Preparing to study abroad: 0-3 months before departure


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!