Saturday, May 23, 2009

Study Abroad Advice

Ah, the logistical nightmare that is studying abroad! This post is for all those ladies coming into my college that want to study abroad for a semester or a year, and all those people who said in a tone of disbelief, "Can you get our college to back this?" and then a year later, "How did you get our college to approve all this?"

There's two parts to study abroad: The practical part, and the college part

  • Passport: As always when traveling out of the country, having your passport renewed to cover your time abroad is a must. Give yourself a decent amount of time for your renewal to get turned around--mine was pretty quick and it took a couple weeks. Carrying 2+ copies of your passport is also something I would highly recommend in case your own passport is stolen and you need to identify yourself and get your passport replaced. It is much easier for a US consulate to confirm who you are if you have a passport photocopy! Couples traveling in Egypt and intending to rent a hotel room together should definitely carry a copy of their marriage license as well, as there are legal issues around renting rooms to unmarried couples.
  • Visa: You will need a visa to enter Egypt, but the good news is you can either get it at the aiport in Cairo or you can send your passport, an extra photo, and the fee to an Egyptian embassy in the United States and they will send it back with your visa stamped. This is a tourist visa, so the initial period is 30 days, but it can be extended up to 90 once you are in the country. Either way, the initial fee for a tourist visa is 15 USD. I'm organizing my residency visa through AUC, but since I am not finished registering for classes, or paying tuition and fees they cannot prove I'm a full time student yet, so I don't have a year-long visa yet.
  • Local Embassy: It's a good idea to register with your local US embassy abroad and with this US government travel registration service. This way if anything happens to you or your family back home, your location will be known and the embassy can take action to contact you or them. The US Embassy in Cairo is located at: 8 Kamal El Din Salah St., Garden City, Cairo, Egypt and their phone number is [20] [2] 2797-3300.
  • Money Exchange: The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian pound, with a varying exchange rate (as a write this it's 1 USD to 5.6 Egyptian pounds). The dollar is still strong in Egypt, but what people forget is that a dollar also will go much farther in Egypt than here in the US, which I'm sure I'll be commenting on in the future as I experience what the cost of living is like. You can get money exchanged through services in the US before leaving, or at the airport on arrival.
  • Cell Phone: If you're studying abroad you probably want to have a local cell number, which means getting a local SIM card and a GSM unlocked phone. A SIM card is a chip that goes into your cell phone, and interacts with your service provider to determine your number, minutes, etc. It is also important to figure out if your phone is compatible with local cell networks, and make sure the phone you are using is unlocked and thus allowed to utilize them. I'm also going prepaid while in Egypt as it's simpler than dealing with a contract, and easy to reload with minutes as I go, as well as being possible to set up before I get there by ordering a local prepaid SIM. Read more about cell phones and SIM cards on one of these providers of phones and global SIM cards: Celluar Abroad, Telestial.
  • Packing: I definitely plan on packing light for Cairo, because of the steep baggage fees on airlines these days (hellooo broke college lifestyle!), and I want to buy clothes there to wear that won't scream "I'm from California in the US-of-A!" I hear dressing modestly is the norm for women traveling to Cairo and is necessary in order to be culturally respectful. No mini skirts, or short-shorts of course, and make sure your cups aren't runneth-ing over is what I've been told, but I'll report on the juicy details upon my arrival I'm sure! I also haven't decided if I will wear a headscarf or not, so I'm sure I'll have a something to say in the future on that topic.

The nuts and bolts of leaving your home institution for a foreign university are pretty extensive, but it definitely helps as a framework to have the support of your home college. Mine is a wonderful place to study, but the bureaucracy isn't exactly set up to accommodate new study abroad programs that haven't been pre-approved.

Be forewarned, if your college does NOT have an existing affiliation in the country you want to travel to or a program to go there, you are in for serious bureaucratic acrobatics. We're talking about some arm-twisting, and it's a long time frame because bureaucracies and colleges do not move quickly. For example, doing all the activities to get my home college to send me to AUC with my scholarship took over a year and a half, over 4 faculty members that were incredibly supportive working on my case, the written approval of countless people, offices, and committees, not to mention an obscene amount of my own bodily fluids (that blood, sweat, and tears thing that you always hear about is not untrue).

That being said, if you're going the hard route and starting a new affiliation for your college it's a wonderful gift you will give all the students that get to travel later where you are trailblazing. It's definitely worth it. My best advice is to get some faculty on your side from various departments to help you know who in the bureaucracy and administration you need to talk to and what areas you will need to apply some pressure to. Once you have that kind of help the key is to be really, really persistent. Keep sending emails, keep getting others to send emails, keeping bugging all kinds of people, because if you falter the system is more than happy to let your case slide past without being addressed. Be annoying--in a diplomatic fashion!


  1. Some other practical stuff
    - call your credit card company or bank to tell them you are travelling, otherwise they will block your card for "suspicious activity"

    - scan copies of your passport, credit cards, ATM cards, IDs, visas, etc and upload those files to both your laptop and some FTP site in case you lose the originals. Much safer than physical paper photocopies!

    - Install Skype on your laptop and buy $10 worth of Skype credits so that if shit happens, you can call back to USA for help!

  2. Thanks, Nicole! This was very useful!