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Setting up phone service, trying new foods and more: LI college students offer tips for studying abroad

Michael Bailey, 20, of Elmont, studied abroad in

Michael Bailey, 20, of Elmont, studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, the summer prior to his junior year at Hofstra University. Credit: Michael Bailey

College students who are thinking about studying abroad — or are soon on their way — may benefit from this advice from Long Island students who have already returned from countries including Italy, Krygyzstan and Australia. From figuring out foreign phone service, to taking care of your health, to videotaping your experiences, these students have 20 tips for you (and your families) if you are spending a summer, a semester or an academic year doing coursework in a foreign university:

Befriend the study abroad office at your college. “I introduced myself and got to know them better,” says Marie Saint-Cyr, 23, of Wyandanch, who studied in Florence in 2016 while majoring in fine arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. “They would recommend scholarships I didn’t know of, and they wrote me recommendations.”

Save extra money before you leave. Saint-Cyr says she worked extra shifts at her part-time jobs and saved for a year so she would have enough money to travel throughout Europe. Some students say they spend an additional $1,000 to $2,000 on travel and experiences while abroad. Students also suggest alerting family and friends who are overseas that you’ll be there, because many will host students when they’re traveling.

Figure out your phone service in advance. “I definitely went in very unprepared when it came to phones,” says Emma Rosenzweig, 20, of East Setauket, who studied in London during her sophomore year as a hospitality management and tourism major at the University of Kentucky. She recommends buying a SIM card in the country you are studying in to allow for calling there. But there’s a caveat: “If your phone isn’t paid off, it can’t be unlocked. I ended up having to pay off my phone,” she says. “Don’t leave that stuff for the last minute. It’s a lot more complicated than you think.”

Download Whats App. As for talking to her family at home, “Whats App definitely saved my life,” Rosenzweig says. That was the only way I was able to communicate with anybody back home.” Download the app to allow texting and talking for free over Wi-Fi.

Document your stay in multiple ways. Rosenzweig at first thought it was unnecessary that some students were using an app called 1 Second Everyday: Video Diary to record themselves in an activity each day of their stay abroad. At the end of the stay, the app compiles everything into one video. But looking back, she says she wishes she had done it. “Everything you do when you’re abroad is an adventure,” she says. “Looking at their video, it was really cool to see.” She also recommends taking videos in addition to photos to remember sounds in addition to sights.

Study some language of your host country before you leave. “I didn’t know any Russian before I went to Kyrgyzstan,” says Gurkamal Dadra, 19, of Bellmore, an anthropology major at Hofstra University who studied abroad during the summer of 2019. “I had to learn a whole new alphabet and a whole new language relatively quickly.” Not many people in Kyrgyzstan speak English, Dadra says. “Over there you had to challenge yourself even to get food,” he says. Even in Western European countries, where more people speak English, knowing the local language is important, says Dominique Jones, 22, of Babylon, who studied in Rome while a childhood education major at St. John’s University in Queens. “I took Italian while I was there, but it would have been nice to have studied the language before I got there,” she says.

Register for U.S. Embassy alerts online. “Those are very helpful,” Dadra says. “They’d say, Don’t go in front of the presidential palace during x hours because there was a protest planned.” That said, “The world isn’t as scary as the media portrays it to be,” Dadra says.

Consider your courses carefully. Alex Lu, 21, studied in South Korea during the fall of 2018, while she was a mechanical engineering student at Stony Brook University. “The level of difficulty was high,” she says of the courses she registered for there. “I wasn’t able to travel around the country how I would have liked. I definitely would have taken easier classes so I could have more time to explore the country.”

Go in without expectations. “I’m the first person in my family to go abroad,” says Michael Bailey, 20, of Elmont, who studied in France the summer before his junior year majoring in music composition/theory at Hofstra University. His image of Paris was created by beautiful photos he’d seen of tourist sites. “I fantasized about those pictures a lot. When I got there, I was kind of down on Paris. This isn’t what I thought it would be,” he says. If he’d gone in without expectations, he might have enjoyed Paris as much as he loved his subsequent homestay portion of the experience in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, he says.

Accept that you might be homesick. “For me, it was a hard transition at first,” says Jordyn Berlent, 21, of Plainview, who studied in Florence, Italy, while majoring in journalism and mass communications at the University of Wisconsin. “The culture shock, the time difference, not being with my family.” It took her a while to really feel at home in the new city, she says.

Understand your physical health care options. When Julia Piraino, 21, of North Massapequa, fell off a boulder and thought she’d broken her ankle while she was studying abroad in Northern Ireland, the Northeastern University civil engineering student was relieved that she’d bought into the university’s mandatory health insurance for the trip. It covered all her medical care costs in the country. “It was a lot of ease of mind,” she says. Other countries may offer students their universal health care while there. Micaylah Jones, 20, formerly of Wyandanch, studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a student of psychology at American University. She says her student Visa entitled her to go to the doctor when she needed. She also suggested ensuring that whatever medications you might need during your time abroad you will be able to get in your country or bringing them with you.

And don’t forget your mental health. Because of the five- or six-hour time difference between the United States and Denmark, Jones and her mother set up a schedule for when they would talk each week. “That’s important for maintaining good mental health, keeping up with friends and family,” she says. Jones would call her mother after class, which would be when her mom was getting up to go to work.

Expect things to go awry at times. “Things are going to go wrong on every single trip you take, so you can’t let it freak you out,” says Liz Whitcher, 24, a Huntington High School graduate who studied abroad in Prague in 2016 while a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Realize you may gain weight. “You just gotta let it happen, because it’s worth it,” Whitcher says. Bread, cheese, beer — “I gained 20 pounds,” she says. “I came home, I was crying. But I lost it before I went back to school.”

Spend time in the city you’re in. Several students emphasized this. “A lot of people travel every single weekend,” Whitcher says — while she was in Prague, she visited Berlin, Amsterdam, Iceland, Barcelona, Greece, Poland, Vienna and Italy. “Spend a weekend in the city you’re in.”

Know that foods will be different, as will meal times. When Helena Rhein, 20, of Massapequa Park studied in Granada, Spain, during her sophomore year as a music major at the University of Delaware, she had to adjust to breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner at 10:30 at night. Adam Schnitkin, 21, of Plainview, who studies finance at Indiana University, says trying new foods was a big part of the experience for him during his time studying abroad in Australia. “I took a trip to Asia; I went to Vietnam and Japan.” In Tokyo, he tried sea urchin. “It’s really slimy and it has this really weird texture. But it was really interesting and tasted really good.”

Reach out to locals. Some students hang out primarily with other Americans while studying abroad. That’s a mistake, Schnitkin says. “You realize how nice people are and how much they want to talk to you and learn about you, too,” he says. As an ice breaker, bring some American snacks or items that you can share with a host family or foreign students. “Sharing things from our local culture is a great way to get to know other people,” says Regan Dvoskin, 23, of Melville, who is currently studying data science in a master’s program at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She also recommends joining student groups at your foreign university to meet other people.

Organize your electronics. Outlets may be different in the country you’re studying in and you may need converters to charge your phone, for instance, Rhein says. She also recommends bringing extra external batteries for times a phone might otherwise die.

Set up a no-foreign-transaction-fees credit card. “You’ll save money,” says Drew Rosenzweig, 21, of Huntington Station, who studied in Seville, Spain, in 2018 while majoring in finance and marketing at the University of Kentucky.

Set up tours in advance. When traveling to other countries, set up tours to popular attractions in advance, so you don’t waste precious time waiting on lines, Rosenzweig says. For example, when he and friends planned a trip to Rome, they booked tours of the Colosseum and the Vatican in advance. “I was traveling to other countries every weekend. We had to be very quick with what we were doing and very efficient with time.”

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