By Muna Sultana || Contributing Writer

While I take pride in being a Franklin & Marshall Diplomat, much of my work experience in college involves diplomacy outside of the country. I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in the fall of my junior year in Amman, Jordan with the U.S. Department of Defense David L. Boren Scholarship, and am currently wrapping up an internship with the U.S. Consulate in Dubai. These experiences have provided me with invaluable insights and experience which I am excited to share with my F&Mily! Whether you just signed up to study abroad for the fall semester or hope to work in a foreign country, this unofficial survival guide offers practical tips and advice to navigate studying or working abroad. 

Research your destination.

Before I left for Dubai this summer, I thought I knew everything about the country. Working in the U.S. Consulate, I was sure to brush up on its geopolitical history and stay up to date with current events. Throughout all of my research, I failed to realize that WhatsApp calls are banned in the UAE. While it seems miniscule, I wasted hours attempting to call loved ones the first few weeks I arrived and a simple Google search could have gone a long way.

Make a folder of all of the apps that are commonly used in the region you are traveling to for taxis, navigation, food delivery, and translating services. Downloading this prior to your arrival will make life so much easier when you need them in a hurry.

Prioritize Safety.

One of the biggest concerns I have before traveling abroad is ensuring my safety in a new country. The U.S. Department of State has a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In the event of an emergency, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will be able to contact you and help friends and family get in touch with you. I highly recommend enrolling in STEP prior to your travels!

When you arrive at your destination, be mindful of local customs and traditions when you travel. In the Middle East, I made sure to carry layers with me in case I was headed somewhere more conservative. Remember that you are a guest in your host country and following their customs and laws is a sign of respect that will ensure your safety.

Figure out what adapter you need. Seriously.

I’m guilty of this on almost every trip I’ve gone to. I pack my curling iron and realize that not only is there a voltage difference, but I forgot to pack an adapter, moments before the plane lands. I purchased an all-purpose travel adapter before traveling to Dubai this summer and it was an incredible investment; in many parts of the Middle East, varying adapters can be used and it was useful to have different options at my disposal. I also highly recommend packing a, or several, portable chargers and carrying one with you at all times.

Along these lines, figure out where you will be spending most of your time and pack accordingly. I love spending time in cafés so I made sure to pack a few extra adapters and a book for when I wandered into a coffee shop. I knew I would be going to the gym regularly so I brought a few pairs of my favorite Gymshark sets. Know your habits and be realistic about your routine. If you puke at the thought of a treadmill, traveling to France will probably not automatically transform you into a gym rat.

Pack lightly. And then divide that in half.

I love fashion and have a hard time parting from my closet— especially from my sneakers. But the reality is, you won’t wear 90% of the clothes you wear in the U.S. while you are abroad. I ended up bringing one pair of Jordan 1s and my Birkenstocks for the 12 weeks I spent in Dubai. My go-to rule for packing is to take half of what you think you need. The lighter you pack, the less baggage (both physically and figuratively) you carry with you. Take a look at the normal weather for the country and region if you plan on traveling outside of your host country. Jordan is typically hot in the summer but can get incredibly cold in the winter so I made sure to pack layers for the transition. 

Learn about the customs of the country you are traveling to and what products/services may not be available. For example, sunscreen is RIDICULOUSLY expensive in Dubai and is also a necessity given the temperature often rises to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Look at the prices of your daily essentials and determine whether you need to stock up on your contact-lens solutions or if you could simply purchase them on arrival. 

Get out of your cultural bubble.

No matter where you go, you are likely to find other Americans in your host country. In Jordan, I often found American students studying or working abroad at the local Starbucks or the American pub downtown. As tempting as it might be to spend all of your time with people that share your language and culture, try to get out of your cultural bubble and truly immerse yourself in the country you’re in. For some, that might mean taking dabke classes to learn how to dance, while it might mean volunteering at a local soup kitchen for others. Skip some of the obvious tourist attractions and make a list of restaurants and landmarks that locals visit to add to your bucket list.

When I studied abroad for a semester, I decided to stay with a host family and it was the best decision I made. My host family brought me EVERYWHERE with them and I was able to explore parts of the country I never would have seen otherwise. Before arriving, I brought them gifts from New York to bring a token of my home into theirs and they really appreciated it. Spend time getting to know your host family and surrounding community and you might end up building life-long relationships.

Think about your goals. Then achieve them.

Before you begin your study abroad experience or internship, think about what you hope to gain from your time abroad. Do you want to learn another language, learn local dances or simply learn about a different culture? Determine SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive) goals you can achieve before you depart the country and ensure you keep them in mind during your study abroad experience. 

Whether these goals are academic in nature or personal, keeping these SMART goals in mind will help you take advantage of your time abroad. It might seem like you’ll be there for a while but it flies by!

Vlog (or Instagram) your journey.

Taking lessons from Good Luck Charlie, I kept a video journal of my time in Amman. I took pictures and videos almost everywhere I went and am incredibly grateful for the memories I captured. Not only did this make for great content on Instagram, but it allowed me to bring my experiences to life. This summer, I decided to make coffee table books filled with my memories from my time abroad to share with my friends and family and relive the incredible moments I had abroad.

Lastly, remember to stay open-minded and be patient with yourself while you are traveling. This journey is meant to be a rollercoaster, filled with momentous highs and lows, trials and tribulations that will only help you grow.

As you venture forth, armed with this survival guide and a spirit of curiosity, I hope you continue the art of diplomacy that F&M instills within you. Best of luck with your adventures!

Rising senior Muna Sultana is a contributing writer. Her email is