the Ragsdale, TRAAVEL, and Carter awards.

Because study abroad involves additional expenses, such as transportation, passport/visa fees, and travel insurance, it is important to meet with the financial aid office to see how this can affect your financial aid package. In many cases, additional aid is available. Work-study is the one kind of aid that is NOT available for study abroad. If you currently have a work-study position, you will need to check with your supervisor and the Financial Aid Office before you depart to determine whether your job will be there upon your return to MC.

Health & Safety

It is very important that you prepare yourself in advance for any health and safety issues in your host country.  Think about the medical care and safety support you receive in the United States, and start looking into how you will receive similar care in your host country.  Where will you go if you get sick?  Whom will you contact in case of an emergency?  Also consider the risks specific to your host country, and find out how you can prepare in advance to neutralize those risks.  When you check out the links below, try not to worry (or worry your parents) too much!  As long as you think ahead and prepare yourself, you should have a safe and healthy study abroad experience.

American Consuls/Embassies Abroad

It is imperative that you know the location and phone number of the nearest American Embassy or Consulate in your host country, in case of emergencies. You can find these out, and other important information, from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. You can also find passport information,  travel warnings and tips for your particular country at this website. The U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world provide emergency, legal and documentary services to U.S. citizens abroad. This is the first place you would call if you lost your passport while abroad, for example.

You should also register your trip abroad with the U.S. Embassy at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_4789.html. This makes your presence and whereabouts known, in case it is necessary for a consular officer to contact you in an emergency.

Travel Medical Insurance 

It is important to consider what kind of insurance coverage will protect you from potential major financial problems while abroad.

In order to ensure that all Maryville College students participating on an education abroad program have necessary health insurance, Maryville College has instituted a policy that all students participating on a college-related travel abroad program must purchase the travel health insurance policy as designated by the International Programming Committee. Travel Medical Insurance offers coverage above and beyond the coverage that is often not part of regular U.S. health plan coverage.  For example, it covers repatriation of remains, emergency medical evacuation, emergency medical reunion and 24-hour support assistance service.  These are very specific elements that meet needs that normal health insurance plans do not. 

A study abroad participant should, however, always consider one's own health condition, talk with one's physician, and ensure that one has adequate coverage to meet your personal needs on top of the Maryville College Travel Health Insurance.  Note that preexisting conditions are excluded from coverage.

Travel Warnings

It is your responsibility to learn about the country you will study abroad in, and to understand the risks and responsibilities related to traveling there. 

An important site to visit before you travel is the U.S. Department of State website, which contains advisory notices and consular information for the majority of countries around the world: http://travel.state.gov.

Maryville College regularly monitors country reports and security updates from the U.S. State Department. There are two types of advisories issued by the State Department: “Travel Warnings” and “Travel Alerts.” A Travel Warning is issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid a certain country. A Travel Alert or “Warden Message” is intended to disseminate information quickly about events which pose risks or disruptions to Americans. A Travel Warning reflects an increased level of seriousness, and generally, Maryville College does not sign agreements, plan trips, or send students to restricted countries, or countries where there is a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning, unless appropriate health, safety, and liability coverage can be guaranteed.

You should also visit the web site of the Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/travel. Follow links to arrive at pages covering the specific country that you will be traveling in.  Please read their recommendations and notices about different health concerns.

Immunizations

Students/Participants and parents should also be aware that certain lab procedures and immunizations are required by some governments for visas.  The cost of these tests are the responsibility of the student but may be added to the cost of the study abroad for financial aid purposes for those on an MC approved program. 

The Center for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov/travel) is the best resource for determining required and recommended immunizations.  Look up requirements early and figure out the best timeline for getting vaccinations.  Many have very specific requirements, and you may need to begin getting vaccinations months in advance.

The information on the CDC website states: “Many local or county health departments provide pre-travel advice and any needed shots or medicines.  However, the CDC recommends that travelers with more complex itineraries or travelers with health problems see doctors who specialize in travel medicine.”  You can find a local clinic through the Tennessee Department of Health website or talk to your primary physician for advice.  (http://health.state.tn.us/)  

Emergency Action Plan

It is a good idea for any individual traveling abroad to have an action plan that outlines what to do in case of emergency.  Talk with your parents about what steps you want to take if an emergency were to happen to you while abroad or an emergency were to occur at home.  See the checklist for creating an emergency action plan in your Education Abroad Handbook.

Support & Communication

Cultural Preparation

The more you know about your host country before you arrive, the more positive your experience is likely to be.  You are less likely to be caught off guard or to face awkward or confusing situations.  Research your host country before you leave.  Check out books and websites, and talk to people who have been to your host country to learn about their experiences.  Learn some basic expressions in the local language.  A little bit of cultural preparation will go a long way!

Steps to Take:

1. Find out about the country where you will be going. You can do this through books, websites, and talking to people from that country or Americans who have been there before.

2. Keep an open mind. Do not make assumptions about a particular culture.

3. Start to learn the language. Basic expressions take you a long way! It also shows that you respect and recognize your new country’s culture.

There are many places to find out about the country you are going to. Try:

Cultural Adaptation

Culture shock comes from the stress of dealing with a new culture and having a conflict of values from your home to the new society.  It can occur when we misunderstand cultural clues that we are used to.  When facial expressions, words, or behaviors no longer mean what we thought, we often experience a feeling of confusion.  Read more about cultural adaptation in your Education Abroad Handbook.

For Parents:  Supporting Your Child Through Culture Shock

When your child travels abroad, he or she is almost certain to experience some form of culture shock no matter how well he or she has prepared.  You may begin to hear negative reports of dissatisfaction or frustration with the culture, the environment, or the language in your child’s host country.  As a parent, it is important for you to realize that this is normal and that, if handled properly, it is also temporary.  Don’t try to come to your child’s rescue all the time; encourage your child to find solutions to problems and seek help from others in the host country.  Remind your child that sometimes different experiences are uncomfortable, and express confidence that he or she will figure things out.  Adaptation takes time, but your child will gain confidence and valuable life skills as he or she learns to overcome this challenge.  (Adapted from NAFSA handbook p. 15-16)

Communication While Abroad

Talk with your family to figure out a plan for communicating with home. Students sometimes tell family and friends that they will phone home at a specific time, just after arrival at the program site. Events can happen to make that call impossible—plane or train delays, unavailability of an international phone line, etc. Rather than promising  that you will call or e-mail as “soon as you arrive,” we suggest that you will tell them you will call them “as soon as it is convenient.”  This policy could save your parents and MC considerable worry.

For Parents:  Creating Your Family’s Communications Plan

Communicating with your child while he or she is abroad is important, but it is also important that you don’t expect too much:  part of the study abroad experience is developing independence.  Talk to your child about how often you will communicate and what methods you will use.  Once your child touches base and informs you of his or her safe arrival, try not to communicate too frequently; your child will get more out of the experience if he or she is not constantly worried about getting in touch with people at home.  Use your communication as a way to encourage rather than distract from cultural immersion. 

It is also a good idea to work out a plan with your child for establishing contact in the event of an emergency or communications breakdown.  Exchange emergency contact information of friends or relatives in the U.S. and in your child’s host country.  Establishing a plan in advance will give you both peace of mind.

Reentry Preparation

People rarely prepare for the return experience because they expect it to be easy and are surprised when it is not.  The reality is that returning home after an overseas experience can be stressful.  “I don’t want to go home!” is a common expression heard from students after a sojourn abroad.

Many students who study abroad find that adapting to “home” can be much harder than adapting to another culture.  And being aware that this could happen in advance helps!  Some of the things you might experience when you get home:

  • Excitement to see family and friends, familiar food and environment.
  • A sense of no longer belonging to your home culture.
  • The frustration of re-adapting to a different pace of life in the U.S.A.
  • The sense that friends, family, or colleagues are not interested in discussing your experience.
  • Friends made abroad are sorely missed, as well as the culture and way of life in the host country.

So how do you prepare to return home?  Here are some ways to do it:

  • Keep up to date with what is happening with friends and family.  Try to pay attention to local and national news at home, so you don’t feel totally lost when you get back.
  • Think about what you want to do when you get back!  Pre-register for courses and apply for residence if you will return to Maryville College.
  • Plan your finances for your return.  How will you pay for school, rent and food?  Do you need to apply for FAFSA or other financial support?
  • Plan to attend re-entry orientation activities and get involved with the Center for International Education when you get back!
  • Evaluate your program
  • Give yourself time to adjust to the idea of going home.