For most students, traveling to perform research, study, or for personal growth is a new experience. Whether this is for a short stay or a longer period of time, you'll be facing new challenges and adventures wherever you’re headed.
Here are some suggestions for getting advice and resources for preparing your time abroad:
- The Harvard Office of Global Support Services (GSS) has regional experts who can provide advice on issues related to health and safety. Don't hesitate to make an appointment with one of them during your planning phase.
- Harvard has a number of regional centers and institutes that house research subject-area experts related to the region you will travel to for research. These may be an excellent source of information as you plan to spend time abroad.
- Connect with student organizations, administrators, graduate students, faculty-mentors and your peers who have knowledge and experience in your destination.
- If you are not a citizen of the US and hold another passport, contact HIO to ensure you have the requisite documents for re-entry to the US.
Doing Things Differently & Cultural Awareness
Living and working in a new culture/location can be exciting, but it may also be challenging. In order to prepare and enrich your experience, you need to be ready to encounter, process, and manage the unfamiliar. While you cannot learn everything before you arrive, you can prepare for unfamiliar situations by doing research before you leave. In doing so, you will be more culturally aware and better able to appreciate/understand cultural differences.
Ahead of your departure, take the time to do some of the following:
- Contact subject-area experts with familiarity of the culture/location where you are headed and review the materials (videos, training sessions, orientations, written resources, etc.) available to you on the Harvard GSS website, including guidance for members of the LGBTQ community. Read websites, books, or other materials relating to your destination to learn about local customs, current events, and laws.
- Try to develop an on-site support system with local contacts ahead of time and identifying prospective connections to make during your time there.
- You may experience various aspects of culture shock during your time in an unfamiliar place. Learn more about the Stages of Cultural Adjustment to prepare for this reality. Here, too, your classmates and other connections can provide practical advice on how to overcome it.
- If you do not have language proficiency/fluency for the location, learn some key phrases to get you started and to show interest in living and learning from the community. If you have time, pursue a language course or schedule self-learning ahead of your departure and after you arrive.
Planning for the Day-to-Day
As you prepare to leave, make a plan for your day-to-day needs, as well as any eventual emergency situations. Here are some points to cover as you prepare:
- Plan your wardrobe according to what is location/climate appropriate.
- Take the time now to think about where you want to live and envision what a daily routine would look like in that location. You can use Google maps to find supermarkets or distances to various locales you will frequent while there. Hopefully this will aid you to find a convenient place to call home while you are away.
- In order to avoid frustrating discoveries, check business hours for any resources (i.e. libraries, archives, university or government offices and agencies etc.) you intend to access while on site.
Planning for Your Health Needs and Emergencies
- Be sure that your insurance coverage will work at your destination. If not, you will need to explore other insurance options.
- Once you know where you will live, make an emergency medical plan. Include directions to the nearest hospital, personal information like address and local phone, communication plan. Program hospitals/emergency services (local version of 911)/consulate numbers in your phone. Also write them down and keep them in a safe place.
- If you need medication while abroad, your best option is to pack enough of it to ensure you have a full supply for the time you are away. If this is not possible, verify if your medication is available locally and identify the process to acquire it while there.