Preparing to study abroad: 0-3 months before departure

One of many beautiful pieces of art on the STA campus


You will probably need vaccines, especially if you’re planning to travel outside China (and since you’re in Asia, you should definitely take advantage of your location if you can). You should have the combined Hep A + Typhoid and the diphtheria, polio and tetanus booster. These are free on the NHS and you just need one course of them. Depending on when you last had it, chances are you’ll also need a booster of MMR. There is a range of others that you can pay for, so it’s best to discuss with your GP/a travel consultant about which ones are necessary for your trip. Considering that I’m planning to travel SE Asia during my year abroad, I opted for the Hep B and Rabies vaccines. Both of these need to be done over the course of three weeks so make sure you are in one place long enough to attend the appointments. Don’t believe the hype, they really aren’t that painful. I was terrified and on the verge of tears at my appointment and I barely felt a thing. Again, if you plan to travel, it’s wise to purchase malaria medication. I wasn’t given any back home as the consultant said they might expire by the time I want to use them, and was instead recommended to buy them in China.

Consider how you want to be use money while you’re away. Do you want to just take cash, purchase travelers cheques, or use your bank card? If it’s the latter, then you need to inform your bank account of your intentions before your departure or else when they detect spending overseas they could assume it’s suspicious activity and suspend your card. You’ll be able to withdraw from ATMs, but probably at a cost, and at a hefty exchange rate. For example, Natwest informed me that they will take 2.75% of each transaction that I make and that the exchange rate varies, depending on the day. I brought enough cash with me to get me through the first month without having to worry and am going to sign up for a Chinese bank account while I’m here. That way, I can transfer my student loan into it, and withdraw as and when I need it to incur as little cost as possible.

Think about how you plan to use your phone while you’re abroad. I decided to cancel my contract and purchase a pay as you go SIM card in China. I paid 25RMB (around £3) which gives me 1GB of data, and unlimited text messages for a month. Calls aren’t included, but are ridiculously cheap, like 0.01p per minute. If you do decide to do this make sure your phone is unlocked beforehand. Another option is to hunt around to find a good deal with an international phone company.

Make sure you have all of the documents that you need filed away. Acceptance letters, timetables for study, term dates, important addresses/phone numbers, flight itineraries, etc. A copy of your birth certificate is handy, although some countries will stipulate the use of the original. If you’re going to China then you’ll be sent a JW202 form from your university. When you get off of your flight you’re going to be exhausted so it’s good to have them to hand, as they may ask to see them (they asked for my acceptance letter at immigration). Take a few passport sized photos as well as these are handy for student IDs, visas and other official cards that you’ll apply for. The physical check that is compulsory for foreigners staying longer than three months requires five passport photos alone.

I am aware of how awkward this sounds, but it is one of the most important parts of your pre-departure preparation. I’ve found this especially difficult. I am the type of person who doesn’t process things until they are happening. It still hasn’t actually sunk in and rather, I feel as if I’m on holiday. Make sure you spend enough time with your family and friends before you leave. Although maybe don’t take this as far as I did, where my friends could persuade me to do pretty much anything with the excuse that I’m moving to China. Have a plan for how you’re going to stay in contact with your loved ones. Whether that’s Skype once a week, or Facebook every other night, know where you stand (although you’ll need to download a VPN before you go to be able to access most social media in China). Perhaps keep social media to a minimum at first to allow yourself to settle in properly. Be prepared for culture shock. It’s supposed to go in waves along the lines of honeymoon – anxiety/frustration – adjustment – acceptance (although it differs for everyone).

Download apps to make your life easier upon arrival. Pretty much everyone in China has WeChat, which is basically their version of Facebook and Twitter combined. Moji Weather lets you keep track of the weather along with levels of air pollution. Pleco is an ideal Chinese-English dictionary, and MemriseChineseSkill will help you practice your language skills in between classes!

Preparing To Study Abroad: 3-6 Months Before Departure

I can’t believe that I’ve finally begun my study abroad placement, for which I’ll be at Shanghai Theatre Academy for one academic year. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was trying to get myself organized. My university was extremely supportive, and I’m sure the staff in the humanities study abroad office were sick of me by the end of the year, but the list of things to do seemed exhaustive, especially when it came to dealing with student finance. I have to admit that if I didn’t have a dad who was so organized, I would’ve inevitably left my preparations to the last minute. The following advice is assuming that you’ve already undertaken the necessary research into the culture of the locations that you want to go to and have narrowed down your options (if you haven’t done this, then Pinterest and are your new best friends). Although this is concerning my preparations for China, many of them can be applicable to most destinations..

Home for the next 11 months


Make sure you budget before you go and consider all of the different costs that you’ll incur over the course of the year. In terms of support, you should still receive your usual maintenance loans/grants/bursaries. If you’re going to Europe, Erasmus practically pays you to study abroad, although due to Brexit this probably won’t be on offer for much longer! Although it’s not highly publicized, Student Finance England does offer travel grants. They’re a bit of a mystery and have various stipulations, but if you meet the criteria, then you could be eligible to have the following reimbursed: vaccines, visas, the medical aspect of your insurance (usually 40%), up to three return flights from your university and hometown, and the transport between your campus and university.

They’ve also brought out the mysterious concept of qualifying quarters which, depending on which member of their staff you speak to, shape-shifts. To my understanding, it basically states that you have to be in attendance for at least half of the qualifying quarter that you are applying for remuneration for. You would think they would separate the year into four equal quarters, but the ‘quarters’ seem somewhat random, so make sure you double-check before you book flights etc on certain dates or you could risk not being reimbursed.  SFE should automatically assess your eligibility for a travel grant and then send you a course abroad form to complete, but don’t expect them to do that and ask them if you think it’s taking too long. You need to get this course abroad form signed by your university so don’t leave to go home at the end of term without doing this! As soon as you have informed them of your year abroad and your loans have been approved, make sure you are regularly chasing them up about the status of your grant. Or else like me, you could end up booking your flights only for them to say that they haven’t actually assessed you yet so they’re unsure of your eligibility. Reimbursements usually take a couple of weeks to process, and their status can be checked on your student portal.

Luckily enough, I was able to stay in the student dormitory which is a few minutes away from my classes. However, I know other students at various universities in China (and elsewhere) that automatically assumed the university would take care of the accommodation only to realize last minute that it was actually up to them. Some try to find a place before they arrive, but more commonly students stay in hostels when they arrive while they look for somewhere to live. The most important thing is to know what your options are, and to have a plan for when you arrive.

You’ll have to complete the application form, along with other documents, and drop these with off along with your passport. Make sure the expiry date of your passport is at least six months after your departure date from your study abroad placement. They usually keep your documents for around one week before returning them. Once you arrive in China you’ll then need to take this TEMPORARY visa to the embassy within 30 days to retrieve an official resident permit.
A Link to the Chinese Embassy website can be found here.
(Other useful links for different countries: USA, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand)

Get your travel insurance sorted in good time. Luckily for me, my university offers an insurance package which averages about 67p per day for China. If you’re also at Exeter, then the link for that can be found here. Remember that most travel insurance policies only provide access to emergency medical care and do not include regular check ups or prescription access. You can pay around £90 once you arrive in China for a local insurance policy that allows you to access these facilities, but it’s better to sort any medication out before you go to be on the safe side. The NHS provides up to a three month supply of prescriptions and then you can access the rest privately at various pharmacies (I found ASDA to be the cheapest).

Happy planning!