The entire - outbound from GW - study abroad process could be summarized into six main parts, 1) Initial Interest, 2) Application Process, 3) Commitment Process, 4) Before You Go, 5) While Abroad and 6) Returning to GW. Within each main part, there are certain required and recommended steps to take to ensure you move through the process smoothly and make the most of your time abroad. Students interested in or already applying and planning to study abroad should review the steps for a successful experience!
Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity and a unique learning experience, beginning when students first start to take the initiative to show interest and to research their study abroad options and lasting well beyond their return to campus. We encourage students to take an active role in this process so that they are well-informed in their decisions and can start to build an understanding of their program and the country they will be living and studying in for the short or longer term.
Some students start getting interested in study abroad at a time when they are also ready to apply, others students’ interest starts well before the collegiate experience and radiates as soon as they arrive on campus. Whether you are ready to apply for the current application cycle or not, these are steps to take in your initial interest phase to ensure you are prepared moving forward!
Students should work with both the Office for Study Abroad and Academic Advisor to have a better understanding of how studying abroad fits into a student’s academic, professional, and personal goals.
Unsure of who to turn to? Think of studying abroad as two separate components. “Studying” refers to your Academic Advisor. Any questions about course requirements for graduation, concentrations, and which courses are best for studying abroad should be directed towards your home school Academic Advisor.
The “abroad” component of studying abroad can be addressed by the Office for Study Abroad. Think application requirements and processes, available programs, housing abroad, etc. The Advising Team aids students in choosing study abroad programs that best fit their academic and cultural interests, facilitate pre-departure orientations, provide assistance to students while abroad, and review study abroad transcripts and course approvals for transfer credit.
When you are just beginning the process and are first expressing interest in study abroad, you should start with a meeting with our Front Desk/Express Services and Study Abroad Community Ambassadors who can show you the ropes with our "Study Abroad 101 Advising", including navigating our systems and the best ways to get started!
The Office for Study Abroad maintains a list of approved study abroad programs for GW undergraduate students studying abroad for a semester or academic year. With over 150 programs in more than 60 countries available, students are sure to find a program that meets their needs.
Approved study abroad programs include GW’s four Study Programs in Chile, England, Madrid, and Paris; more than 40 GW Undergraduate Exchange Partners; and a wide variety of Provider Programs. For first-year applicants, we also have our signature GW Global Bachelor's Program.
When exploring and researching programs it is important to think about your goals for study abroad. Are you trying to improve your second language skills? Are you looking to step out of your comfort zone? Did you want to gain internship experience abroad?
It is also important to consider what type of person you are. Are you the independent type who doesn’t need much support? Are you a bit more of an anxious person who might enjoy more guidance? This is a time to really think about yourself - your needs, your interests, and what you want to get out of this experience.
The best way to view approved programs and search for programs that fit students' academic, cultural and personal interests is using GW Passport's Advanced Search feature. Below you can find a tutorial on how to conduct searches with this feature.
All study abroad participants utilize the GW Course Approval Transfer System (GW CATS) to determine GW course equivalency for their courses taken abroad and to ensure their credits transfer and apply to their degree. This online system is also a fantastic resource for students who are planning on studying abroad in the future as it can be used as a tool to look up which programs offer courses in a specific discipline by displaying what other GW students have taken in the past. The pre-approved course options listed in CATS are not necessarily the only courses offered by the program. During the application process, students may submit a new course request for a study abroad course that is not already on the pre-approved course list. Nevertheless, reviewing the pre-approved list is a great place to start.
Within the CATS system, students can look at pre-approved courses by country or by subject area. This could allow students to see pre-approved courses for all programs in Japan or pre-approved Engineering courses abroad, for example. In this way, the GW CATS system can be a useful tool for identifying potential programs that have coursework already approved for what a student may need.
Please be aware that courses on the pre-approved list undergo periodic reviews and are therefore subject to change depending on the semester.
Want to dive deeper into understanding GW CATS and the transfer credit process? Check out our session on "Everything you Need to Know About Transfer Credit":
To be considered eligible for semester or year study abroad at GW, students must:
Be in Good Academic Standing (2.0 GW grade point average)
Be in good judicial and academic integrity standing at the time of application and remain in good standing prior to departure.
Complete a minimum of 45 credit hours prior to departure.
Have declared a major prior to departure.
Complete one full semester at GW prior to application (for Transfer Students only).
Students must also meet the admission requirements of any programs to which they apply. For example, some programs often require a higher GPA, language study, or background in specific subject areas. Students should ensure they meet all GW and program eligibility requirements before starting an application.
As students are considering the prospect of studying abroad, it is important to maintain eligibility and ensure they are working towards any other application requirements as well, to put themselves in the best place possible when applying. If a program you’re interested in requires a certain language level for example, make sure you are setting goals to accomplish that prior to applying. Now is the best time to make yourself the best applicant possible!
U.S. Citizens: Passport application forms can be found online at www.travel.state.gov or at your local post office, though one particular post office in your area may be designated for processing.
Non-U.S. Citizens: Any non-U.S. citizen leaving the United States needs to be in possession of a valid passport from his/her home country. Non-U.S. Citizens must also check in with the International Services Office (ISO) at GW prior to leaving for a study abroad program outside the U.S. The ISO will advise international students on how to remain in legal visa status during their study abroad semester and how to re-enter the United States legally to complete their studies at GW. Please be sure to tell your program provider your country of origin to assure you will be given appropriate visa advice.
Department of State Announcement:
The U.S. Department of State has recently announced longer processing times for new and renewed U.S. passports. If you do not have a passport or your passport expires in less than 6 months after the end of your desired study abroad program, we recommend not letting the time pass you by! Apply or renew as soon as possible! View the full announcement >>
Stay connected with our office and be in the know with upcoming OSA events, application deadlines, scholarships, and international and cultural opportunities by signing up for our monthly newsletter. We also disseminate important and pertinent informationt relevant to the current application cycle to our newsletter subscribers so if you are interested in studying abroad, being a subscriber is essential!
The application cycle for most study abroad programs opens the semester prior to the intended semester or year abroad. This implies that the Fall and Academic Year application cycle occurs in Spring, typically opening in mid-December/early-January. Whereas, Spring application cycle occurs in Fall, typically opening in mid-July/early-August. There are a few exceptions to this rule, namely programs at Oxford and Cambridge, where these applications are due a full year in advance. Deadlines are binding and vary greatly by program. Generally, applications for Spring study abroad are due from mid-September to early-November; Fall and Academic Year study abroad applications are due from mid-January to early-April.
In order to ensure you are successful in your application, it is important to follow the steps in the application process.
If you are studying internationally, away from GW, in a program that does not qualify as GW Study Abroad, or are unsure whether your program qualifies, please check the Study Abroad vs. Study Away guidelines. Students do not use GW Passport or GW CATS for Study Away programs.
Students planning to study abroad must follow and abide by the policies outlined by the Office for Study Abroad. Review all of our policies as you’re beginning the application process. Any questions can be directed to your study abroad advisor.
Before you officially begin any applications, take some time to really determine what programs will be best for you personally. It is great to seek advice from peers and your family, but ultimately, this is your experience and you will need to decide what program(s) best offer the experience you are looking for. At this time, you should be considering many factors - below are three main factors:
- Academic fit
- Does it offer the courses you need or relevant coursework to your degree?
- Will it be academically and intellectually stimulating?
- Are you looking for experiential learning options like field experience or internships - do they offer that?
- Health & Safety
- Language experience
- Does the program have courses taught in English or a foreign language?
- Are you familiar with or have experience in this country's language?
- Are you looking to further your language skills abroad?
All students must submit an application in GW Passport as the first step in applying to study abroad. During the application cycle, all approved programs are open and available in GW Passport. Application requirements will vary depending on which type of program a student pursues, so please ensure that you carefully read and understand all requirements listed.
Students are permitted to apply to up to THREE approved programs each application cycle and must rank their applications in order of preference. If applying to a GW Study or Exchange program, it must be the student’s top choice as they are required to attend if nominated and accepted.
An application in GW Passport is not considered complete until all checkboxes are marked off in the Pre-Decision section. Please keep in mind that there is no formal “submit button”, so if a student has any questions about their application status, they should contact the appropriate study abroad advisor.
All undergraduate study abroad applicants are required to begin their study abroad application process by first meeting with a representative from our office through our Drop-in/Express Services - this includes our express advisors and Study Abroad Community Ambassadors - to receive "Study Abroad 101" advising. Study Abroad 101 advising is one-on-one advising to review the basics of the full application process and how to get started, including an overview of our three main platforms - GW Passport, GW CATS, and the studyabroad.gwu.edu website - as well as pertinent policies to be aware of and how to navigate the process.
This requirement must be completed before students will be able to set up any appointments with their school-specific study abroad advisor.
Each program requires students to apply first in GW Passport, however, each program type has its own follow-on steps and specific application procedures and requirements. For every program, it is recommended that students start their applications by submitting the “Study Abroad Eligibility Form” E-Signature Document in GW Passport so that our office can verify your eligibility. This process can take up to 2 weeks, which is why we recommend starting here. All applicants will also be required to attend an info session going over GW CATS and the Transfer Credit Process.
Note: In GW Passport, there is no submit button to complete your application, applications are considered complete as soon as all required tasks have been checked off.
Students applying to a Provider Program should complete an application on GW Passport while simultaneously applying through the provider directly. GW Passport applications are required to confirm eligibility, however the bulk of the application for these programs will be on the provider’s website. All provider programs require home school authorization, which should be submitted to our study abroad advisors electronically, when possible. Students will only be authorized, or nominated, once their eligibility has been verified and so long as they have a corresponding application for the matching program in GW Passport. Students are responsible for authorizing our eligibility checks at least 2 weeks prior to the program's deadline and submitting approval requests before the program's deadline, along with the remainder of the application (including an official transcript), directly to the program sponsor. Please note that applications are often reviewed on a rolling basis, so it can be advantageous to submit an application well in advance of the program deadline. Providers will determine final admission into these programs.
GW Study Programs and GW Undergraduate Exchanges
Students applying to GW Study Programs (GW Chile, Madrid, Paris, England) and GW Exchange Programs must first complete their GW Passport application in its entirety by the designated deadline. GW Passport applications for these programs are more substantial than that of the GW Passport Provider Program applications. Application requirements may vary, but in general, students should expect to fulfill requirements such as a meeting with their study abroad advisor, submission of official transcripts, and submission of a short essay among other requirements detailed within the application. Their final application will be reviewed by the OSA. These programs are highly competitive and admission is not guaranteed. Selected students will be nominated by the OSA and will be instructed on how to then apply directly to the host institution for final acceptance. Though our nomination is what allows students to apply directly with these institutions and does hold significant weight in our partner institutions' admission decisions, it is still ultimately the host institutions decision on whether an applicant will be admitted or not.
Short-Term Abroad Programs (STAP)
All Short-Term Abroad Program (STAP) applications will be available in GW Passport; however, STAPs are NOT managed by the Office for Study Abroad. Questions can be directed to the program's Faculty Director.
As part of the initial interest and research phase, students should have met with their academic advisor as well as OSA's express advising or peer advising services to discuss their future study abroad plans and understand the process of getting started. In the application phase, all students applying for a GW Exchange Program or select GW Study Programs must schedule a meeting with their Office for Study Abroad advisor prior to the application deadline to discuss their exchange or GW Study program.
Students applying to any program type are also encouraged to utilize their study abroad advisor, peer advisors and drop-in services as resources to assist in this process and prepare for your upcoming experience abroad.
More information regarding study abroad advising, including advising services and hours, can be found on our advising page
Nomination means different things for different program types, though all programs require some type of nomination.
Provider programs will require a Home School Nomination which is also often referred to as an authorization or approval. These can be submitted to OSA electronically and an advisor will approve your application with the provider once a student’s application is marked eligible and the application in GW Passport matches that with the Provider. Providers will review Home School Nomination in determining final admission. Home School Nomination can be rescinded should a student not maintain GW eligibility.
For GW Exchange programs and GW Study Programs, a nomination is required before proceeding to the school’s direct application. Applications are reviewed after the GW deadline and nominations will be announced shortly after. Nominated students will receive instructions from their advisor or the GW Study Programs team on how to proceed. Students should not proceed with applying to any school directly unless nominated. OSA nomination holds a lot of weight with our partners, however, our partners will still determine final admission.
All eligible students studying abroad on an approved GW study abroad program are guaranteed 12-18 credits per semester so long as they pass the courses abroad (with a letter grade of a US C or higher) and follow the appropriate steps for the transfer credit process. Students are also required to take between 12-18 credits in order to maintain their full-time student status, which is essential to retain enrollment at GW and eligibility for financial aid and scholarships.
Nearly all coursework taken abroad will appear on a student’s GW transcript as transfer credit and will not impact their GPA. The exception to this is GW courses only available on select GW Study programs, including GW Madrid (all courses), GW Chile (up to 2 courses) and GW Paris - Fall Business (all courses). These courses will receive letter grades and will not require any additional action from the student to have the credits appear on their GW transcript.
It is vitally important that students speak with their academic advisor when selecting programs and courses for study abroad to ensure that these courses meet the requirements of their degree plans.
Each non-GW-numbered study abroad course will need approval in our GW Course Approval Transfer System (known as GW CATS) in order to transfer back to GW. All students are highly encouraged to submit CATS requests before going abroad to ensure that they understand how the coursework will transfer back in advance and to assist in selecting and registering for courses on their program. Students should submit around 5-10 CATS requests for their program(s) of interest in case a course is not available. Students are required to submit CATS requests and acquire GW equivalent approvals for all courses taken abroad.
Requests will be reviewed and GW Equivalent course approvals will be determined by the Department Approvers within each GW department to which the requests are sent. The credit value for courses taken abroad is determined by the abroad program/host university and will NOT always be the same credit value as the equivalent GW course as offered here on campus, even if the course is approved in CATS. For students on direct enroll programs, please be aware that most countries do not follow the same credit system as GW. When transferring courses from programs that offer credits under a different system, your credits will be converted into GW credits. For example, in many European countries, schools follow the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), where ECTS credits transfer back as half GW credit (ex. 3 ECTS credits will come back as 1.5 GW credits). Please keep these conversions in mind when selecting classes to ensure you stay between the minimum 12 GW credits and maximum 18 GW credits.
To verify our office’s policy on transfer credit, review the Transfer Credit Policy on our Policies page.
Want to dive deeper into understanding GW CATS and the transfer credit process? Check out our session on "Everything you Need to Know About Transfer Credit":
During the application process, students are encouraged to explore scholarship opportunities. There are opportunities available through the OSA and externally. Many of our partners also offer scholarships that students may be eligible for, as well. OSA offers more in depth advising on our scholarship offerings as well as the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship for Pell Grant Recipients. For more details, contact your study abroad advisor. Info session dates vary by semester.
The commitment process refers to the phase after students’ applications are completed and they have begun receiving acceptances into their preferred programs. For Fall and Academic Year applicants, this phase typically begins around April, for Spring applicants, the phase usually starts in November, though in each case, it may be earlier depending on when students receive program acceptance information.
Successful commitment on both the side of GW and your program is essential in order to receive the correct paperwork to go abroad and to be properly registered as a study abroad student at GW for the subsequent semester or year.
Your program or provider will need to know your intent to commit to and attend their program fairly shortly after you've been accepted. This may occur before GW's Commitment Process begins with Pre-Departure Orientation. You should follow your program's deadlines for when to commit. At this stage in the process, you will need to also follow your program’s or provider’s instructions for committing.
For students planning to attend a provider program, committing often requires a commitment fee or deposit. Students are responsible for paying that fee upfront, directly to their provider. However, this deposit will be refunded to you by our office upon our receipt of Provider Invoices later in the semester. Refunds will be posted on your Student Account.
One of the first steps towards committing to your program in GW Passport is withdrawing from your backup options, if you have any. Students were permitted up to three applications each application cycle in GW Passport. If you have been admitted into your top choice, you should withdraw from all other options in GW Passport. If you are still waiting to hear on admission into a program of choice, please inform your study abroad advisor.
Around April for Fall and AY applicants and November for Spring applicants, the Office for Study Abroad will be conducting our Pre-Departure Orientation event. Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) is meant to prepare students for their study abroad experience. The OSA believes that proper planning and expectation setting are needed for a successful semester abroad. Pre-Departure Orientation provides a framework to help students understand what it may be like to enter diverse cultures and communities, while also addressing logistical concerns needed to ensure a smooth transition abroad including detailing next steps in the commitment process. Applicants will receive a formal invitation to Pre-Departure Orientation as well as details of the event at least a month prior.
Depending on a student’s chosen study abroad program, some students may have additional orientation requirements. Students attending a GW Study Program must attend a program-specific orientation with OSA’s GW Study Programs team. Students on Provider programs and exchanges may have online orientations with their program prior to departure and should also expect an additional orientation upon arrival. These are mandatory events to ensure you prepare for your time abroad properly.
Necessary paperwork such as visa documents or health insurance guarantees, if applicable for your program, will also be provided during or around Pre-Departure Orientation.
After attending Pre-Departure Orientation, students with active applications in GW Passport will be given access to a new application for “Pre-Departure Orientation: Logistics”, which will provide students with videos and modules of information covered in Pre-Departure Orientation. Students can re-review these materials and also reference them at a later date while abroad, if needed. This application also includes short quizzes to ensure students understand the material covered at Pre-Departure Orientation. Students must pass each quiz with a 90% or higher and complete all Fillable Forms in order to complete PDO Logistics.
Upon successful completion of Pre-Departure Orientation Logistics, students’ status will be updated to “Approved Forms Incomplete” on their program application in GW Passport and will be given access to “Commit” or “Withdraw” from their program. Hitting “Commit” will update a student’s status to “Committed”, but additional steps are required to be considered fully committed and ready to register as a Study Abroad Participant.
Need help committing? Check out our instructions.
Additional modules or forms will become available to you within your program’s application in GW Passport upon completion of Pre-Departure Orientation Logistics. Students will need to go through these documents and materials and complete each module. It is vital that students read through everything carefully as this section includes Participation Agreements and Policy Acknowledgments that students must electronically sign off on. A thorough understanding of this information is imperative. Once completed, assuming holds are cleared, students are considered ready to register and the Office for Study Abroad will register students on their behalf with our 15-credit study abroad placeholder.
Proper and timely registration is important to retain your full-time student status, ensure scholarships and aid are dispersed properly, and allows you to stay on track with your degree progress and be able to register for classes at GW for the subsequent semester.
Administrative or financial holds on your Student Account will prevent the OSA from being able to register you with our Study Abroad Placeholder. To ensure you are registered in a timely manner, it is important to ensure all holds are cleared. Registration is vital for enrollment continuity at GW. For assistance in clearing holds, it is recommended students speak with the Academic Advisor or Student Accounts Office depending on the nature of the hold.
It's important to note that some holds do not prohibit registration. Our systems are not able to differentiate between holds that inhibit registrations and those that do not. If you are receiving notices from us of a hold on your account and you are aware it does not impact registration, please let us know immediately at [email protected].
Students studying abroad will be billed for the semester via their GW eBill, similar to an on-campus semester at GW. Likewise, any scholarships and financial aid will also be processed through students’ eBills. After being registered with the 15-credit study abroad placeholder, students’ bills will be generated. Students and their families should follow their typical processes for paying their semester bill. At this time, no payments should be made directly to a student’s program or provider. For more information on how study abroad is billed and financing study abroad, review our Funding page.
Before You Go
Before you head off on your journey abroad, there are certain final steps you should take to ensure a smooth transition. Some of these steps are necessary in order to travel and live internationally for the next semester, while others are recommendations and resources from our office and other reputable sources.
As previously mentioned during the Initial Interest phase, passports are required documentation in order to study abroad and travel internationally. If you have not done so already, it is imperative to use this time before going abroad to apply for or renew your passport. As a reminder, passports must be valid for at least six months after returning from a study abroad program. For more information, please review the “Apply for or Renew your Passport” step in the Initial Interest section.
Visas may also be required for your study abroad program depending on your host country and program duration. Visa and visa requirements vary greatly from country to country. Visas are official documents issued by governments granting permission for visitors to enter a country. You will receive visa application information from your program provider; however, it is always your responsibility to be aware of policies and deadlines that may affect the visa process. Failure to comply with visa procedures could result in delays in arrival to your study abroad destination and subsequent financial repercussions. To obtain visas, you may need to show proof of acceptance to a study abroad program or be asked to show proof of student status upon entering a country. You may also be asked to show proof of sufficient finances to support yourself while abroad.
Visa processes and requirements vary greatly by country, so be sure to read the materials given to you thoroughly and carefully and to research the visa process on your host country’s Consular Affairs website. Visa processing times can take anywhere from one to eight weeks. Please also be aware that you must mail or give up your actual passport to the Consulate for processing. This means that any personal international travel between breaks should be planned accordingly.
The Office for Study Abroad does not advise on visa processes, with the exception of our GW Study Programs. It is recommended that non-GW Study Programs students discuss visa logistics with their program provider or exchange school during the acceptance process.
Students should consider the following questions and other similar questions when preparing to study abroad and take additional steps to prepare as needed. Personal research before studying abroad is an important self-initiative to help make the most of your time abroad and help mitigate issues with culture shock. Students should take an active role in preparing themselves physically and mentally for this upcoming experience. Also, students should take this time to consider the Health & Safety aspects of studying abroad via our Health & Safety page.
Who will handle your Financial Aid and other education-related inquiries while you’re abroad?
Consider: Power of Attorney forms (PDF) can be submitted to the Financial Aid Office to allow a member of your family or someone else to represent you in these aspects in your absence
Were you signed up for housing on-campus next semester?
Consider: Students can cancel upcoming housing with the GW Housing office at [email protected]
Do you currently require any disabilities accommodations?
Consider: Students should speak with GW’s Disabilities Support Services (DSS) to receive documentation of your accommodations to aid in receiving similar accommodations abroad, where possible.
Are you an international student?
Consider: Your ISO advisor is available to meet with you to help you understand how to maintain your visa status in the U.S.
Is housing included in your program and have you applied?
Consider: Some programs require additional steps to apply for housing. Make sure you follow your program’s process for selecting/applying for/securing housing. Tier 1 and Tier 2 programs do not include housing, therefore, if you have not already applied for housing with your program directly, take some time to begin researching housing options. Utilize study abroad alumni and peer advisors for assistance. Note: GW England - SOAS and UCL students should only apply for housing directly with their programs. Remember that it is your responsibility to secure and pay for this housing directly for these two tiers.
What are some major cultural aspects of your host country that you should be aware of before arrival?
Consider: Typical greetings, nonverbal communication styles/gesturing, meal etiquette, dress codes, current political ideology, pop culture, understanding on the concepts of timeliness or personal space, eye contact, touching, etc.
Do you feel comfortable talking about the U.S.?
Consider: As a study abroad student from the U.S., you often act as a representative of the U.S. and GW while abroad. Be knowledgeable about your home country as locals and international students may want to discuss certain aspects of U.S. culture, history, politics, etc.
Have you begun any cross-cultural preparations or training?
Consider: Pre-Departure Orientation was a good jumping off point regarding cross-cultural preparedness, but students should take this time prior to departure to engage in cross-cultural preparation and training on their own. Work on developing skills to adapt to new environments. Think about what culture is and the dos and don'ts of cross-cultural communication. Consider starting with this Online Cultural Training Resource for Study Abroad.
Do you have copies of all your essential documents?
Consider: It is important and useful to have copies of essential documents such as your passport, visa, credit cards, and ID in case you lose it or it gets stolen. It is often better to keep copies on hand rather than carry the originals while abroad.
What are your travel plans?
Consider: Are you planning to travel around during your semester, before or after? Where are you planning to go? What should you know about these locations before arrival, similar to preparing for your host destination? What do you need to pack and purchase to go to these locations?
What do you want to accomplish while abroad?
Consider: Your time leading up to your semester abroad is the perfect opportunity to remind yourself of your goals. Are you looking to improve your language skills? Be fully integrated into your host society? Fulfill degree requirements for your major? Live with a host family? Have an internship? Use this time to set yourself up to be in the best position possible to work towards achieving those goals, whatever they may be!
Below are some tips to help you prepare financially for your time abroad:
Exchange money into your host currency before departure
- Having local currency on hand upon arrival is always a good practice! This is especially true in cash-based countries. You may need immediate cash to get a taxi to travel to your housing or even to use a public restroom or to get a quick snack before leaving the airport. Airport money exchange services may have higher fees or longer lines, if possible, it is always useful to arrange this ahead of time. Some reputable options for exchanging currency include Travelex, AAA, and even your bank.
Notify your Bank(s) or Credit Card company(ies)
- If you are planning to use your credit or debit cards abroad, you will want to inform your bank or card companies to help avoid your cards being flagged for suspicious activity. Calling, visiting, or using mobile banking are all methods of registering your travel plans with your bank. You will need to provide them with the countries you plan to visit and the dates for your overall time abroad. This is also a good opportunity to check your bank’s or card’s fees for international transactions so you understand what you will be charged when using your card abroad. If the fees are high, consider using this time to research different credit card options or preloaded cards.
Research Money-Norms in your Host destination
- Cultural differences exist around the concept of money and transactions, as well. Take some time to get to know your host country’s take on money. Are they more of a cash-based society or card-friendly? Arrive prepared from what you learned from this research. This is a good opportunity to also research aspects like tipping culture and which banks/ATMs in the area are reputable versus potential scams.
Avoid opening a bank account in host country
- Opening a bank account in your host country while studying abroad isn’t usually worthwhile. It may even become more of a burden than a benefit in the long run when the semester comes to an end. Accessing your at-home bank is easy and accessible, especially with mobile banking. If you’ve informed your bank of your travels, there’s not much need for a foreign bank account.
Prepare your at-home finances
- As a reminder, you should ensure your GW eBill is paid on time or your payment plan is set up. You may also want to consider any other at-home expenses you may have, such as credit card statements, recurring subscriptions, cell phone bill, etc. You may want to consider setting up automated payments or seek assistance from your family.
Budget, budget, budget!
- Consider the things you will need to pay for on your own and what is already included in your program. Also take time to think about additional things you would like to do or purchase during your time abroad. Use this information to set yourself a budget. Monitor your budget and spending to make sure you don’t overspend. For more information, visit our Budgeting page in the Funding section of our website.
No one can tell you exactly how and what to pack to take overseas. The below list is just a series of advice and suggestions and it will ultimately be up to you to pack appropriately for your time abroad. It is important to remember that you will accumulate things while abroad, so you will want to have enough room to bring them back at the end of the term (international shipping is a nightmare and very expensive).
Questions to consider before packing:
What semester are you going abroad? What is the weather usually like in your host country at that time of year?
What is considered culturally appropriate clothing in your host country? Is there anything they do not wear?
What things will be available in your host country that you can buy there and do not have to pack?
Are you currently taking any medications regularly that are unavailable in your host country?
What type of outlet is used in your host country? What electronics may or may not work with this outlet? Are there wattage restrictions?
Make sure to pack the essentials:
Passport and Visa (and photocopies!)
Tip: keep your photocopies in a different bag than your passport/visa
Cash in host currency
Arrival/On-site orientation instructions (from provider or host institution)
Health Insurance Card
Outlet Adaptors/Voltage Converters
Additional Items to Consider:
Gifts (for your host family)
Lock (for lockers & for luggage)
Small first aid kit
Reusable water bottle
Comfortable walking shoes
Reconsider Packing - Remember you can buy items in country:
Try not to overpack:
Before departing, practice carrying all your luggage around the block to make sure you’ll be able to transport it all yourself once you arrive in-country
Make sure to leave room for gifts and souvenirs
Studying abroad is an extremely exciting and rewarding endeavor. However, that doesn’t mean that students don’t experience moments of cold feet prior to departure. A common concern surrounds the idea of leaving your friends and family behind for the semester/year. It is important to stay connected and the first step to that is having a discussion with your friends and family to develop a plan to keep in touch during your time abroad. Homesickness is a common symptom of culture shock. Having these plans in place can help mitigate feelings of loneliness and isolation when abroad.
Before you go, learn how to use GW’s Two-Step Authentication while traveling abroad to stay connected via your GW email.
Your experience abroad will expose you to a new culture that will be both similar and different than your own. As discussed in the “Before You Go” stage, it is important to research your host country before you leave to familiarize yourself with the services available in-country, set expectations, and begin to consider the cultural differences you may experience and encounter during your time abroad. Use some of the below steps, tips and information as starting points to make the most of your time abroad as well as properly prepare for your return.
As articulated in the Application process, the OSA always recommends starting the transfer credit process early with submitting GW CATS requests for courses students plan to take abroad as soon as possible. This is to help mitigate potential risks such as courses not being approved by the department a student wanted it approved for, or not approved for a specific course a student needed. That way, students have time to switch classes abroad or ensure the course is approved for another sufficient GW equivalent without delaying their transfer credit. Though we can guarantee students’ coursework will transfer over so long as they pass their courses with a US C or higher and have the appropriate GW CATS approvals, we cannot guarantee what approvals a student will receive.
As explained in the steps prior, course approval requests are evaluated by Department Approvers, which are selected faculty in each department. Students can reach out to our Department Approvers directly if they have questions about approvals or rejections or if the request has not been evaluated in over 2 weeks.
Some programs register for courses pre-departure, while others register on-site when students arrive. Therefore, it may be easier for some students to work on their GW CATS approvals while abroad rather than pre-departure. There is no deadline for submitting GW CATS approvals, however, late submissions can cause delays in the transfer credit process.
Students should remember that approvals must be submitted for all courses taken abroad whether this is a new course request or a pre-approved course, with the exception of GW-numbered courses on GW Madrid, GW Chile and GW Paris - Fall Business. For further instructions on submitting both types of request, review the GW CATS Instructions for Students.
* Please note: The average turnaround time for department approvers to evaluate a GW CATS request is 2 weeks. Please allow approvers 2 weeks before reaching out to follow up on request.
For more details, review the Transfer Credit Policy.
Want to dive deeper into understanding GW CATS and the transfer credit process? Check out our session on "Everything you Need to Know About Transfer Credit":
Health and Safety includes everything from the effects of cultural adjustments and identity considerations, to mental and physical health to emergencies and incidents. It’s important to be knowledgeable of your resources while abroad and refer to them as needed throughout your semester or year. Review our Health & Safety page for details.
Research suggests that students improve their intercultural learning through reflection. We recommend journaling or photo journaling (or other digital storytelling) to document and make sense of your new experiences abroad. This is also a great way to look back and see how you grew and progressed throughout the semester, including all the highs and lows along the way.
The Office for Study Abroad is always looking to hear from our students. If you took a really amazing photo or just want to share your feelings and experiences, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]. We’d love to feature your experiences, stories, and challenges from abroad on our social media platforms. Follow us on all platforms @GWAbroad.
Read more about the benefits of journaling.
During the Initial Interest phase and Application Process, students should be considering their goals for studying abroad in order to pick the best program. While abroad, students should think back on those goals and make sure they are making the most of their time and putting themselves in a position to accomplish their goals.
Wanted to improve your language skills? Make sure you’re using the local language as much as possible, consider finding a language exchange buddy. Wanted to gain international work experience? Work with your program or school to help arrange an internship or other field experience.
Make strategic strides and smart choices to advance towards your goals! You don’t want to finish the semester regretting that you wish you’d done more.
During your study abroad experience, it is important to immerse yourself in the host culture. However, it’s important not to isolate yourself from home either. No matter where you are in the world, social media and technology have made it easier than ever to stay connected. Here are a few resources to help you stay connected and access loved ones while you are abroad:
Talk, Text, and Video Chat: Use the following apps and websites to connect with your loved ones for free with wifi!
Good Old Fashioned Snail Mail:
Collect and send postcards while you travel
Create your own postcards: MyPostcard let’s you use your own photos for postcards and ships them worldwide for free!
Write a letter
Don’t forget to also stay connected to GW. Any updates from GW or from our office will be sent to your GW email. Make sure to continue to monitor this email during your time abroad to ensure you don’t miss any important information! Having trouble accessing GW’s Network, try the GW VPN.
For more tips on great apps for traveling and studying abroad, check out the Top Apps You Need to Survive Studying Abroad guide.
Just as you do every semester, you will need to register for your upcoming GW housing and coursework for the subsequent semester. The Office for Study Abroad does not coordinate housing assignments or course registration. You will need to follow the processes as normal, paying extra attention to dates and deadlines. Keep in mind you are in a different time zone and must follow the US Eastern Standard Time deadlines for housing and course registration.
For support with course registration, work with your academic advisor within your GW School to understand when you are eligible to register.
Returning to GW
All great experiences, including study abroad, must come to an end eventually. When preparing to return, and inevitably returning home, students may be struck with similar emotions and concerns to those they had when preparing to depart for abroad. Students may feel excited to see family and friends and simultaneously isolated from those who do not understand the experiences they’ve just had. They may feel inspired by their international experience but unsure how to keep that motivation going and what to do now that they are stateside again. Support from the Office for Study Abroad does not stop just because a student has returned from abroad! The OSA has processes, programming, and resources to help support returning students. Just because students have returned, doesn’t mean they have to disconnect from the transformative experience.
With returning, there are some logistical, housekeeping, processes that must be completed as well. Students are expected to complete the OSA Returnee Survey, which can be found linked in GW Passport as a new unchecked E-Signature Document. With this survey, the OSA is asking for students’ feedback on major aspects of their study abroad experience. This information is imperative to our office as it helps us improve our offerings and overall improve the student experience. Log on to GW Passport to complete this upon returning home.
Throughout a student’s study abroad experience, both prior to departing and during their time abroad, students should be actively working to submit GW CATS requests and receive the required GW course equivalent approvals for each course taken while abroad. As a reminder, in order for students to successfully transfer their credits to GW, all courses* must show in GW CATS with corresponding approvals.
*GW-numbered courses on GW Madrid, GW Chile, or GW Paris - Fall Business do not require a GW CATS approval
Upon completion of a student’s study abroad program, their program will generate their transcript for the semester or year and send it to our office. Once the transcript is received, students will receive an automated email notification from GW Passport confirming our office’s receipt of the official transcripts. In order for a transcript to be official, it must be received by the students’ programs directly. Oftentimes, students receive copies of their official transcripts but we cannot accept this from the student if we have not already received it from the program directly.
After receiving the official transcript in our office, assuming all GW CATS approvals are complete, it can take roughly 4-6 weeks for credits to appear on the student’s transcript. If any course approvals are missing or if a student has multiple different approvals for the same course, this can delay the transfer credit process.
Once the OSA transfers credit to a student's transcripts, the courses will be listed under the "Transfer Credit" portion near the top of the transcript, rather than under the semester or term that the student studied abroad. Under the semester a student studied abroad, the transcript will show that they were registered for 15 credits of undergraduate study abroad. If there are any issues with how a course is applied in your DegreeMap towards your degree requirements, students should speak with their Academic Advisor. OSA is only able to transfer the credits and cannot adjust how they are applied towards degree progress.
Often, students are asked to provide copies of their study abroad transcripts when applying to graduate school and even for some job applications. The Office for Study Abroad can NOT give students copies of their study abroad transcripts. If students need an official copy of their study abroad transcript, they should contact their program provider or host institution and follow their procedures for transcript requests. Please note that this process can take several weeks at some institutions, so do not delay in requesting these documents if needed for applications. Alternatively, students can request a “Grade Letter” from our office, which is a certified letter on GW OSA letterhead confirming the courses taken abroad and the corresponding grades. This letter is usually sufficient for graduate school applications and the like.
Similar to how students prepared for their time abroad, returning students are encouraged to take time to understand reverse culture shock and what support is available. Reverse Culture Shock is a term associated with reentry and what students may experience when they return from their time abroad. Just as the name suggests, it is similar to the feelings of culture shock when first arriving in a host location. It is a period of adjustment and growth.
Ten Top Immediate Re-entry Challenges
Dr. Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific
Boredom: After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, and old routines (however nice and comforting) can seem very dull. It is natural to miss the excitement and challenges which characterize study in a foreign country, but it is up to you to find ways to overcome such negative reactions - remember a bored person is also boring.
"No One Wants to Hear": One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences. This is not a rejection of you or your achievements, but simply the fact that once they have heard the highlights, any further interest on your audiences’ part is probably unlikely. Be realistic in your expectations of how fascinating your journey is going to be for everyone else. Be brief.
You Can't Explain: Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feelings you had while studying abroad, it is likely to be at least a bit frustrating to relay them coherently. It is very difficult to convey this kind of experience to people who do not have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners. You can tell people about your trip, but you may fail to make them understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way. It’s okay.
Reverse "Homesickness": Just as you probably missed home for a time after arriving overseas, it is just as natural to experience some reverse homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to as a student overseas. To an extent it can be reduced by writing letters, telephoning, and generally keeping in contact, but feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.
Relationships Have Changed: It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Just as you have altered some of your ideas and attitudes while abroad, the people at home are likely to have experienced some changes. These changes may be positive or negative, but expecting that no change will have occurred is unrealistic. The best preparation is flexibility, openness, minimal preconceptions, and tempered optimism.
People See "Wrong" Changes: Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. Others may ascribe "bad" traits to the influence of your time abroad. These incidents may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. To avoid or minimize them it is necessary to monitor yourself and be aware of the reactions of those around you, especially in the first few weeks following your return. This phase normally passes quickly if you do nothing to confirm their stereotypes.
People Misunderstand: A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that communication is difficult. For example, what you may have come to think of as humor (particularly sarcasm, banter, etc.) and ways to show affection or establish conversation may not be seen as wit, but aggression or "showing off." Conversely, a silence that was seen as simply polite overseas might be interpreted at home, incorrectly, as signaling agreement or opposition. New clothing styles or mannerisms may be viewed as provocative, inappropriate, or as an affectation. Continually using references to foreign places or sprinkling foreign language expressions or words into an English conversation is often considered boasting. Be aware of how you may look to others and how your behavior is likely to be interpreted.
Feelings of Alienation: Sometimes the reality of being back "home" is not as natural or enjoyable as the place you had constructed as your mental image. When real daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation. Many returnees develop "critical eyes", a tendency to see faults in the society you never noticed before. Some even become quite critical of everyone and everything for a time. This is no different than when you first left home. Mental comparisons are fine, but keep them to yourself until you regain both your cultural balance and a balanced perspective.
Inability to Apply New Knowledge and Skills: Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to apply newly gained social, technical, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant at home. To avoid ongoing annoyance: adjust to reality as necessary, change what is possible, be creative, be patient, and above all use the cross-cultural adjustment skills you acquired abroad to assist your own reentry.
Loss/Compartmentalization of Experience (Shoeboxing): Being home, coupled with the pressures of job, family, and friends, often combine to make returnees worried that somehow they will "lose" the experience. Many fear that it will somehow become compartmentalized like souvenirs or photo albums kept in a box and only occasionally taken out and looked at. You do not have to let that happen: maintain your contacts abroad; seek out and talk to people who have had experiences similar to yours; practice your cross-cultural skills; continue language learning. Remember and honor both your hard work and the fun you had while abroad.
How to Combat Reverse Culture Shock:
Understand that these feelings are normal and familiarize yourself more with Reverse Culture Shock.
Try not to expect that things will be exactly the same as how you left them. Acknowledge your own growth and the growth of others, though different from your own.
Recognize that you’ve changed and know that change can be good
Learn to tell a good story. Perfect your storytelling skills so others stay interested.
Keep in touch with those you met while abroad (friends, professors, host families, etc.)
Seek out advice and friendship from others who recently returned from abroad (OSA sends roughly 500 students abroad every semester, attend a returnee or alumni event and find a new friend!)
Seek out international culture and experiences at home - this is a perfect chance to join a new club on campus or group within DC. It is also a great opportunity to engage with the OSA and keep the international experience alive!
Look through your photos and videos every now and then. Consider making a photo album, scrapbook, shadowbox or other display of your adventures.
Make plans to go abroad again! It doesn’t have to be right away, but start thinking about when and how you want to travel again.
Put your international experience to work. Consider how this experience may have affected your career interests and how it can help with your career goals, so that it becomes something you can use in your everyday work.
Consider attending a re-entry conference such as NAFSA’s Lessons from Abroad or other regional offerings.
Your study abroad experience does not have to end simply because you are back in the U.S.! The best way to make the most of your time abroad is to integrate all that you learned abroad into your life at GW.
One way to do this is to help other GW students prepare for study abroad. You are the best advertisement for study abroad that our office could ever ask for! There are formal and informal ways to promote study abroad at GW and share your experiences with other students. Here are just a few ways to help out:
Each year, the Office for Study Abroad selects students to be our official Study Abroad Community Ambassadors for the academic year. Community Ambassadors apply and are selected before the fall semester begins and assist the Office for Study Abroad with peer advising, event planning, social media marketing, and study abroad program- and scholarship-related promotional activities and tasks. Application information will be sent to all study abroad alumni towards the end of the prior academic year, before the upcoming academic year.
Study Abroad Community Ambassadors' Responsibilities
Community Ambassadors represent the Office for Study Abroad at various events on-campus and assist advisors in preparing students for their experiences overseas. Examples of these events include:
Hold weekly office hours in the Office for Study Abroad Resource Room (minimum of 2 hours per week)
Organize and market ONE outreach event per month by your design or request of OSA; i.e. tabling, classroom visit, information session, etc...
Collaborate with other Community Ambassadors to implement a creative project to benefit the study abroad community at GW (course-mapping, increasing diversity in study abroad, improving marketing resources within our office, etc.) as proposed by you/your team and approved by OSA.
Assist with Office for Study Abroad marketing and events, including but not limited to Info Sessions, Pre-Departure Orientation, Re-entry programming
Study Abroad Community Ambassador Qualifications
Applicants for the Study Abroad Community Ambassador Program should be:
A former participant in a semester or year-long study abroad program on GW's approved list
In good academic and judicial status
Able to commit to serving as a Community Ambassador for the entire semester or academic year
Able to commit to a weekly office hours
Available to attend a training session to be scheduled according to selected candidates' schedules
Excited and enthusiastic about study abroad & eager to encourage other students to study overseas
Outgoing and comfortable speaking to groups & able to articulate the academic and personal benefits of studying abroad.
Prior student services, peer mentorship, and leadership experience preferred
Social Media, Photoshop, Canva, and/or InDesign proficiency preferred
Applications will be announced via email to returned study abroad students.
One way to help combat reverse culture shock is to seek out international and cultural experiences at home and on campus, as well as seek out others who’ve recently returned from abroad. GW is full of opportunities to stay connected to your global interests and experiences. Below are a few of our recommendations:
One way to stay connected is building your community of fellow study abroad alumni, international students, and others of similar cultural interests. GW offers certain opportunities for meeting like-minded students with similar experiences.
Join this Group Counseling service offered by the Colonial Health Center that meets weekly throughout the semester. Here you may find others returning from abroad coping with similar reentry struggles.
The MSSC provides a welcoming community on campus for students of all backgrounds to explore and celebrate cultural differences. Attending one of their Signature Events is a great way to meet like-minded and culturally engaged students at GW.
GW is full of student organizations, many of which are internationally focused or culture-based. Joining one of these student organizations can help students stay connected to the experiences they had abroad and build a community.
GW’s ESIA offers weekly language lunches during the Academic Year aimed to help students with their language proficiency. These are open to all students and is a great opportunity to practice the language skills you developed abroad and meet others looking to do the same.
Another way to continue to use your study abroad experience back in the U.S. is through service. The Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service at GW has several internationally-minded opportunities for service.
Serve. Learn. Discover. These student-led service trips over winter break and spring break focus on topic areas ranging from environmental degradation, education, and homelessness. Winter break trips include international options in Latin America, while domestic options are available during both the winter and spring.
The OSA conducts programming and events throughout the Academic Year and we always appreciate the help and assistance of our study abroad alumni. Serve in an alumni panel, meet prospective study abroad students and share your experiences. Interested in volunteering? Reach out to us at [email protected]
Additional Educational Options
Still interested in furthering your academics in an international setting? Here are some options you might consider.
Study Abroad Again
If you can fit it into your academic plan, why not study abroad a second time and to a new location. Work with your study abroad advisor and academic advisor to see if this may be an option for you!
Consider being a Fulbright scholar post-grad to pursue research or teaching experience internationally. The Fulbright program is funded through the State Department and is a very prestigious program that can open many new and exciting opportunities for students and scholars.
Review other GW-Sponsored international fellowship programs and other international fellowships requiring GW nomination through the GW Center for Undergraduate Fellowship & Research.
Maybe you’re interested in continuing on to a higher degree and are considering pursuing this abroad. This is a great way to keep your intercultural skills developing. Think about whether graduate school abroad is right for you.
Did your semester abroad leave you wanting more? Many students find themselves considering overseas opportunities upon graduation. GW Career Services has some resources to help you! Below you will find information on organizations or resources to assist in international career options. The Office for Study Abroad and Career Center also hold workshops each semester on how to represent study abroad on your resume, how to discuss your study abroad experiences in a job interview, and how to work abroad.
Career Services at GW can help assist students will Global Job and Internship resources, as well as help study abroad returnees develop their resumes and interview responses to incorporate their skills developed from study abroad.
GW Center for Career Services has created the attached handout as a resource for finding international internships and funding opportunities. Augment your study abroad and intercultural experiences with a global internship to help with your career goals.
Going Global career guides are packed with country-specific information developed by a local career specialist and features recommended websites for job search resources, visa regulations, and cultural advice.
Join allows individuals to build connections with old friends, family members, and professional contacts in the US and abroad. To broaden the network, students should join the GW Alumni Association Group and the GW Career Center Group and search for GW alumni abroad.
BUNAC offers services to help participants secure a visa to pursue work or an internship in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand. BUNAC does not place students in positions, but does offer in-country support and job resources, consultation, and database.
Transitions Abroad provides information, articles, and resources on a variety of international work experiences including internships and teaching.
InterExchange provides opportunities to work abroad, including teaching English and working as an au pair.
Internships positions available in over 80 countries in science, technology, and engineering.
Further Returnee Resources
Lessons from Abroad - Unpack your Experience
Marquette University - Leveraging your Study Abroad Experience