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Planning for Your Time Abroad

Do Your Research

The CLS Program provides participants with several resources, including handbooks, webinars, a pre-departure orientation, and an onsite orientation, which are designed to assist participants as they prepare for the program and living abroad. However, we also encourage all participants to take an active role in their preparation and do additional research on their host country.

First-time international travelers

There will often be several well-traveled CLS participants in a group, but it’s also likely there will be at least a few first-time international travelers. If you have little or no experience with international travel, it’s normal to feel out of your comfort zone and/or have questions. We encourage you to reach out to CLS alumni prior to the start of the program to ask questions and get a sense of what to expect. CLS program staff and your fellow CLS peers are also excellent resources, so feel free to seek them out during the PDO in Washington, D.C. to ask for pro-traveler tips!


You may want to bring small gifts for those you’ll be interacting with, such as your host family/roommate, language partner, host institute staff, and/or teachers. You might consider purchasing some items from the list below, which was assembled with advice from previous participants. Remember that gift giving norms vary from culture to culture.

  • Postcards or calendars with photos of your home town, campus, popular cities, or art
  • Picture books, art books, or cookbooks
  • Gifts for children such as books, pencils (push pencils), notebooks, crayons, matchbox cars
  • T-shirts, caps, or sweatshirts, especially those with pictures or insignia
  • Food from your home region, such as Vermont maple syrup, Louisiana Cajun seasoning, Maryland Old Bay seasoning, ingredients for a key lime pie or chocolate chip cookies, etc. (Remember to be sensitive to cultural culinary norms; for example, Muslims do not eat pork products)
  • Postcards or trinkets featuring D.C. monuments are a good last-minute gift idea that you may have time to pick up at your PDO.
  • It will also be possible to purchase small gifts, such as candy, in the host country.


    Voltage in your host country may differ from that in the United States, and many countries use differently shaped electrical sockets for which you’ll need plug adapters. In general, today’s high-tech devices, such as laptop computers and smartphones, are designed to work at different voltages and can safely be used with a plug adapter, but always check the specifications for your devices. Personal appliances, such as hairdryers, electric shavers, or electronic toothbrushes, are usually designed to work at only one voltage and will require a voltage converter in addition to the plug adapter in order to avoid damaging or destroying the appliance. Converters or transformers that can convert voltage are available for purchase online or at some retail stores. You may also consider purchasing these appliances in the host country after you’ve arrived.

    You are advised to do some research prior to departure to determine which electronic devices and appliances can be used safely in your host country. It is highly recommended you purchase adapters, converters, or transformers in the U.S. before departing to your host country, so you’ll have them available to you right away.


    We understand that participants may wish to communicate with friends and family while on the CLS Program. Please keep in mind that options for communication in your host country will likely differ from what you are used to in the United States; therefore, it is important that you plan ahead and do some research about what communication methods will be best for you during the summer program.

    Cell Phones

    The CLS Program will provide you with a cell phone for use in your host country. These cell phones are pre-paid. In other words, there is no phone plan, but rather you must purchase credit in order to make calls and send text messages. CLS will provide you with initial phone credit, but if you use up this credit making or receiving personal or international calls, you will be responsible for purchasing additional credit. You are also responsible for taking care of your program-issued phone, keeping it with you, and ensuring that the phone has sufficient pre-paid minutes for emergency use.

    If you plan to bring a cell phone with you from the U.S and wish to use a service provider in the host country, your phone must be unlocked and able to accept a SIM card. You are responsible for dealing with your service provider and covering the costs of any additional fees that may be incurred by having your phone unlocked. Some past participants have brought their personal smartphones with them for the purpose of using Wi-Fi only and have opted to use their CLS-provided cell phone for calls and texting. In this case, participants will generally need to purchase additional credit for their program-issued phones. Please be advised that you are responsible for all of your personal devices, including repair and replacement, while on program.

    Skype, FaceTime, Google Chat, WhatsApp or Other Voice-Over IP Services

    Internet platforms may be the communication tool of choice for many participants, which include social media, chat apps, VOIP, video, and other platforms commonly accessed with smartphones or computers. However, not all platforms can be accessed in all host countries. Before you go, do some research to see what options will be available in your host country. For more information on using social media while on the program, please see the “Blogging/Media” section.

    Wi-Fi Access

    Your accommodations over the summer may or may not include Wi-Fi. If you do have access to Wi-Fi, please be aware that Wi-Fi options may be limited, may lose connectivity frequently, or may have slower download speeds than you are used to in the United States.

    Depending on your program site, there may be locations around your host city where you will be able to access free Wi-Fi, such as fast food restaurants or coffee shops. There may also be Internet cafes where you can access computers and Internet for a nominal fee. Your Resident Director, host family/roommate, and/or language partner can provide you with suggestions on Wi-Fi access in your host city.

    Financial Considerations Abroad

    Most of your expenses related to participating in CLS, such as tuition, cultural excursions, and housing expenses, have already been paid for by the CLS Program.

    CLS Stipend

    To cover other expenses, such as local transportation, meals not provided by your host family or accommodations, school supplies, and incidentals (shampoo, soap, etc.), you will receive a one-time stipend, in the form of a check, which will arrive in May. Because the stipend is issued as a check, you will need to think in advance about how you want to deposit or cash these funds. Most participants will deposit this check in their personal debit accounts, so they can access the funds overseas. Please take some time to consider your personal financial situation in addition to your spending habits before you go abroad.

    ATM/Debit Cards

    ATMs may offer good currency exchange rates, but different U.S. banks have different fee policies for ATM withdrawals and purchases abroad, usually ranging from a flat fee to a percentage of the withdrawal. For cards with a flat fee for overseas withdrawals, withdrawing larger sums of local currency a few times over the summer makes sense; for those with a percentage-based fee, it may make more sense to bring cash with you to exchange. It is up to you to research your bank’s policy before you leave.

    Tips on Bringing Money

    • Bring the majority of your money in a cash-accessible form (i.e. ATM/Debit card).
    • Bring some cash in case your ATM card malfunctions. Many participants report that their card did not work at some point. If your card does not work, leave that ATM and try another; the problem is often with the machine rather than the card.
    • Be sure to contact your bank before leaving home to tell them you will be using your card in the host country.
    • Bring new, clean, and crisp dollar bills. Banks and exchange offices rarely accept bills that are old, torn, or have any markings on them.
    • Bring a credit card if you have one. Even if you do not plan to use it, it is a good backup and may be used to pay medical fees if you need to pay in advance before submitting for reimbursement from your medical coverage. However, nearly all medical fees will need to be paid in cash at the time of service.
    • Do not bring travelers’ checks. It is difficult to find places to cash them and there can be a large fee.
    • Bring your passport with you when exchanging money at a currency exchange or bank.