By Jenny Han Simon
Although the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic has ended several international opportunities and put an indefinite pause on others for students and professionals all over the world, such opportunities are sure to resume eventually. But are you prepared for when they do?
Beyond having your passport and any other relevant documents ready to go, you should consider what lasting effects this pandemic will have on your ideal international destination and whatever opportunity you’re eagerly waiting to undertake. As we wait for an end to the pandemic and for travel and other restrictions to be lifted, here are some things you should consider and decide upon to ensure a safe and smooth transition to international travel as soon as possible.
1. Decide Which Region of the World Is Your Destination
I hope that you have a clear idea of where you want to go abroad and what you want to do; finding opportunities will be much easier if you do. If you’re still thinking about what kind of opportunities you’d like to pursue abroad, check out this article!
Although now is not an ideal time for international travel, it would be wise to decide on which region of the world you would like to venture to. The reason the region is important is that travel restrictions, borders being opened and closed, and mandatory 14-day or even 21-day quarantines upon arrival are unique to each country. For instance, while it is incredibly hard for US citizens to get a visa to study or work in China right now, it is much easier to pursue similar opportunities in South Korea and Taiwan.
While you may have your heart set on one particular country, think about other countries that may offer you a similar experience or teach you something that will later enhance the experience you’ve been yearning for in your dream country. Additionally, think about what you seek to gain out of a specific opportunity beyond being an alumnus of a specific program or having an additional line on your resume. Are you looking to gain international work experience, language proficiency, research experience, a new network, etc.? Likely, there are several countries that can offer you a similar experience to what you initially desired. And sometimes, it’s the unexpected opportunities that are the best.
2. Explore Multiple Opportunities in Your Destination
“Flexibility” and “go with the flow” are both key mindsets for this year if you want to make the most out of your time and not drive yourself crazy. Most peoples’ plans were turned upside down this year, and while it’s certainly frustrating, it’s not the end of the world.
If you truly have your heart set on one particular country or region, explore multiple opportunities available. It’s very possible things will be postponed and even canceled as we move into 2021; however, the more opportunities you find and pursue, the more likely you will end up where you want to be. Don’t be afraid to explore opportunities outside of what you had originally planned for. For example, if you wanted to try grad school abroad, could you instead find a job abroad and get work experience while acquiring some of the same skills that being abroad alone would grant you? Additionally, having a diverse set of experiences and skills will make you a more competitive candidate for whatever you decide to pursue in the future, and it may even open the door for a journey you had never anticipated.
3. Update and Secure Your Travel Documents
Ensuring that you have the actual documents needed to travel abroad, such as your passport and visa, may seem obvious; however, these sorts of small, logistical issues can cause you a huge nightmare and even derail your plans entirely if you’re not careful. If your heart is truly set on going abroad in the future, you might as well use this time to make sure your passport is up-to-date and that you have any and all other documents necessary.
Moreover, some documents needed to study and/or work abroad are completely unexpected. For instance, to work in China, you will need an authenticated diploma and an FBI criminal background check. Conversely, to work in South Korea, you will need an apostilled diploma and an FBI criminal background check. If you’ve never heard of either “authenticated” or “apostilled” before, you may want to do some research. The littlest, seemingly most insignificant things will drive you crazy if you’re not careful. Find out what you need and how to get it and start the process early! You can be sure that once international travel picks up again, the wait time to renew your passport will be much longer than it is now.
4. Study and Plan
Since you can’t very easily travel abroad right now, you should consider how you can use your current time and energy to make sure that you yourself are prepared for going abroad. Moving to another country and crafting a life there is not easy, and that’s without a global pandemic. Many people research what types of existing communities they can join abroad, create a budget, and begin learning the native language or advancing their current language proficiency. Such skills and knowledge will be invaluable to have for anybody planning to travel abroad, but they may be even more crucial on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. If a country goes into lockdown, how will it affect you? If you need to go to the hospital, what can you expect? Having answers to the questions ahead of time can be invaluable.
This pandemic has presented the entire world with so many unknowns and uncertainties that the only thing we can surely expect going forward is to expect and prepare for the unexpected. While you shouldn’t let this pandemic squash your dreams of going abroad, as the day when international travel resumes freely will come again, you should exercise increased caution and plan as meticulously as you can.
Jenny Han Simon currently lives in New York City. She was a Fulbright ETA in Mongolia (2019-2020) and a participant of the Critical Language Scholarship (2018). She graduated from the University at Buffalo in 2019 with a BA in English and Linguistics.
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