By Brian Smith Walters
You're spending a year in Vienna or a semester in Milan or London or Reykjavik or Sydney or Tokyo or [insert awesome destination here] – hip hip, hooray! You're going to have an amazing experience filled with a new culture, a new language, and hopefully some great chances to further your artistry and musicianship. Before you go, there are many things you must do to prepare for the transition. As an American who's lived half of his life abroad, take it from me: start early! Here's a quick and easy checklist to get you started:
6 months before you go
- Work out passport and visa requirements: Sounds simple, but each year, many students are detained and often sent home from the airport for not having the appropriate paperwork. Make sure your passport is both valid and has at least 6 months left of validity before its expiration date. Get your visa paperwork in as soon as possible! It may take 3-4 months to get the visa stamp in your passport depending on the country, so leave plenty of time!
- Brush up your language skills: Even if you're pretty decent at the language of your new country, get used to thinking in it daily. Try using media in the new language – setting your phone’s default language to the new one, reading websites in the new language, and watching movies or TV shows in that language.
Be sure to learn the technical music language: what are their terms for breath support, soft palette, and so on, and especially learn what the notes lengths are called. Even if you're an American studying in the UK, the musical language is vastly different. It'll save time and frustration if you figure this out before you head over to the new country.
3 months before you go
- Decide how to manage your bank account: There are three big ways to handle your finances, depending on how long you're studying abroad and your current bank’s policies.
- If you're only going for a semester, then using your home bank account won't be a massive issue. However, if you want a job abroad, you'll need a bank account from that country to cash checks or have direct payment.
- If your bank is international (such as HSBC) or has partnerships with international banks (as Bank of America does), you can set up an account from the US before leaving. You will need to have an in person meeting with the branch manager and all of your appropriate paperwork in conjunction.
- Open an account the first week you're in the new country. Don't fret about opening an account abroad; it’s relatively simple and painless in most western countries. If you take this option, see if any prospective banks have deals for new student accounts. Most new student bank accounts in Europe come with incentives such as free railcards or free international money transfers. Keep an eye out for a good deal!
- Prepare for student loans: Getting these sorted early is an absolute must! Although this might take a bit of negotiating over phone or email with the finance people at your new institution, it'll be worth getting this sorted before you head over. Most countries have terms/semesters that start later than American institutions, so keep in mind that you'll need to be on top of it.
- Find accommodations and set aside a deposit: If your institution or study abroad program hasn't given you specific housing, depending on the country, 3 months should be enough time to get a room or halls of residence. Make sure you have deposit money! There are few things more terrifying than arriving in a new country and realizing you have no place to live. Online searches are great, but see if the international officer at your new institution has ideas of good, cheap, and safe places for international students to live.
1 month before you go
- Sort out your clothing: while this might seem ridiculous to say, it is important to remember the climate of your new country might be vastly different from your native one. Depending on where you're going, it might be cheaper and easier to get climate-appropriate clothing in the new country (with probably a wider selection as well). Make sure to get a few important items in advance – such as a good raincoat for London, a thick winter coat for Helsinki, or warm gloves and furry hat for Moscow.
- Select your scores and books: As a singer, it is important to have your core scores, anthologies, and books that you'll need with you to start the course. These could weigh a lot and take up a ton of weight allowance in your suitcases. Look into shipping your books in a cargo container. There are a number of options for this online. Make sure you find one that doesn't have tons of hidden costs, such as customs taxes you pay at each end. Read reviews and be aware of scams for young students looking to save money!
- Plan out extracurricular time: While the courses in your new institution may be the focus of your time abroad, make sure you take time see the country’s culture. Some of my best experiences in my first year abroad were gallivanting around castles and being very touristy. Take full advantage of being in a different country. It'll yield rewards in ways that you wouldn't normally expect.
To get the most out of your time abroad, remember to plan ahead and go in with open eyes and an open heart, ready for new and amazing adventures that will stay with you for many years afterwards! Bon voyage!