So, you want to live abroad?

Elden Winkelman

A short guide to surviving a semester or year away from home.

  • Where will I live?!?

This is a question you might find yourself asking. But fear not, many programs provide a place for you to live while abroad whether through student housing or with a host family. If they don’t they will often offer you help finding housing in a private apartment. Things to keep in mind when you sign a housing contract are: When does it end? Before or after your departure date? You may be required to find someone to lease your apartment after you leave just like in the US.

  • How will I access my money back home?

First make sure you let your bank know where and for how long you’re going. Then you may want to consider opening a bank account in your country of choice. You can deposit cash and reduce those pesky ATM fees. Be aware that not all countries accept credit cards as readily as we do. There may be a few that take you by surprise. Personally I found using a credit card in Germany during my time abroad much more difficult than paying in cash.

  • How do I make sure I get credit at my home institution?

At the University of Kentucky, we have a wonderful little form called the AAF (Academic Approval Form) which you will need to fill out to ensure that you receive credit for your classes abroad. For more information on filling it out and its requirements, come visit the Education Abroad office in 315 Bradley Hall!

  • Am I allowed to leave my host country while abroad? If so, for how long?

While studying abroad for an entire or even half of a year you may decide to visit surrounding countries and experience even more than you already are. But wait! Do you need a travel visa? Do you need to bring your real passport or just a copy? What is the political situation? Even neighboring countries can have vastly different cultures. Ask yourself these questions before taking a trip across a border and always let someone know when you’re leaving and when you’re coming back.

  • How will I call and text my friends while abroad? Both in the United States and the ones I meet there?

Before departing check with your cell phone provider if they can unlock your phone or if they have plans you can use while abroad. If not consider purchasing a small and, cheap phone abroad and using a pay as you go plan. If you do decide to sign a contract in a foreign country make sure you are clear on the cancelation policies. You don’t want to get stuck paying for more than you have to at the end of your stay.

  • I am studying abroad and I want to learn a foreign language but I am worried I will only be around English speakers. How do I meet locals?

You may be surprised by just how many English speakers you encounter or you may be overwhelmed by the lack of them. However, the best way to learn a language is to try every single day to use it. Even if you know very little, the more you speak, the more mistakes you make, the more you will learn. If you meet friends from the host country that are only speaking English with you ask them to stay in their native language, it is your time abroad to learn not theirs. As far as meeting locals, go out and explore, investigate what programs your host institution has for students, spend time out of your comfort zone.

  • How will I afford this?

This is possibly the biggest hurdle when leaving home for so long. But fear not, there are many ways to fund your time abroad. Number one you should speak to financial aid at your university and see which if any of your normal loans and scholarships can be used while abroad. Second look for outside scholarships early. Like way early, way before you think you should. There are a lot of them available both from the university and from private sources. Check also to see if your program has any specific ones or if your college gives travel grants or scholarships to people going abroad in your degree. Finally ask your family and friends, you may be surprised how many people are willing to help you achieve this experience.

Finally, don’t be afraid! It is stressful at times but studying abroad for a semester or year really gives you the chance to explore and learn about a new culture more than you otherwise would.

Photo courtesy of Elden Winkelman.


Elden Winkelman is a senior at the University of Kentucky studying Foreign Language (German) & International Economics. Elden participated in a academic year-long Exchange program in Heidelberg, Germany in 2014-2015.