Study Abroad Handbook

Practical Information for Bates Students Studying Abroad

Study abroad is a venture into the known and the unknown. Thorough preparation, flexibility, patience, humor, awareness, well-honed observational skills, and an appreciation that even the most rewarding ventures may include unpleasant episodes are keys to successful and meaningful experiences.

1.  Course Load, Courses, and Grade Requirements: A Bates-approved year or semester abroad assures you of eight or four course credits, respectively, provided that you satisfy certain conditions.

  • You must complete the normal full course load for undergraduates at your foreign university or your study abroad program as defined by the Off-Campus Study Committee. If the normal full course load is three courses, take three.  If it is seven courses, take seven.  Five courses are generally the norm on programs that award 3 semester hours per course.  The minimum load is not adequate for full credit.  No extra credit is awarded.  For a listing of the full course load and of the minimum grade requirements, consult 2018-19 Course and Credit Requirements
  • All courses must be taken for a letter grade.
  • Your courses must be appropriate to the liberal arts and sciences. Courses may not duplicate other courses applied to your Bates degree. Please email your course selections to Mr. Das or Dean Gallant to confirm their suitability for general credit.
  • You must take your final exams while abroad at their regularly scheduled times and location.
  • At English-language universities, at least half your coursework must be above the first-year level. Online courses are not eligible for credit.
  • Credit is awarded for internships only when pre-approved by the Off-Campus Study Office and undertaken in a setting where the language is a major or minor at Bates (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, or Spanish) or on the Washington Semester Program. They can be very rewarding in other locations although not for credit.
  • You must earn the equivalent of a 3.00 GPA and pass all your courses to receive full credit. These grades are not included in your Bates GPA.
  • If studying in a non-English language setting, you must take at least one year-long or semester-long course in your country’s language – modern or ancient. If the language is taught as a major or minor at Bates, a majority of your coursework must be in that language unless an exception was granted because of the academic focus of the program.
  • You must live with a family or students from the host-country when these housing options are available.
  • Finally, you will complete an evaluation for Bates following the end of the program. Thank you in advance!

It is your responsibility to be certain you satisfy these requirements. If they are not achieved, partial credit is granted. No credit is granted for extra courses. The Off-Campus Study Committee at Bates makes the final decision as to the award of credit. Individual departments, programs, and Concentration Coordinators are responsible for approving the application of courses toward major, minor, and General Education Concentration requirements.

2.  Course Selection Abroad: Some programs have set curricula; other programs and universities have a wide range of options. If in the latter category, you may need to provide descriptions of prerequisite courses or syllabi to assist your foreign advisor. Students taking university courses in the natural sciences or mathematics should be careful not to enroll in advanced courses unless they are certain they have the necessary background.

3.  Transcripts: Be sure to arrange for an official transcript to be sent to the Center for Global Education at Bates at the conclusion of your program. It is wise to obtain detailed descriptions of courses you want to apply toward any Bates general education, minor, or major requirements – course catalog descriptions, syllabi, texts, papers, and exams are all helpful.

4.  Address: If you have a US-based forwarding address, email this to, indicating that you will be studying off-campus. If you are an international student without a US-based home address, please email to make other arrangements to receive your mail while away.

5.  Payments and Financial Aid: The Bates Off-Campus Study Registration Fee is 7% of the on campus “single fee” Bates charges for the semester.  In most cases, all other payments are directly between your family and your study abroad institution. If you receive financial aid, we have calculated your “cost of attendance” for the Financial Aid Office. The Financial Aid Office re-calculates your award based upon this information. Ms. Heidi Gagnon in Student Financial Services is the contact for study abroad questions.

6.  Health Precautions: Depending on your location, you may be exposed to tropical infectious diseases, lower levels of sanitation, and less sophisticated medical care. Contaminated food and water are potential threats at any site. When the safety of drinking water is in doubt, take no chances — boil it, disinfect it, or avoid it by drinking coffee, tea, bottled water, or commercially-manufactured drinks (e.g., soda).  Remember that if the cleanliness of the water is in doubt, the ice and glasses are, too. The risks of food contamination are lowest for processed foods and meals served in private homes and highest for raw foods served by street vendors. Practice the maxim, “Cook it, peel it, or leave it,” for fruits and vegetables. Meats should be recently and thoroughly cooked. When you get diarrhea – and you likely will – be sure to drink more (clean, non-alcoholic) liquids. Dehydration is a very serious problem, especially in warm climates. Stay hydrated and seek medical attention if diarrhea does not clear up in a few days.

This is general advice. You may have specific medical conditions that you should discuss in detail with your physician. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has web pages specifically for travel abroad. The World Health Organization also has a web page with more specific information. Bates College Health Services has information on immunizations and other advice specific to you, your health history, and destination.

The HIV virus is a deadly threat around the world, particularly in Africa, south of the Sahara. Be extra careful and take precautions – when having sex, in contact with needles, and/or in any blood/bodily fluid contact situation.

Students dealing with emotional problems or psychological instability need to recognize that studying abroad may generate a new array of pressures, anxieties, and insecurities that can be destabilizing. This problem may be aggravated by the lack of psychological support systems abroad, including the absence or limited availability of psychological counselors in some countries. As a result, students experiencing such problems should evaluate very carefully and discuss with their counselor whether study abroad is appropriate for them at this time in their lives. It is essential that you inform your program in advance of any physical or mental health issues.

7.  Health Insurance: It is essential that you have comprehensive health insurance while abroad. If you are currently insured under your family’s policy, have your family obtain written confirmation that your health insurance policy provides coverage in your country of study. If you have the Bates student health insurance policy, it does apply abroad.  If you have questions about Bates insurance coverage, contact Bates Health Services at 207-786-6199 or Cross Insurance at 1-800-537. More information is available here. Several companies specialize in student insurance abroad, including CMI Insurance Worldwide and HTH Worldwide, if you need to augment your family’s policy. Take your policy number and the company’s address and contact information with you (note: 800, 888, and other toll-free numbers do not work from overseas). It is important to know how your insurance will work while overseas and who/how to contact before you need it.

You will likely have to pay for your treatment(s) with a credit card or cash and then get reimbursed by your insurance company. In most cases, the cost of care will be far less than in the US. Be sure to keep records of your treatments, costs, dates, hospitals, etc., for your claim(s).

Emergency Assistance:   Many programs include an emergency assistance policy which provides emergency medical advice, assistance and, if needed, evacuation to better medical facilities. It also pays for a family member to visit you if you are hospitalized for more than seven days and provides loans for emergency medical care. Check to see if your program provides such a policy and, if it does, enter the policy numbers and telephone numbers in the US into your cell phone or wallet. (You may be able to call collect from abroad).

If no such policy is provided by your program, your emergency assistance is provided through Bates by ACE/Europ Assistance USA. The Bates plan number is 01-SP-585. Call 800-766-8206 if in the United States; +1-202-659-7777 from abroad. Call collect if needed.

You will have onsite program/university emergency support. This should be your first point of contact in an emergency. Also, Bates Security is open 24/7 and is trained to respond to emergencies and can forward your calls to college staff and faculty (; +1-207-786-6254), including the Center for Global Education.

8.  Safety and Security. If you are a US citizen – or dress like one – some people will assume you are very wealthy or an advocate of United States foreign policies. This may be true even if you do not consider yourself very wealthy and even if you staunchly oppose US government policies. It is your responsibility to act and dress in ways that minimize your risks and undue/unwanted attention.  Common sense precautions include:

–     Pay attention to the security briefing provided in the orientation by your host university or program, on-site.  Accept your ignorance and vulnerability and follow their advice. Homestay families, if you have one, are also excellent sources of information as to areas of town to avoid or ways to conduct yourself that will minimize unwanted attention.

–     Keep a low profile in demeanor and dress by observing local customs and laws. Get ethnographic! Be observant as to how local people comport themselves, dress, and act. Follow suit.

–     Avoid clothes with U.S. logos, college seals, or explicit US references.

–     Be aware of your surroundings – always. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by your phone.

–     If applicable, speak the local language whenever possible.

–     Use an “under-clothes” money pouch – and be discreet with it – or keep money in a few different places in case you are pick-pocketed. Do not pull out wads of cash in public places. Men should never put their wallets in their back pockets.

–     Never leave your backpack, phone, laptop unattended. Do not drape your bag over the back of your chair, even while sitting in it. Your items will be stolen. Guaranteed. It’s not personal – it’s an incredible opportunity that some people cannot resist. Don’t provide the temptation.

–     Carry some cash in reserve – in a few hiding spots – while traveling.

–     In some settings, illegal taxis prey on foreigners. It is better to call a registered taxi or Uber, if available.

–     Scan your passport, credit cards, and plane tickets and keep them separate from the originals. Store them in an email to yourself – though be cautious with your credit card(s) scans and store these securely – or give them in hard copy to a trusted family member/friend.

–     Remember the 1+1=4 safety math (being with one other person when you socialize, travel, walk in your city, etc. is four times safer than being alone).

–     When you travel independently, email/text your itinerary to a friend or program staff.

–     When staying in a hotel, do not accept a room on the first floor and check all locks right away. Do not leave your items around your room – keep things out-of-sight and locked in your bag/backpack.

–     Follow the precautions that you would if traveling in the U.S., e.g. do not enter an empty train, bus, or dark street at night, cover your name tags, check the adequacy of your money before going out, be discreet with your money, phone, other valuables, look around you as you walk.

–     When necessary, spend extra money if that helps avoid a threatening situation.  Just spend it!

–     Do not carry, look after, or take other responsibility for any package or suitcase on behalf of a stranger or “new friend.”  It could contain drugs, contraband or explosives.  Similarly, do not drive somebody else’s car across a national border.

–     Avoid, whenever possible, American hangouts, American embassies, controversial discussion in public places, protests and marches, and areas of religious controversy.

–     Recognize that road accidents are the greatest cause of death and serious injury for U.S. travelers abroad.  Fatalities caused by cars, buses, motorcycles are up to 40 times higher in some countries. Bicyclists and pedestrians are especially vulnerable. Always assume that cars have the right of way, especially at crosswalks. Look first to the right – or left – depending upon traffic patterns. Learn this immediately!

–     Do not make yourself vulnerable through excessive alcohol consumption – in any context. It lowers your awareness and ability to make good judgement, while increasing your vulnerability substantially.

–     Trust and follow your instincts. If you sense a situation or person is unsafe, it, he, or she probably is.

Additional information is online at Students Abroad.

Travel Advice and Advisories:  The U.S. Department of State has a “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” or STEP in which you enroll online and receive travel advice and updates, including emergency alerts. Enroll now. In addition, you can find Consular information Sheets and Travel Warnings at the US Department of State here.

Hitchhiking:  Hitchhiking is not recommended. However, if you decide to hitchhike, recognize that the risks are greatly magnified when alone. Keep your backpack with you rather than placed in the trunk. If you find yourself uncomfortable, request the driver to stop so you may use the bathroom as you approach a gas station or other visible spot. Once out of the car, report that you have decided to rest there for a while. Follow your instincts!

Heightened Hazards for Women:  Safety risks are magnified for women ranging from verbal harassment – common in many countries – to sexual assault. The ways in which women are treated vary, considerably, around the world – you may be in a place that makes the US look positively medieval or, by contrast, you may have to handle daily unwanted comments, verbal assaults, and limits to your freedom. Marriage proposals are common, particularly in developing countries. Dress conservatively, know how local women handle taunting and verbal harassment, do not be afraid to offend if you are uncomfortable in any way – make it known – loudly and firmly!  Men studying abroad should also be aware of these risks and provide assistance and support. For more information, please consult articles on this topic here.

Acknowledge that you are outside your comfort and familiarity zone and act accordingly. Be cautious. Be vigilant. Learn where it is unsafe to walk; recognize that the sexual expectations generated by U.S. media may contribute to the perception that you are an easy target of opportunity and sexual permissiveness; know that without the informal protection systems that exist for host-country women, you are at greater risk for unwanted attention and harassment; know that excessive alcohol impairs your facilities and increases your vulnerability. All of which magnifies the importance of caution, good judgement, and following the safety and security advice provided by your program or university.

If you experience a sexual assault, you should turn first to the support and resources provided by your program or host university. They have an existing support system, know the local context, and can act quickly to help you.  In addition, Bates has two Title IX Officers who are trained to respond to incidents of sexual discrimination and assault. Gwen Lexow is the  Director of Title IX and Civil Rights Compliance and can be reached at or +1-207-786-6445. Erin Foster Zsiga, Associate Dean of Students, is Deputy Title IX Officer and may be reached at or +1-207-786-6215. You may contact them for additional support, if the resources available locally are not meeting your needs, or for any other reason.

Heightened Hazards for Men:   Men, especially large men, tend to be less careful about their behavior, assuming that their gender and size reduce their risks. While this may be true in some cases, single men – no matter how physically imposing – are easy targets for criminals, particularly at night. The safety precautions discussed during your on-site orientation and here apply to everyone.

For both women and men, never go out with friends/colleagues and leave them alone, especially if they’ve been drinking. Take care of one another. Look out for one another.

9.  Drugs: Stay away from illegal drugs at all times. Period. Avoid areas where drugs are being used. Avoid those involved in handling drugs (using or dealing). Most countries have much stiffer drug laws than the U.S. If arrested, you are not covered by U.S. laws and constitutional rights. Foreign drug laws frequently make no distinction between soft and hard drugs. Bail is not granted in most countries in drug-trafficking cases. You are guilty until proven innocent in many countries. Foreign jails are no nicer, physically or socially, than those in the US. The risks are not worth it.

10.  Gender, Ethnicity, Race, and Sexual Orientation: These aspects of our identity are viewed, accepted, and supported differently around the world. Overall, white privilege and male privilege patterns of the United States may be more pronounced abroad. Despite the diversity of the United States, the dominant assumption is that Americans are white, Christian, of European descent, and heterosexual. Students outside this stereotype should expect to have to cope with instances of covert and overt discrimination. Depending upon your location, women may experience gender biases and cultural expectations that may be offensive and restricting. Students may find it helpful to talk with past participants with similar backgrounds about their treatment and responses and to consult some of the websites found on the Bates Off-Campus Study page under Diversity Abroad.

11.  Passport, Visas, and Other Entry Items: By now, you should have your passport in hand but, if not, information about applying for a passport for U.S. citizens is on the US Department of State’s Passport page. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months after the end of your time abroad – if not, you will not be permitted to board the flight to your destination. Student visas, when required, are obtained from each country’s US consulate or embassy and require the submission of your passport. Your program or university will provide additional information. Student visa requirements for U.S. citizens, along with consulate addresses are available on the Off-Campus Study page here. Visas, if required, often require personal visits to consulates and have long lead times, so please plan ahead. Many countries in Europe do not require visas for brief tourist travel by U.S. citizens but never assume – ALWAYS check the visa requirements if you plan to travel to other countries while abroad. If needed, we can provide you with an official letter which identifies you as a Bates student for immigration and legal purposes.

Students who are not U.S. citizens are often subject to stricter visa requirements. You should contact the embassy of the countries you will be studying in, traveling through, and visiting during your time abroad for more information. Embassy and consular information for all countries with representation in DC is available here.

12. Travel Information:  There are many online ticket services – sometimes they offer low prices, sometimes not. You know how to navigate these and likely have your favorite sites. If you want to keep things local, Dube Travel (784-3376 or toll free 888-598-3823) – 250 Center Street in Auburn – is a nearby source for airline tickets.  STA Travel specializes in student fares and needs, with over 300 offices around the world, including the United States. They have a “Book Now, Pay Later” program that allows students to make a reservation now, paying only a fraction of the ticket price, and paying in full at a later date. In general, we recommend taking your program’s group flight (if one is available) as it simplifies many logistical issues.

International Student Identification Card (ISIC): This is required to book a flight with STA, but can be useful to others since the card provides emergency evacuation, travel and accident insurance, access to discount air and rail fares, and proof of student status for lower admission fees. The card costs $28 and is available through the Bates College Store.

13.  Money Management: Most students report that they spend more money abroad than they anticipated.  Money management is challenging overseas because there are more opportunities to spend and because you are not familiar with the currency. Expenditures can be reduced by limiting travel outside your country, taking advantage of local field trips and activities subsidized by the program or university, purchasing food in markets, using student passes for local travel, and following the advice of local students. It is helpful to become familiar with the currency before departure so you can better gauge its value and then to itemize your expenditures in the first few weeks to assess the flow rate and create a budget. XE is a handy currency converter, with an app.

It is essential to have a major credit card with a chip and a PIN and an ATM/debit card linked to a bank account with PIN to obtain cash by either method. A debit card makes it very easy to access funds from any ATM while away, but there may be foreign transaction fees for each withdrawal, so check this before you leave and, if so, use it judiciously. Using a credit card for a cash advance is a good backup in an emergency (again, know your PIN before you need it) but has drawbacks, as it’s essentially a loan. Bank ATM cards often provide the best exchange rate, while using your ATM/debit card allows your family to add to your checking account while you are abroad. Notify your bank and credit card company when and where you will be studying and traveling abroad, otherwise you may not be able to use your cards abroad. Some people prefer to have some cash in hand before arrival (though again, with ATMs, this is not usually necessary). Depending on the currency, this can be obtained before departure in most international airports. Occasionally, students open a checking account but this is not recommended – it is not possible in many countries and often requires paperwork that can take months to obtain, even where possible.  Many banks or Western Union can wire money to most countries within minutes. Cashing U.S. bank checks abroad (and, conversely, cashing checks drawn on international bank accounts in the US) is often delayed by multi-week/month holding periods – best to avoid.

14.  What To Take: Pack light. Seriously. You will not regret this. Most past students report they took far too much with them.  A large backpack, your passport, a money/ passport holder that is worn under your clothes, sturdy sneakers/comfortable walking shoes/boots, a major credit and ATM card, contact info, a compact language dictionary, extra glasses, small gifts from home, frequently taken and prescription medications (in their original containers), prescriptions for more medications if needed with all their different names, and minimal electronics (with universal adapters) are generally recommended.  The more you buy locally, the more likely you are to blend in.

Even in climates warmer than Maine, the study abroad experience can be bone chilling in the winter months. Many locations do not have central heating. Deserts are remarkably cold at night. Thin, long underwear – tops and bottoms – is recommended, as is layering your clothing.  In hot climates, sunscreen and breathable cotton clothes are your friends.

 15.  Parental Care: You have probably discovered that study abroad generates its own set of parental anxieties and concerns. Your program or university has probably already sent her, him or them a bill and may provide information specific to your experience.  Parents may consult the general health and safety guidelines established by study abroad professionals noted in #8 above.  Here is some general advice:

–     Discuss the information in this letter with your family.

–     Leave copies of the program brochure/university catalog at home or make sure your parents know the website so addresses, courses, schedules, and similar information are available.

–     Leave a photocopy of your passport, airplane ticket, ATM and credit card with your family in case they need to be replaced or other problems arise.

–     Discuss the need to sign legal documents, such as income tax forms or college loan forms, before your departure. Some students sign a “power of attorney” form to authorize their families to deal with various issues while they are away.

–     Tell your family not to expect a call the first day you arrive and then call them anyway. Hundreds of thousands of people fly safely every day – we all know this – yet a 30 second call is all that is needed to bring peace of mind.

–     Email home ASAP your local contact information and that of the program director/ international programs office. (The latter to be used in case of an emergency.)

–     Similarly, be sure to provide your family with the dates of any extended travel plans.

–     When problems arise, always try to solve them on-site first. There is little that parents can do that you can’t do more effectively yourself and in-person. If you discuss a problem with parents, inform them quickly when the problem is resolved – it is not fair to leave them worried back home.

–     Care packages and mail orders can be problematic, no matter how well intended. Find out what description is needed to avoid high customs duties such as “Used clothing for personal use.”

–     Visits from parents are generally lots of fun when scheduled during vacations and awkward after the first several hours if scheduled while the program/university is in session. Please urge any visitors to plan accordingly and visit you during breaks or after your program only.

–     Be sure to contact your home if a major event (earthquake, bomb, railway accident) occurs that is likely to be reported in the U.S. media. This is similar to the call on your first day – statistically unnecessary, emotionally much appreciated.

–     Establish a communication plan with an emphasis on email, text, WhatsApp, or Skype. Telephone calls may be less expensive when they originate in the United States, using an international calling plan.

16.  Digital Connectivity: Your Bates email account remains active and can be accessed online. If you have difficulty accessing it or your Garnet Gateway account, you can email the Help Desk. You will not receive general emails sent to “junior” or “announce,” so you should arrange for a friend on campus to forward emails sent to these addresses that he or she thinks you would want to receive.

Check with your cell phone service as to whether your phone will function in your study abroad country and whether you will be charged for an international call every time you use it. You may want to purchase a local phone on-site or a SIM card for your phone if it is unlocked and has the correct specs (correct band, etc.). The fees for international calls are often not logical so be sure you understand how they work. Alternatively, you can use WhatsApp, Skype or Facetime.

Please be aware that past study abroad students report that excessive use of Facebook and texts to friends and family at home can undermine the study abroad experience. Electronic connections can ease the transition abroad, make it easy to keep up with friends, and provide opportunities for sharing your experience, but they can also distract you from making more and deeper connections in your study abroad setting. It is a delicate balance, but consider turning your phone off for periods of time to force yourself to live fully in your new home.

17.  Registration and Housing at Bates: Catalog and registration information is available here. Because you are off-campus, your “advisor’s hold” is removed for registration. Nevertheless, you should consult with your faculty advisor throughout this process. You will want to check in with your advisor upon your return to campus to report on your time away and to confirm the suitability of your course selection. The Office of Residence Life provides information on their website for students returning in winter semester. If abroad in the fall, you will enter the Winter Housing Lottery in November, via an application process; actual placements cannot be made until mid-December when the location of available beds for winter is known. If abroad in the winter semester, you will be able to select your room via the digital housing lottery through the HouseCat portal. Feel free to contact the Office of Residence Life (207-786-6215) before you leave or while abroad.

18.  Contacting Bates: As noted above, Bates Security is available 24/7 at +1-207-786-6254 or The Center for Global Education number is 207-786-6223.  Our email address is or

19.  Document: Blogging or keeping a journal are wonderful ways to record experiences and reactions. Be considerate, careful, and ethical when posting photos or entries on social media. Do you have the permission of others? Are you civil in your comments? Remember, you are not in the US anymore and laws abroad treat online content differently and hold authors accountable in ways that might surprise you. Again, know before you go!

10.  Remember, the Center for Global Education at Bates is here to support you while you are abroad.


Be well, good luck, learn, and enjoy!