Hi again from totally sunny (not being sarcastic this time, it’s actually sunny today) London, England! Things have been kind of crazy this week, but I wanted to stop by and tell you guys some of the most important things I’ve used throughout my time as a study abroad student — apps! Being in a foreign country can be kind of scary, but with these must-have apps, your study abroad will be the greatest time of your life!
One of the first things you have to think about is your messaging and data plan with your cell phone provider. Though there are a ton of totally affordable international plans with every provider under the sun, I actually decided to save on some money I didn’t need to spend and instead work entirely off wifi, and having a messaging service has been absolutely crucial to my study abroad. All my friends have iMessage or Facebook Messenger, but most of my family members are on android, so I needed a cross-platform program to text them! Enter Viber, which is my app of preference. In the app, you can text, call, video chat, and send cute little stickers, all for FREE. How amazing is that? I’ve heard WhatsApp can do most of this, too, but I haven’t used it too much, so let me know what you guys think if you use it!
GOOGLE MAPS AND MAPS.ME
Aside from being able to text people, knowing where I am is kind of crucial in keeping myself safe and doing as much as humanely possible during my study abroad. Basically, any kind of map service app will be a huge help to you, but since I wasn’t using any data, I needed something that I could save offline. Google Maps has this cool feature where you can select a major area (for me, I just put down all of London, but you can do other areas, too) to save offline, so that you can still see a map with street names and locations as well as your relation and direction to all of them. However, Google Maps only allows you to get “directions” on public transport and car when you’re online, so I usually screenshot directions before I go out. But you can bring up your most recent directions and still work off them once you’re off internet! Maps.Me is also really cool for city-like areas because it has walking directions that you can use online, which have been really helpful for me around London.
I don’t know about you guys, but I got a seriously rude awakening when I got to England and pulled up Netflix only to find that I couldn’t access Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy, or Bob’s Burgers. What was I going to do? Luckily, I was able to go on the chrome store and pick up a free VPN, which basically means that you trick your computer into thinking you’re browsing from another country so stuff isn’t censored and it all shows up like it does in your home country. This program is amazing because it doesn’t cost a dime, and it can be used when you go back home, as there are certain shows and movies only shown in the UK and vice versa!
I’ve talked before about just how important it is to start budgeting when you’re in college, but that becomes even more true when you go abroad! For me, I can avoid a ton of foreign transaction fees by only paying cash and pulling out big amounts less often from ATMs, as I normally get a $5.00 charge for each withdrawal. So, I keep all my money in a safe in my room and pay for everything in bills if I can help it. This means that I need to keep SUPER track of my finances, because if I reach into my safe to pull out another bill and there’s nothing in it, I’m kind of screwed. That’s where one of my favorite apps, Expense, comes into play. With this fun little program, you keep track of every penny you spend, and you can change it to work in pounds, euros, etc, so it’s perfect for study abroad. It also helps you create a budget and you can use that to make sure you have enough to get you through to the end of the semester.
On the point of money, I’m assuming the place you’re going will have a different currency than the US dollar. In that case, you’re best off getting an all-around converter app like this one, because it also has conversions from the metric to the imperial system. That way, you don’t look silly when you try to pay for your lunch in pound bills when it’s much easier to use pound coins, instead. You definitely have to get used to looking at the coins and bills a little closer, though, fair warning!
My last one I haven’t had to use as much, just because my study abroad country is an English speaking one. However, if you’re going somewhere else, like Spain or France, having some sort of translator is crucial. Sure, you can carry a translation book around, but people will automatically take you for a tourist, which might be dangerous. Instead, try using a simple app like Google Translate, which has the amazing function of being able to recognize words and phrases in real time with the camera. Hopefully, you already know a little bit of the language before you get there, but just in case, it’s nice to have a backup plan.
Well, guys, those are all the fun apps and techy tools I have for you today! As always, I can’t tell you just how amazing my study abroad has been and I highly recommend it for anyone who can manage! Just stick with this list and you’ll be good to go!