Study Abroad Essentials: Part 1, The Binder

As I’ve mentioned about 1,000 times before on this blog, I spent the Spring of 2015 studying abroad at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea. And I have to brag on myself a little bit–I studied abroad like a boss. The months of studying and planning that I did, as well as some key choices that I made, really paid off when it came time for the actual trip. So now I’d like to share some of my best study abroad trips with the world! This will be a multi-part series.

Note: I studied abroad alongside my boyfriend (now husband) Calum, and his companionship was so helpful in many situations. However, even if you are going alone you can still make the most of your time spent overseas, and I hope these tips will help with that!

The Binder

Photo by Lubomyr Myronyuk on Unsplash

Before I left for Seoul, I spent some time over the 2014-15 winter break putting together a magical, all-encompassing binder of essential documents to take with me. To the less Type-A readers out there, this binder might seem a little extreme, but for me it was peace of mind. I took comfort in having all the documents I needed in one organized place, and it saved me some valuable time when doing things such as completing beginning of semester paperwork at the university and applying for my Korean foreigner ID card. Yes, phones and laptops have allowed us the pleasure of storing and finding information more easily, but sometimes nothing beats having a paper copy of your necessities, especially in a foreign place where you may not know how to access the Internet at first.

The following is my  guide to creating a magical study abroad binder of your own. (FYI: Some parts may need to be changed or customized based on your destination and university!)

What You Need:

A binder, probably about 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3.8 cm) wide

5 dividers with tabs

Access to a computer, printer, and copy machine

3 hole punch that fits the dimensions of your binder

To start, label your 5 dividers with these categories:

  1. Personal
  2. University or (Name of University you will be studying at)
  3. Accommodations*
  4. Emergency
  5. (Name of country you will be studying in) Tips**

Now you can get to work filling the space behind each divider.

*Accommodations section may not be necessary if you are staying in a dormitory at your host university, in which case you can just include any dorm information under the University tab.

**This section is less important and more to help you make the most of your study abroad experience.

1. Personal

This section is for all your personal travel and medical documents. I recommend that you include these items:

selective focus photography of person holding passport with ticket
Photo by on
  • A color copy of your passport
  • A color copy of your travel visa
  • A copy of your driver’s license, home university ID, or other local identification card
  • A copy of your travel health insurance card
  • A copy of any other type of travel insurance you may have
  • At least one small, color, passport-style photo of yourself to use for any new foreign ID cards
  • Information on your flights (flight number, airport, airline, departure and arrival times, etc.)
  • A list of emergency contacts at home (parents, relatives etc.)
  • A list of all your medications, health conditions and allergies (and a copy of this translated into the language of your host country, if possible)
  • If you are taking any prescribed medications, include a letter from your doctor stating that you are taking these medications based on their instruction. Make sure the letter is signed and includes the doctor’s phone number and/or email. For more tips related to medications abroad, check out this article from the New York Times or this page on the American CDC website.
  • Any other personal documents that you feel might be important

2. University (or the name of the university you will be studying at)

This section is for any and all documents relating to the university you will be studying at in your host country. These are the documents I recommend you put in this section:

  • A copy of your acceptance letter into the university and/or study abroad program
  • The university’s address and other location information (for example, nearest subway station)
  • Contact information for the university’s international student department
  • A copy of your class schedule
  • Your student ID number at your host university
  • Proof that you paid your tuition (for example, the confirmation page from an online payment system)
  • A copy of your meal plan, scholarship, and/or subsidy information, if applicable
  • Dormitory information and payment proof, if applicable

3. Accommodations

This section may not be necessary if you are staying in a dormitory on the host university campus. However, if you will live off campus (like I did), it is a good idea to include this information in your binder:

  • Address, phone number and other contact information of your accommodation
  • Directions to your accommodation from the airport
  • Proof of booking of your accommodation, if you have it
  • If you made a deposit or other payments towards your accommodation before you arrived, proof of those transactions
  • Copy of your lease agreement, if applicable
  • Copy of conditions upon move-in report, if applicable

4. Emergency

This section of your binder will provide you with important information in case of an emergency abroad. I will admit it might seem a little over-the-top, but it is better to be prepared, right? This is what I recommend you include here:

ambulance architecture building business
Photo by Pixabay on
  • Local emergency phone numbers in your host country
  • Address and phone number of your country’s embassy in your host country
  • Location of the police station nearest to your accommodation and/or host university
  • Location of any nearby emergency shelters
  • Location of the nearest hospital and pharmacy
  • Information on nearby English-speaking hospitals, doctor’s offices and/or pharmacies, if applicable
  • International phone number of your banking institution
  • Contact information for your home university’s study abroad department (they may have a special emergency phone number as well)
  • A list of emergency-related phrases in your host country’s language, for example:
    • Police
    • Hospital
    • ATM/bank
    • Phone
    • “I need help”
    • “I have (medical condition)”
    • “I am (nationality)”

5. (Name of country you will be studying in) Tips

This section is much less important and more to help you make the most of your study abroad experience. Here is what I recommend you include in this section:

  • A list of places and sites you want to visit and how to get to them
  • A list of foods you want to try and how to say them in the local language
  • A map of the subway or bus system in the area where you will be living
  • A list of local holidays and/or festivals that will take place while you are abroad
  • Location of any tourist information centers in your area
  • A list of basic words and phrases in the language of your host country

I also recommend searching for apps specific to your host country before you travel, as there seems to be an app for everything these days! For example, there are apps for language translation, maps of local transportation, emergency information for foreign residents and currency exchange rates in almost every country you can think of. However, I’m a firm believer in having at least some emergency information as a hard copy—smart phones aren’t 100% reliable. Having a binder like this one can give you an alternate way of navigating the worst and the weirdest of situations.

If you are planning to study abroad, I hope you find this guide helpful!

If you’ve studied abroad before, what tips do you have? Is there any information I missed that you would include in this binder?

Safe travels!

Photo by Resi Kling on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Study Abroad Essentials: Part 1, The Binder

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