Planning your School Year Abroad ! Nacel Checklist Step 1

Step 3 - GO! Once you have returned your completed application form and been accepted on a high school exchange program, you will need to wait a few months before you find out about your school placement. Frustrating as it may be, to wait that long, there is much you can do to prepare your trip, that will make it easier to adapt to your new country and help you make the most of your experience.
RESEARCH Gather as much information as you can and get to know all aspects of the country. These are some practical questions that you should have worked out before you go.

  • How much do things cost? While the main costs of your year abroad, such as accommodation, food, transportation to school, are covered by the program, there will other expenses to cover. Your host family is not required to pay for snacks, activities and the like. You will also need to buy a uniform and school books. To prepare, find out about the local currency, the exchange rate and practice the conversion when you go out shopping at home, so it's not a shock when you have to pay one thousand colones for something that costs two dollars! Look-up the big-mac index" to compare the value of standard items, such as a big-mac, in the local currency.

  • What's the weather like? This will be very important when it's time to pack. If you are going for a whole year, find out if there are big variations in climate. Packing for Canada with its freezing winters and hot humid summers will require more thought than Costa Rica where temperatures stay above 18c. all year round. Remember that most school programs require a uniform, so that will make up the bulk of your wardrobe which you buy once you get there. Sometimes, people forget that they can wash clothes locally! If you pack as though you were going for a two to three week holiday, that should be enough. Consider bringing small gifts for your host family, which will make room in your suitcase for all the stuff you want to bring back home!

  • What is there do? Each culture enjoys a way of life which is different to your own. This lifestyle will be part of your life soon: what you eat, what time you wake up and go to bed, the activities you can enjoy after school, and the family members you will interact with. You will be expected to live as member of your host family and while it sounds very exciting, the unfamiliarity is often a cause of homesickness. How will it feel to swap your orange juice and toast breakfast for a Pho chicken soup in Vietnam? This is an extreme example, but even small changes to a well established routine can be disturbing. You can also learn more about the history, geography, politics and tourist destinations, but you can find out about all those things once you are there. The key to integration is to anticipate how your daily life is going to change and packing a few granola bars, some favorite snacks or toy to keep a taste of home close at hand while you settle in to your new home. PREPARE You will need to plan ahead where it comes to your travel plans and your school work in the six months leading up to your departure.

  • What courses will you take? This will depend on the difference in the education system of the two countries. Here are two approaches to consider. If you are in a system of high school credits, then plan to take the courses required for graduation that are not available abroad, such as American literature, Canadian studies, or specific courses in geography and history. Curriculums usually cover similar topics in maths and the sciences, making it easier to obtain credits for the coursework you cover abroad. If, on the other hand, you have required core subjects, with some electives, consider your choice of electives carefully so they match up with what you will be learning abroad, starting with the language!

  • Are your travel documents ready? Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after you return from your trip, so check the expiry date and give yourself plenty of time if you need to renew a passport or you are applying for the first time. Find out about visa requirements, by contacting the consulate for the country you are going to, and get information about which forms to fill out and supporting documents you need to provide.
  • Know what the visa application procedure involves.
  • Will you need to go to the embassy or can you apply online?
  • How long do you have to wait for the approval?

You can only apply for the visa once we send you the formal acceptance documents from the school. Sometimes, they arrive late, so it's best to have everything else you need for your visa ready to go as soon as you get them. You're on your way!

  • Do you have a plan B? If you are traveling alone for the first time, then consider using the airline's unaccompanied minor service. If that's not available, plan your trip carefully and know what to expect in each airport, you can find maps of airport terminals on the internet. Always leave plenty of time for flight connections, allowing two to three hours for most airports and at least four hours for connections in the USA where you have to pass immigration control. Make sure you travel with the emergency phone numbers we send you. If you have a mobile phone, program these numbers into your Skype account, that way if there's a delay, or if you just want to call home and say everything's OK, you can connect to a local airport WIFI hotspot. Remember that you need Skype credit to make calls to a phone number. Discuss what you will do with your parents if something unexpected happens, such as a canceled flight, then stick to the plan.

  • Are you doing your bit? At last you've arrived in your host family and your first week is full of new discoveries. After the initial whirlwind, you will probably start missing home, your family and your friends. Feeling homesick is a natural part of the adjustment process, but hiding in your room, spending hours online talking to friends back home and shutting everything else out, will only make you feel worse. Now is the time to open up, get involved in the daily family chores so you can find a good rhythm for your daily routine. Talk to your new family about life back home, they will love to hear your stories and it will help them understand how different life feels for you now. Try not to judge and compare negatively, instead say yes to every new experience. Getting involved in life will help you make new friends, which is the most effective way to beat the blues. This high school year abroad is probably the most challenging and significant action you've taken in your life so far.

The experience will make you fluent in a second language, open your mind to other ways of life and give you a confidence to overcome future challenges. It will also reflect favorably on your college admission application and later still, when you are looking for a job. If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela

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