Before Leaving to Study Abroad

ATTENTION: Reminder All Study Abroad participants must turn in the Waiver and Release and Insurance Verification and Medical Evaluation Form before leaving. Turn in this paperwork to the Office of International Affairs in Powers Hall. Forms must be notarized. Notary services can be provided by the Office of International Affairs Executive Assistant.   

The Office of International Affairs holds a General Pre-Departure Orientation for Study Abroad each Spring semester. ALL students studying abroad are required to attend a pre-departure orientation, regardless of their program type. Students are strongly encouraged to invite their parents to this meeting. 

Mandatory Spring Pre-Departure Orientation

Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 9 am in Commons 208

Each year the Office of International Affairs holds a Pre-Departure Orientation Meeting to offer students and their parents an opportunity to ask any questions they might have relative to their study abroad. This year this meeting is specifically for students participating in the Magellan Exchange and the 100K Americas Grant-sponsored study abroad in Peru. Faculty taking students abroad on other short-term trips will be meeting with their groups individually. Owing to the divergent calendars of the various programs, it is impossible to accommodate everyone’s schedule, and some of you are already abroad pursuing classes. The attached Powerpoint (see sidebar at right) may yet provide you with useful information. Those unable to make it to the March 14 meeting are encouraged to review the information in this Powerpoint, and direct any remaining questions to Dr. Christy at . The meeting will be organized as follows:

Health, Safety and Security

The Office of International Affairs strives to ensure that UNA study abroad programs are administered in accordance with university policy and industry standards regarding ensuring health, safety and security for the field of education abroad.

Health Insurance Requirement: The University of North Alabama requires that each student participating on an UNA Study Abroad program maintain comprehensive health and accident insurance, including emergency travel insurance, during the entire duration of his/her study abroad program. Learn more about iNext insurance information.

In addition to the steps taken by the Office of International Affairs, students, faculty/staff members, and parents have important roles to play in helping to ensure the health, safety and security of students abroad. It is recommended faculty and students travel with a copy of their immunization history along with their passport. Secondly, review the CDC website for required and recommended immunizations for travel to the intended country. Tetanus and rabies should always be up to date, as exposure to bacteria and infected animals is possible.

Each participant in an UNA Study Abroad program is expected to take an active role in ensuring his/her health, safety and security abroad by exercising good judgment, remaining aware of his/her surroundings at all times, and monitoring health, safety and security conditions. Following are some key resources:

Water and Food Safety

In countries where the tap water is not safe to drink, never drink the tap water, avoid ice cubes, wash produce in boiled or bottled water, and remember to use boiled or bottled water to brush your teeth.

Review food and water safety guidelines specific to your country. In countries where the tap water is safe to drink, the slight difference in mineral content in the water might be enough to upset your system. Be patient. Don’t panic if the change in diet affects your health adversely when you first arrive in a new country.

For health and safety issues particular to the country you plan to visit, check updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .


Most UNA students participating in Study Abroad programs travel in a group with the Faculty Director. As many are traveling abroad for the first time, general information is provided below:


Most airlines operating international flights allow you to check through two pieces of luggage with very strict size and weight restrictions. Check your airline's luggage policies to avoid hefty fees.

Mark all luggage, inside and out, with your name and address. If you have an itinerary, put a copy inside each bag. Keep an inventory of each bag and carry the list with your other documents. Mark your bags in some distinctive way, such as colored duct tape or ribbon, so they are easily found. Try to travel light; it’s safer and easier!


Plan to arrive and check-in for the international flight one hour early. Even though you may not have a direct flight from Huntsville and be connecting through a major hub city, allow the full hour. Schedule your initial flight to arrive in the morning or early afternoon to give yourself enough time to get through customs, find food and accommodations, and/or get to your final destination before businesses close down for the day.

Pay attention to the location of your passport and visa documents. Put them away immediately after going through customs and immigration. Be prepared to pay for visas and other fees. Read all posted signs at the border crossings. Some border crossings require proof of vaccinations.

Get the address of your destination before you leave the U.S. in case you get separated from the group or the contact person doesn't meet you at the airport. Get a taxi or van service from the official airport fleet.

Airports, bus and train stations are notorious for pickpockets and scam artists. Be alert, and be firm. Do not let anyone you do not know carry your luggage for you and do not carry things for others, especially through border areas. Do not carry anything considered illegal in the countries you are visiting. Check the customs regulations prior to departure by contacting the appropriate consulate or embassy external link.

Jet lag

When you arrive at your study abroad location, your body clock will be automatically out of sync with the local cycle because of the time difference. It will take your body a few days to adjust (some bodies take longer than others), during which time you can expect to feel quite tired and run down. This fatigue, in conjunction with the strange surroundings, customs and language, may produce a temporary sense of depression and “homesickness.” Be prepared for that during the first couple of days: it is a perfectly normal reaction. Generally, it takes about one day for every hour of time change for your body to fully acclimate itself to a new sleeping and eating schedule.

Cultural Adjustment

Culture is the sum total of the institutions, beliefs, customs, behaviors, artifacts, language and attitudes of a particular group of people. It is learned and transmitted from generation to generation. It is cumulative and ever changing. It is the way people think, act and speak as well as what they think about, why they act the way they do and what they say. Culture is the total way of life of a people.

Your culture affects everything you do, and it colors the way you view other cultures.

When the contact of cultures reveals extreme differences, or even contradictory views or customs, uneasiness — often referred to as "culture shock" — can occur. Dealing with this uneasiness is part of the valuable process of cross-cultural communication and understanding.

Successfully adapt to your host culture

  • Stay flexible and open-minded.
  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Keep busy, and set concrete goals. Resist withdrawing into yourself or surrounding yourself with Americans.
  • Be friendly and outgoing. Make new friends in the host culture.
  • Discover the satisfaction of immersing yourself in a different way of life. Be more than a tourist.
  • Remember that you are a guest in the country. Do not expect special privileges.
  • Indulge in aspects of the host culture that you can’t easily experience at home, such as a tea ceremony in Japan.
  • Respect the customs and opinions of the people you meet overseas.
  • Keep in touch with family and friends at home.
  • Get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat healthy meals.
  • Acknowledge that culture shock is normal and will pass. If these feelings increase in severity, seek help from your Study Abroad Faculty Director. If you are not receiving the help you need, contact the Office of International Affairs right away.

Stereotypes and prejudices

Studying overseas includes dealing with your host culture’s stereotypes about you and coming to grips with your own stereotypes about the host culture. It is necessary to recognize that not everyone in your host country is going to behave like a character out of a comic book. For example, not all Australians dress like Crocodile Dundee, and not all Chinese know martial arts. Keep in mind some stereotypes of “typical” Americans:

  • Outgoing and friendly
  • Informal
  • Loud, rude, boastful
  • Immature
  • Hard working
  • Extravagant and wasteful
  • Racially prejudiced
  • Ignorant of other countries
  • Wealthy
  • Generous
  • Promiscuous
  • Always in a hurry


Some stereotypes can lead to prejudice against a group or nationality. Students may encounter overt hostility toward Americans while overseas. Verbal insults are the most common and least dangerous form. Students who find themselves in such situations should simply walk away.

Following are some questions and generalizations about the United States that you may hear in another country. If these or similar questions are posed to you while abroad, try not to become defensive. Address them by being patient, open-minded and gracious. Keep a sense of humor. Sometimes you can deflect them by asking about the host culture. Remember that you are there to learn about another culture, not to promote and become entrenched in your own.

  • We’ve heard about how easy your schools are. How can such a great nation have such a poor educational system?
  • Why do you put your old people in nursing homes? Don’t you care about your elderly?
  • Why are Americans so ignorant of the rest of the world?
  • How can such a rich country have so many poor people?
  • How can you talk so much about human rights when you have racial problems in the U.S.?
  • The U.S. is well known to us from TV and films. With the proliferation of sex and drugs in the U.S., you must be immoral.
  • Why are you always trying to force your form of government on everyone else?
  • Americans don’t respect marriage. Divorce for you is as simple as going to the grocery store.
  • Do you own a gun?

It is important to note specific areas in which cultural misunderstandings can occur. If you are aware of some key differences, you can avoid problems and cultural missteps.

Personal space

Every culture has a conception of what is considered appropriate personal space. Personal space is the area around you that you reserve for yourself and people with whom you are on intimate terms. Learn the etiquette of personal space in your host culture by observing other people. Do not be offended if someone invades “your” space by accident. Remember that in some cultures the American norm of wide personal space translates into aloofness and standoffish behavior. Your habits in regard to personal space could be telling other people something about you that is not really true.

Polite behavior

Every culture has an idea of what is considered “polite,” what is considered “informal” and what is considered “rude.” These fine shades of social behavior take years to learn, even for natives; don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while to adjust to these norms. Indeed, some people, even in their own cultures, never quite get the hang of these distinctions. Examples of things Americans do that may be considered rude in some other cultures are pointing, smiling at strangers, asking personal questions, teasing, shouting and calling people by their first names.


Sense of humor differs drastically from culture to culture. What may be funny to you is not always going to be funny to an Australian, for example. Conversely, what an Australian considers hilarious, you may find downright rude or offensive. Be careful about what you joke about overseas, and observe the joking behaviors of your friends. Learn from other people’s mistakes! If a joke about the Queen Mother gets a friend of yours a mouthful of teeth in a London pub, remember not to make the same kind of jokes. Again, it is best to err on the side of caution when it comes to humor.

Topics of conversation

Many cultures have taboo subjects that may or may not make any sense to most Americans — and vice versa. Try to find out what can be safely spoken about in polite conversation and what might be considered off-color or rude. Political discussions, especially, can become very heated. If you are not sure where you stand on an issue or are not willing to discuss it, simply back out of the discussion. The last thing most people want to hear is an ill-informed American talking loudly about cultural or local issues about which he or she knows nothing.


Consult the Study Abroad Faculty Director about how much money to take for essentials and souvenirs.

Inflation in the United States and the rising value of non-U.S. currencies have made inexpensive travel ($20-$60 per day) increasingly difficult. Spending as little as possible while traveling abroad means staying in hostels and eating in marketplaces. A higher budget allows more freedom and choice in accommodations, restaurants and entertainment. Once individuals have determined a travel budget, take along a $500 emergency fund. For detailed information on costs, consult travel guidebooks for the host country.

Currency can be exchanged at most international airports, train stations and banks abroad. Exchange a small amount of money prior to your departure to have some cash on hand upon arrival. Exchange your money at the airport, at your home bank or at a reputable travel agency.

Avoid exchanging currency at hotels, restaurants or retail shops; their exchange rates are high. Banks — and bank windows found in airports and railroad stations abroad — will give you the fairest exchange rate available. Expect to pay commission every time you exchange currency. In some countries the commission is based on a percentage of the exchange; in others a flat fee is charged.

Plan ahead! Allow several weeks for delivery if you plan to purchase foreign currency from your bank. Remember to have your passport with you as identification each time you exchange money. You can check the exchange rate before your departure at sites such as and .

ATM and Debit Cards

Using your ATM card is becoming the most convenient way to obtain money while abroad. You don’t need any form of identification to use ATMs, and you won't be charged commission. This service is not available with all ATM cards, so check with your bank to ensure that your card and personal identification number (PIN) will work in the host country.

Debit cards bearing a Visa or MasterCard logo generally function much as they do in the United States. You can use them in most shops that accept credit cards. If you use your ATM card overseas, you might be charged a service fee by the bank that owns the machine and by your own bank. Call your bank to learn about these rates. Also check your daily limit on the amount of cash you can withdraw. You will receive the host country's currency from the machine, which will be converted in your account according to the exchange rate on the day you withdraw your money. Keep the 800 number on the card somewhere safe so you can cancel the card in case of theft. Alert your bank beforehand that you will be using your cards overseas.

Credit Cards

American Express, Visa and MasterCard credit cards are helpful if you need emergency funds while abroad. Most credit cards can be used like ATM cards, with limitations on daily withdrawals. Make sure you have a PIN for your credit card, and find out about your daily limit as well as your overall credit limit. Many students prepay their credit cards or have someone at home maintain a positive balance on them so they can withdraw money without a daily interest charge that comes with a cash advance. Credit cards often can be used for purchases; however, not all merchants abroad will accept them.

In the case of major financial transactions abroad, be sure to have adequate identification with you (your passport). Contact your credit card company to let them know you will be abroad so they don’t freeze your account. Also, have someone at home keep copies of your credit card numbers in case your card is stolen. Keep the 800 number on the card somewhere safe so you can cancel the card in case of theft.

Transfer from home

If you run short of cash while abroad, money can be sent from home in several ways. If you have enough credit, consider using your credit card or ATM card. This will be the best rate of exchange. If neither works, the quickest, although the most expensive, method of transfer is by cable/wire transfer from your American bank to a bank abroad. Visit your hometown bank before your departure to obtain a list of the overseas correspondent banks to which money can be transferred by cable. To pick the money up at the overseas bank, you will need your passport.

It may be necessary for your hometown bank to process cable transfer through a major, internationally recognized U.S. bank, which in turn will have to deal with a comparable internationally recognized bank overseas. The correspondent bank abroad can then complete the transfer to a local bank in your study abroad location which may take some time.



While having a cellular phone is not required for UNA Study Abroad, Partner or non-UNA programs might require you to purchase a cell phone on site. If you want to take a cell phone with you, contact your current provider to learn about options. Some students buy inexpensive pay-as-you-go cell phones in their host countries.

If you have a computer and Internet access, another option is Skype , which can be used for free or very inexpensive online instant messaging, video calls and phone calls.

Most U.S. prepaid phone cards, or calling cards, will not work from abroad. IDT’s Global Call Card is one exception). Check with the card company before you purchase a pre-paid card for use overseas.

Some major phone companies offer discounted calling plans for use abroad. Contact your long-distance carrier for details.


Looking for a good way to keep everyone up to date without writing individual emails or making multiple phone calls? Many study abroad participants keep everyone "in the know" by blogging about their experiences. Commonly used blogging sites include:, and

Food and Eating

People in other countries eat differently from Americans. In some countries, it is impolite to keep your hands under the table and improper to put your knife and fork down and change hands after cutting a piece of food. You may also encounter a few “food-surprises.” Words used in the U.S. may mean something different abroad. For example, “spaghetti” in Italy is a first course, and french fries (“chips”) might be served with mayonnaise rather than ketchup.

Menus may state whether the tip and/or taxes are included in the bill. Check the customs of the country which you are visiting. Tipping customs vary. In some countries a gratuity of 12-15 percent is expected. In others, customers don't tip at all.

Take time to explore local taverns and restaurants. You can learn a lot about a country from its cuisine. At the same time, be aware of food and water safety precautions, and watch out for “extras.” In some places you may pay extra for a napkin!

Food is available on most trains, but is more expensive. Plan ahead, and bring something with you. In big cities, restaurants inside and around train stations are generally more expensive. Trekking a bit down a few side streets may lead you to something a little more special and in your price range. Travel guide books often contain good information about restaurants.

Bring along any special dietary supplements or food items you are accustomed to: black pepper, vitamin C, peanut butter, etc. Keep in mind that it is illegal to carry perishable food or plants across country boundaries.

Emergency Information

What is an emergency?

An emergency is a situation affecting the health, safety and/or security of a participant on a UNA Study Abroad program.

What should I do in case of an emergency?

After attending to the immediate needs of the person(s) affected, call the appropriate UNA emergency assistance number.

Emergency Assistance Numbers

DURING OFFICE HOURS (8:00am - 4:30pm CST): Office of International Affairs office hours, call the OIA Front Desk: (256)765-4626.

OUTSIDE OF OFFICE HOURS: Call the University of North Alabama Police Department: (256)765-4357. They will contact an Office of International Affairs staff member.

Safety Guidelines

Become familiar with your “home base” as quickly as possible. Also familiarize yourself with cities you will visit before you begin to explore. Consider purchasing a travel guide before leaving the U.S.

Most cities have their "safe" and "unsafe" neighborhoods. Find out what areas to avoid by asking at an information booth in a train station or airport. Do not take risks.

Safety precautions specifically for American students studying abroad for a semester, year or traveling alone

  • Keep a low profile. Do not attract attention to yourself by speaking English loudly in public spaces, wearing expensive-looking jewelry or behaving in ways that might identify you as a potential target for criminals or terrorists.
  • Avoid crowds, protest groups and other potentially volatile situations, as well as places where Americans are known to congregate.
  • Be wary of receiving unexpected packages, and stay clear of unattended luggage or parcels in public areas.
  • Report to the responsible authority any suspicious persons loitering around residential or instructional facilities. Keep your residence area locked, and use common sense when divulging information about your program or fellow students.
  • Register online with the U.S. Department of State's secure travel registry, or make arrangements to register upon arrival at the U.S. consulate or embassy .
  • Make sure the faculty advisor, resident director, host family or foreign university official always knows where and how to contact you in an emergency and knows your schedule and travel itinerary.
  • Develop a plan with your family for regular telephone contact.
  • Check travel advisories for any country you visit.

Street smarts

Be cautious when meeting new people. Don’t give out your address and phone number to strangers or divulge too much personal information. When you are withdrawing money from an ATM or receiving wired money, go with a friend who will help you stay alert to your surroundings.

Taxis are not safe everywhere, especially late at night. Inquire about this. In some places, women do not ride in taxis by themselves. In many cities, taxis have become so dangerous that people use a taxi calling service to get the names of reputable companies and order cabs from them. When you call a taxi, make sure that the taxi has a meter and a radio and is identified with a number or other information. Do not flag down a taxi, and do not hitchhike.

In general, avoid frequenting well-known American hangouts (restaurants, bars, consulates and embassies, etc.). Especially avoid these places if there is a terrorist threat or the U.S. has just participated in some military action. During times of international crisis, many U.S. embassies and consulates are picketed and threatened.

Do not be afraid to be assertive when confronted with unwanted situations. Do not let anyone push you into taking risks. If you feel unsafe, you probably are. Listen to your instincts.

Your risk of being in danger increases if you are:

  • Intoxicated;
  • Alone at night, especially after midnight;
  • Alone in an isolated area;
  • Alone in a high-crime area;
  • Asleep in an unlocked place;
  • Out after a local curfew;
  • New to the country;
  • Unable to speak the local language; or
  • In a new place and making new friends.

American embassies and consulates

If you encounter serious legal, political, health or economic problems, the U.S. embassies and/or consulates can offer limited assistance. They can, for example, provide you with a list of local attorneys and physicians; contact next of kin in the event of an emergency or serious illness; contact friends or relatives on your behalf to request funds or guidance; provide assistance during civil unrest or a natural disaster; and replace a lost or stolen passport. Please understand that they are the primary sources for information about where to obtain advice; however, embassies and consulates don't give advice.

U.S. embassy online registration

Registering with the embassy is extremely important and should be done online before you leave the country.

Search by host country to find the address of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate .

Emergency contacts

Please carry at all times the phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the following contacts:

  • Program Faculty Advisor.
  • International-programs office of the host institution.
  • Emergency phone numbers for the host institution.
  • U.S. embassy and/or consulate for any country where you are studying or traveling.
  • Family members.
  • Travel agent.
  • Local equivalent of 911.
  • Local recommended hospital.
  • Local recommended taxi service.

UNA Office of International Affairs: (256)765-4626
UNA Police Department: (256) 765-4357

You can contact a member of the UNA Staff 24 hours a day. Our regular hours are 8:00 am -4:30 pm Monday-Friday. After hours, call the University of North Alabama Police Department. The UNA Police will contact an Office of International Affairs staff member.

Please review this Pre-Departure presentation to help address questions you may have.