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Congratulations! Now that you’ve been accepted to your study abroad program, you can start to prepare for the new world that will open up to you overseas.

Your study abroad experience will be more enjoyable and fulfilling the more you learn about yourself and your host culture beforehand. Of course, you will learn new things every day when you are abroad, but researching and preparing ahead of time will allow you to have a more enriching experience and to better manage some of the challenges that you will inevitably face. Below you will find a multitude of topics to help you prepare.

>> Pre-Departure Check List


Know Yourself

As you plan to live in a new culture, it is important to understand your own identity and to anticipate how various aspects of your identity will impact your experiences. Living in a new culture, you may find that an aspect of your identity that is very important to you when at home or at Lander is not so relevant while you are away. Alternately, you may find that an aspect of your identity that is less significant to you at home or at Lander becomes very important to how you are perceived in your host culture.

Just like at Lander, people in every country and culture will have beliefs, myths, stereotypes, and prejudices about different aspects of personal identity. It is important to remember that different beliefs and values are not a question of right or wrong. You will be a guest in your host culture, and it is not your role to try to change the culture or its values. Rather, this is an opportunity for you to learn and appreciate your host culture.

Know Your Host Culture

Take time to learn about your host culture. Even if you think you know everything you need to know, there is always more to learn. The better you prepare yourself for your time away, the more you will get out of the experience. The information below will let you know some of the topics you can explore and some of the resources you can use. You will take some of these items with you, but the recommended research below is to be done before you depart.

Culture Smart! guides go beyond the nuts and bolts of where to stay, what to see, and how to travel. They deal with the human dimension of foreign travel, informing you about the beliefs and attitudes of the people you will meet and about situations you may encounter. They help you to understand what makes the people tick, the values they live by, and the kind of behavior that will be reciprocated with goodwill and hospitality. The aim of Culture Smart! guides is to provide readers with a level of cultural fluency, so that situations may be approached with both confidence and sensitivity.

Each guide includes concise chapters on the local customs, traditions, and values of the country's inhabitants, as well as the key historical and cultural events that have shaped them. There are sections on social and business etiquette, tips on communication, both verbal and non-verbal, and advice on how to be a good guest. With over 100 country guides to date, there are new titles and editions published every year. You can find out more at

A brief political summary about any country can be found in the CIA World Factbook.

It is generally a very good idea to purchase a guidebook for the country and/or city where you will be traveling. Most guidebooks contain brief introductions to the history and culture of the location as well as practical information about day-to-day interactions. Some guidebooks are available in the Honors College lounge, and you can find more at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. Reading through a guide book ahead of time will help you to prepare for some of the daily experiences you will encounter and to understand some of the logistics of where you will be: transportation, daily schedules, meal times, currency, etc. Guidebooks that have been recommended by students include Lonely Planet Guides, Rough Guides, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, and Rick Steves Travel Guides. Some publishers also offer podcasts.

Being informed about current events in your host country and in the US will benefit you greatly. Daily conversations with friends and hosts as well as discussions in classes will frequently revolve around current events in politics, the economy, sports, and other areas. Being knowledgeable about what is going on in your host culture ahead of time will enable you to participate more fully and intelligently in conversations, in and out of class. Following the news also gives you valuable insight into what is important in your host culture. As you follow the media, take note of what stories make the front page, how news is reported, and what topics are not covered at all.

If you speak the language of your host country, you can begin reading national newspapers and other news websites, as well as watching news and culture programs from your host culture that are streamed on the internet. If you are not able to read news in the local language and an English-language media site from your host country is not available, look for news stories about the country in major English-language news sites such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and the BBC.

If you will be studying in a non-English-speaking country, it is important to prepare yourself ahead of time. If you have not previously studied the language, consider buying or downloading a phrasebook and a translation dictionary. You will probably also be able to find programs for your handheld devices. Try to learn some basic phrases ahead of time: “hello,” “excuse me,” “please,” “thank you,” “do you speak English?” “how much does this cost?” etc. Even if you are not able to follow them, find radio programs or movies on-line that are in the language of your host country. Listening to them will help you to become familiar with the rhythm and intonations of the language, and that will diminish the language shock you experience when you arrive. Some students also choose to use online programs or language-learning software to acquire basic knowledge ahead of time.

If you have already studied the language, keep using it. Practice on your own, with friends, family, and faculty who might speak the language. Listen to programs on the radio or watch movies or television shows in that language. If you will be participating in an immersion program and studying entirely in the language while abroad, it is advisable to secure a monolingual dictionary in addition to a translation dictionary.

Mandatory Orientations & IDSA 201

Study Tours

In addition to enrolling in the course associated with a Study Tour, students must attend all the orientation meetings that are set up by the professor. These meetings treat matters that pertain to the country or countries that the Study Tour will visit. Meeting topics typically include the academic assignments during the trip, packing light, transportation and lodging, travel journaling, local cuisine, monuments, museums, cultural events, safety, money matters, group communications abroad, and more.


Semester and Summer Programs

Beginning in the Fall of 2021, students who participate in a semester or summer study abroad program will be required to enroll in IDSA 201 “Preparing for Study Abroad” prior to their departure. IDSA 201 is a one-credit asynchronous online course designed to prepare students for interacting in cultures other than their own. It assists students in developing the communication and intercultural skills needed for interacting successfully in new cultural environments. Topics include cultural values and assumptions, intercultural communication, cross-cultural problems, and adjustment. In addition, students learn about the pragmatics and logistics of study abroad for their particular country, as well as how to get the most out of their time overseas. Topics include passports and visas, money matters, independent travel strategies, journaling, and personal safety, among others.

Travel Preparations

In this section you will find topics dedicated to the pragmatics of travel. Spending the time and effort to prepare these well will go far toward keeping travel-related stress to a minimum.

It is very important you create a realistic budget for your study abroad experience. The first step in setting up your budget for your time away will be to determine how much money you will have available, including personal savings, support from your family, and financial aid such as scholarships, loans, and grants.

Then you will need to determine the estimated cost for the program. Budget sheets for each Lander study abroad program are available in the program brochure pages on the Lander-Via TRM site. These budget sheets include costs that will be billed to you by Lander and estimates of other costs you will pay in the US before departure or once you have arrived on-site for airfare, meals, books, travel documents, local transportation, entertainment, personal travel, and other activities. You should keep in mind both the cost of living in your host country and the exchange rate. Visit XE or Oanda to see current exchange rates worldwide. In addition to the information on the budget sheets, many programs abroad will provide you with additional cost information in their pre-departure orientation materials. If the total cost for your program and additional expenses is greater than your available funds, you need to look at ways to cut costs. Determine which items are essential and which are discretionary.

Take advantage of former study abroad program participants, who can also provide you very good information about how much to budget, unexpected expenses, and how to save.

Essential budget items include:

  • tuition, housing and meals
  • insurance
  • transportation from the US
  • local transportation
  • books and other required materials
  • passport
  • visa, if necessary

These are required expenses that you cannot eliminate. You may be able to reduce the cost of some these by preparing your own meals instead of eating out, using lower-cost modes of transportation such as bikes and buses instead of taxis where it is safe to do so, or opting for a shared room or less expensive level of housing where possible.

Discretionary budget items include:

  • personal travel
  • entertainment
  • souvenirs and gifts

These expenses are optional and hence the first place you should look to reduce your budget. Keep on mind that it is very important to allow for emergencies or other unintended expenses.

If you are not traveling on a group flight, it will be up to you to book your own flights. It is up to you whether you would like to contact other students who are going on the same program and make arrangements to travel together. The Director of Study Abroad will be happy to assist you with this process.

The Office of Study Abroad strongly recommends that you NOT book your flight until you have been officially accepted by your overseas program and have received the official program dates. You may receive specific travel or airport information, so please be sure to follow their guidelines regarding the date, time, and airport of arrival (because many cities have more than one airport: Tokyo has two, NYC has three, London has six, etc.).

Here are some important things to consider as you search for and book your flights:

  • Vendors: There are many places that sell airplane tickets, often at widely divergent prices and flight plans. When you undertake your search, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Purchasing directly from an established airline may not give you the lowest airfare for your itinerary, but if you need to make changes to your ticket, this is usually your best option.
  • Reputable online sites like Expedia or Orbitz are also a reliable source for tickets at a decent price and with good customer service.
  • Travel agencies and other third-party sellers may offer the best airfares, but it can be difficult to make changes to your flight itinerary after you’ve purchased your tickets. Be sure to check the total flight time as well—a really low fare might mean your flight takes more than 24 hours to complete and requires an overnight stop en route to your destination.
  • Some agencies cater to student travelers. STA Travel and StudentUniverse, for example, have a good reputation for reliability and offer youth and student discounts as well as flexible tickets.
  • Time and Date Changes: Book a flight so that you arrive to your host site on the correct date. This might mean that you must depart from the US one or even two days beforehand. Always verify the date of arrival on your itinerary.
  • Round-trip Ticket: You should buy a round-trip ticket. You will usually need this to enter your host country, and you may even need it to apply for a visa (if one is required).
  • Airport Pick-up: Many major cities have more than one airport (for example, Tokyo is served by two airports and London by six!). If your program includes airport pick-up, be sure to arrive at the correct airport on the correct date and at the correct time.
  • Flight Connection Times: If you need to take a domestic flight to the departure airport for your international flight, you should book a flight that will allow you at least three hours of layover time before the scheduled departure for your international flight. Flight delays because of weather or mechanical malfunctions are common, and it is better to spend a little more time between flights in the airport than to have to completely reschedule your international flight for a later time or the next day.
  • Be aware of any restrictions on date changes for your tickets. The cost to change return dates, especially on tickets purchased from discount websites, can be very high. If you are unsure of your plans and think you may want to travel at the end of your program, you may want to consider buying a flexible ticket which allows you to make changes to your return date for a low extra cost.

You may, if you wish, travel on your own before the program begins or after it ends, as long as you are within the allowable dates of your visa (if applicable). Remember, however, that you will be responsible for your housing and expenses for personal travel that falls outside the dates of your program.

Many countries require that you obtain a student visa or other form of authorization in order to enter and study there. This is typically a stamp, sticker, or insert attached to your passport, which allows you to enter the country. The process for obtaining a visa can be time-consuming and costly if you do not follow instructions exactly. Some countries also require that you appear in person at their embassy or consulate in the United States before your visa can be approved.

Although the Director of Study Abroad will advise you on what kind of visa, if any, is necessary for your program and will provide information about the application process, it is ultimately YOUR responsibility to obtain the necessary visa and/or other documentation. You are responsible for all costs associated with the necessary visa. More detailed information will be provided to you once you have been accepted by your overseas institution.

Along with your passport and visa, you may need other documents on hand when going through immigration upon arrival in your host country. These documents may include proof of a return ticket, bank statements and/or other proof of sufficient funds to support yourself while overseas, a letter of acceptance from your host institution, proof of vaccination against COVID-19, and other documents.

Some countries have a residency permit process which is obtained after arrival. This may require you to carry other documents with you, such as a certified copy of your birth certificate. The host program will provide guidance so that you can pack and prepare appropriately.

Cell phone usage overseas is a constantly changing landscape with new innovations and cost-saving options presenting themselves to world travelers.

Here is a list of questions to ask:

  • How much do I plan to use my cell phone?
  • Does it make sense to adjust my current calling plan and use my own cell phone abroad? While very convenient, the cost may be prohibitive.
  • Can I purchase a new SIM card for my phone once abroad? This alternative will give you a new local telephone number, but you will preserve all your contacts.
  • Can I wait to purchase an inexpensive cell phone upon arrival in my host country and subscribe to a pay-as-I-go plan? This is the least expensive cell phone strategy, but it also is the most limited.
  • Can I rely on a free, cross-platform instant messaging and voice over IP (VoIP) application, such as “WhatsApp” or “Viber”, even though these do not work when I am out of WiFi range?

Some study abroad programs provide students with a cell phone or have partnerships with specific wireless providers. Your program will likely provide you with recommendations and information in their pre-departure materials.

Former program participants can probably provide you the best information about cell phone strategies.

In addition to cell phones, you can also explore other ways of communicating while abroad.

Be sure to inform your credit card companies and banks that you will be using your card overseas. Usually, you will be able to do this online, on your bank’s website. You should tell them all the locations in which you may use your card(s) so that your access is not suspended. If you plan to use your credit card to withdraw cash as a cash advance, be sure that you know the PIN for the card.

Be aware that using your debit or credit card in an ATM abroad will often incur international service fees. When contacting your bank, ask what the fees are and ask if they have any relationships with banks abroad where you may incur lower or no fees. Confirm and store the phone number that you would need to call if you have any problems with your cards. You cannot call a toll-free US number from abroad, so be sure that you have a regular international-access phone number.

There are some banks or credit card companies that do not charge international fees, so you may want to research them and apply for one that suits your needs.

Make paper photocopies of all your debit and credit cards (front and back). Note the international-access phone numbers for each card. Bring a copy with you and keep it separate from your card(s). Leave a copy with your family at home as well. In addition to making paper copies, scan electronic copies and save them in the Cloud for easy access anywhere. This information will be very useful if your wallet is lost or stolen while you are abroad.

If you have checks, scholarships, or tax forms that must be signed while you are abroad, you may want to set up a South Carolina limited power of attorney so that someone else can sign certain documents for you. If these documents will be signed in another state, refer to information for that state.

The best packing advice? Go casual, simple, and very light. As travel guru Rick Steves points out, you’ll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: “Every year I pack heavier.” When it comes to packing for a study abroad experience, packing light is an essential skill. While it may at first sound flippant, this old adage is quite wise: “Pack your bag, take half out, and pack half of that.” There is NO need to pack three suitcases and two carry-ons! Remember, you are not headed abroad as a fashion model or high-powered executive; you are going as a university student, and nobody is going to care how often you wear the same pair of jeans or the same top.

Why pack light? Because you will be managing your luggage by yourself in unfamiliar airports, train stations, subways, and streets, when you are tired and possibly jet-lagged. Let your goal be to pack one checked suitcase and one carry-on bag. Check with your airline for information regarding weight and size restrictions and additional fees. Review guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to determine restrictions and limitations on certain items in carry-on and checked luggage.

In your carry-on, be sure to bring the following items: photocopies of your passport and other travel documents, your medications and prescriptions, eyeglasses and/or contacts (and solution), a change of clothes in case your checked luggage does not arrive with you, photocopies of your credit cards and debit cards, your cell phone and laptop with their power cables. (See a more detailed treatment of carry-ons in the next section below on this page.)

The following guidelines will give you a general idea of what to pack and—just as importantly—what not to pack. We will cover the topic of packing in more detail in orientation meetings and in IDSA 201. You should also review information provided to you by your specific program. And remember, students who have returned from studying abroad at your site are excellent sources of advice for smart packing.

Considerations When Deciding What to Take With You:

  • Pack appropriate and versatile clothes.
  • Bring durable clothing that can be easily cared for and laundered.
  • Consider variations in weather throughout the duration of your program. If it will get cold when you are overseas, layering is much better than bringing a big, heavy, bulky winter coat or jacket.
  • In addition to weather, consider the local customs and dress code of your host location.
  • Consider whether you will be doing anything as part of your program that will require certain clothing, such as an internship, field work, other outdoor activities, etc.
  • A useful general recommendation is to pack enough clothing to last about ten days without doing laundry. Bring items that can be easily matched into many different outfits and dressed up or dressed down as needed. Earth tones, blacks and grays, and denim are very good for this kind of mixing and matching.
  • Pack comfortable but durable shoes for walking. Regardless of where you are studying away, you are likely to walk much more each day than you normally do at Lander or at home.
  • You may want to bring one or two other pairs of shoes for dressier occasions or for casual outings such as the beach. Depending on where you go, it may be a good idea to take water-resistant shoes.
  • If you plan to play a sport or use a gym or fitness center, bring appropriate athletic shoes and clothing.

Leave at home:

  • Anything you would regret losing: anything that has sentimental value, or is expensive or meaningful (such as heirloom jewelry).
  • Any extra credit cards, store cards, etc. that you do not plan to use while abroad.
  • Anything that could be considered a weapon. Even a pocketknife can result in a serious weapons charge while away.
  • Toiletries and amenities that can be readily purchased on-site. Review the specific information from your program to see if there are any specific recommendations.
  • Hair dryers, curling irons, or straighteners. For any number of reasons, it is best to buy them at a discount store on site if they are necessary.
  • Logo clothing and baseball caps. Shirts and other clothing with Lander or other school or corporate logos will tend to make you stand out and work against the cultural immersion you are trying to achieve.


Electronics and Adapters

Most countries have electrical outlets that are shaped differently than US outlets, and most have a standard electrical current of 220 volts. Nowadays almost all cell phones and laptops can run on both the US current of 110 volts and currents abroad of up to 220 volts; but do confirm this for your electronics before you leave. An adapter allows you to fit the plug from your US devices into outlets that are not the same shape. Be aware, though, that plug adapters are not voltage converters. If you have an electronic device that needs a voltage converter, it is best to leave it at home and—if you really need it—purchase an equivalent device overseas. We will discuss the subject of electronics and adapters in orientation meetings and IDSA 201.


First Aid Kit

Some travelers like to pack a small first-aid kit, including some Band-Aids, alcohol wipes, sunscreen, and a mild pain reliever. However, these items are readily available in pharmacies worldwide.


Gift for Your Hosts

If you will be living in a homestay, we suggest that you bring a small gift for your hosts. Something that is a typical item from your home state or city usually serves as an appropriate gift: a picture calendar or puzzle, a small coffee table book, a recipe book, fudge or saltwater taffy. For those of you from South Carolina, signature food items like Charleston tea, Carolina barbecue sauce, local pecans, even Jiffy cornbread mix will give your hosts a taste of home.


Small Piece of Home

You may wish to pack a small memento from home to have in your room. A few pictures of your family and friends can be a nice way to make your living space feel like home, and your hosts and friends may be interested in seeing them.



Keeping a journal is the best way to document your daily activities, process your experiences, and manage the emotional ups-and-downs of cultural adjustment. We will treat the subject of travel journaling in orientation meetings and IDSA 201.

Make sure your luggage is labeled inside and out with your name, telephone number and email address in both English and the language spoken in the location of your program. Check the TSA guidelines regarding locked luggage and other current airline travel regulations.

When preparing your carry-on, review the limits from your airline and the guidelines from the TSA. Items that should be either in your carry-on baggage or on your person include:

  • Passport and all travel documents (you should carry your passport on your person)
  • Credit / bank cards and cash (you should carry these as well on your person)
  • Contact information for your program and the details of where you are to go upon arrival
  • All prescription medications in original containers along with prescriptions and doctor’s notes
  • Health insurance card(s)
  • All necessary acceptance letters provided to you by your host program and home university
  • Laptop computer and charger
  • Cell phone and phone charger
  • Headphones or earbuds
  • Change of clothes
  • Basic toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and brush, floss, deodorant, hairbrush or comb, mild pain reliever
  • Eyeglasses and/or contacts and contact solution
  • Earplugs and eye mask (optional)
  • Travel journal and pens