If you are planning to study abroad, your college or program will most likely require you to attend orientation sessions prior to your departure. The sessions prepare and educate you on issues you may face in your host country including but not limited to:
•What to do if you get sick
The information I retained at these sessions was very useful and I felt prepared when I left the country. However, there are a few simple things I wish I had been told before I went abroad, many of which I never would have thought about beforehand.
So before you step on that plane, check out this list. Believe me, it will help!
1. Know how to read a map
We live in an age of technology where reading a map is basically a foreign concept. There is almost no reason to need to know how to read a map when most cars — not to mention every smartphone — are now equipped with a GPS system. When you get to your host country you won’t have your car, and unless you are willing to pay outrageous international fees on your phone bill, chances are you won’t have your pocket GPS anymore either.
2. Learn military time
Learning to tell the time in a different language is challenging and if you don’t know military time then your thoughts could end up in a jumbled mess of translation. Before you leave, set your watch to military time to help with the transition once you get to your host country.
3. Understand metric conversions
This one may be a no-brainer for some of you — we all learned the metric system in grade school, right? However, if you are sitting with your host family at dinner and they ask you how tall you are, would you be able to tell them in meters? Prepare yourself beforehand because it may be a small difference in system structure, but the metric system is used almost everywhere but the United States.
4. Learn to whistle… loudly
This one might be a little random but trust me, when you don’t have your car or bike to get from place to place and the one bus that you need to catch to get to class zooms by, you will thank me. Public transportation is the way of life in many study abroad cities and being able to whistle loudly to stop a taxi or bus is a great skill to have.
5. Learn Celsius
Knowing what constitutes hot and cold weather using Celsius is crucial when you may spend your mornings walking to school or afternoons exploring your new city. It will be easier to prepare for your day if you aren’t struggling to figure out the Fahrenheit conversion while adjusting to a foreign climate.
6. Understand gas appliances
In many parts of the world, electricity is very expensive and therefore household necessities such as the shower, stove, oven and heaters are often powered by petroleum gas. Lighting a gas stove was a foreign concept to me when I first went abroad. Everything was a turn of a knob or flip of a switch. If you are planning to live alone or with other students from the States, I would suggest learning how to light a gas stove before leaving — the first time cooking will be much easier.
7. Drive a manual car
Many cars in the United States are automatic and therefore learning to drive a manually operated car isn’t necessary. However, if you plan on renting a car from a foreign dealer, it might not have automatic cars available. I would take this information into consideration if you plan on hitting the open road while abroad.
This is a lot simpler than it sounds — you usually just need to buy the appropriate converter. However, foreign outlets also look very different from those found in the United States. When purchasing a converter or adapter, make sure to get the correct one. Many brands such as Apple offer a world converter package to ensure you have the proper connections for many different countries.
9. Back to Boy Scouts — start a fire
Can you still start a fire? And no, I’m not talking about with lighter fluid and a striker. This is great to know if you plan on doing any backpacking or even barbecuing. Knowing how to start a fire is a skill that you can use for the rest of your life and learning it before going abroad will help during those long adventures on foot over the open countryside.
10. Ascertain the anthem
Last but not least, learn some of the things about your host country that are already engraved in your mind about your own. Do you know who the president of your host country is? What are the colors of your host country’s flag? If you want to go the extra mile, learn how to hum the national anthem of your host country. I found that most people in my host country could tell me all of these things about the United States and so much more. Learning about the lifestyle, food, money and transportation is all great, but having the “in” on patriotism will make you look like you are really trying to immerse yourself in the culture and less like an American tourist.
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