How to Prepare for Intensive Language Programs Abroad


Some helpful tips to prepare for your big language immersion trip

“Mamma, papà, vado per un mese in Russia””

“Mum, dad, I am going to Russia for a month!”

“Maman, papa, je pars en Russie pour un mois!”

“Мама, папа, я поеду в Россию на месяц!”

Believe me, saying this out loud has been as difficult for me as it has been for my parents to accept it. It’s never easy to let go of problems and insecurities and decide to live in another country taking language immersion classes, even for a short time. And it’s definitely worth it. If you’re learning a foreign language, intensive language programs abroad are a step you will have to take sooner or later, since most people, unfortunately, don’t speak as slow as the textbook tapes in real life. This means booking language courses abroad or organizing the trip and all the necessary papers. But fear not, we are here to help!

Prep your life abroad and travel logistics

There is a magical moment after you received your full immersion program confirmation when you are happy and filled with joy because a new adventure is approaching. Afterwards you will realize that a few papers must be arranged before leaving the country. Allow you some time to organize everything—let’s say a month—and get things done properly.

Here are some things to be aware of before you get too deep in the swing of travel-planning-things.

Can you enter freely the country for the language immersion courses that you have chosen or do you need a visa?

  • Yes, so just skip this section and get to the following point
  • Nope, so the first section will explain how to apply for a visa

How will you cover your basic human needs?

  • A shelter
  • Health
  • Food

What else needs to be set up in advance?

  • A flight/train/bus/ferry/boat/broomstick, possibly back and forth
  • A bank account
  • A backup of all your data
  • Packing proper clothing
  • Phone plan

Prepare for the border

Before anything else, you need to check if you are allowed in the country you have chosen for your intensive language programs, how you can enter that country, and how long you can stay there. Since you do not want to mess up with the local immigration system, we strongly recommend you to check if you need a visa, which one you will need, and how long does the visa process last. Phone or email your local consulate, check what papers are due and submit them to start the process as soon as possible.

Usually, language schools provide visa support, so don’t hesitate to contact them for further questions! This passage is not needed if you are an EU citizen traveling around Europe.

boat tour, denmark
Don’t skip the tours! Getting to know your guides is an easy first lesson to help you rock your intensive language programs abroad.

Cover your basic survival needs

Shelter: Once you will know when you will be allowed to enter a country, start looking around for your home abroad! Usually you can get accommodation support from your language schools, but If this is not the case we will now explore other solutions! Try to look on social networks and on the internet for those organizations who help foreigners finding a home abroad or contact someone who has already been there. You can also try to reach out for your country’s consulate in the foreign country where you are going and ask if they have any recommendations.

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Beware of scams though, and when you find an offer which suits your needs, don’t rush. Try to look for feedback and opinions about that accommodation. Language tip: To improve your language skills, the best housing option would be to look for a student accommodation or shared apartments/flats with locals. This way it will be easier for you to make friends and speak your target language. Actually, full immersion courses are organized by language schools who own also student flats for those who book their immersion programs.

Health: Unless you find a way to convince your doctor to come along with you on this journey, check at the consulate what medical facilities you will be allowed to access abroad and if you need an health insurance. For EU citizens traveling around Europe, this shouldn’t represent a big issue! Don’t forget to look up also for mandatory and recommended vaccines, and to have a little check up with your doctor before your trip!

Food: Check if food is included in your accommodation price. If not, get yourself a recipe book and your grandma and learn how to put together three meals a day! We recommend you find a solution which allows you to have free access to the kitchen, so at least you won’t be forced to eat out often and spend more money on food.

Try the local cuisine, it will be tastier, healthier, and probably less expensive. Honestly, would you rather, let’s say, eat pizza or sushi in Japan? Avoid big restaurants in the city center and look for those rough, old taverns or hole-in-the-wall establishments. Here, you might not find restaurants with 5 Michelin stars, but their dishes are usually more authentic—plus, you’ll have the chance to use your new language skills (after all, the staff won’t be so accustomed to having foreigners as diners!). During intensive language courses, teachers tend to give tips on where to go, what to eat and what is the most useful vocabulary to use when you are ordering at the restaurant/tavern/street food fair.

Figure out everything else

Now that you are sure that you can enter a country and survive there, you are ready to take the next step and decide how to get there and how to organize your life in a foreign country.

Flight/train/bus/ferry/boat/broomstick. We live in the 21st century, we are able to travel back and forth from anywhere anytime, but we have to book in advance. Again, the sooner you book, the lower the prices will be (but it depends also on the season, so if it’s during high season, there is not much you can do about it). Make sure to check the luggage allowance included in your ticket, especially if you travel during winter and you need thicker clothes. Travel tip: Wear your thickest shoes during the trip to save some space in your baggage. In addition, remember to ask to your language school or to your host family if they will be able pick you up at the airport and how much this service costs.

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holding stacks of papers and envelopes
Get all your paperwork in order—the most important step!

Your bank account. Actually, this should be listed in the basic human needs nowadays, because you can’t travel without having full access to your money (and carrying a lot of cash isn’t always the safest option!). Usually when you book language immersion courses or flights of flats having at least one credit card is mandatory to proceed with the payment. While traveling abroad, you should have  two cards working on two different circuits if possible, but bring anyway some cash in case something happens. Check with your bank and find out the solution which best fits your needs!

Your passwords and data. Either you are like the guy from the episode of Sherlock “The Abominable Bride” who remembers every tiny detail, or otherwise you need to backup all your passwords and IDs. it’s highly recommended to scan your visas, passport, health insurance, etc. and to store everything on a cloud storage on the Internet, like Google Drive or Dropbox. Create a file with all your passwords and store it somewhere safe, especially your bank account details.

Packing proper clothing. Depending on the location of your language school abroad, you need to plan to make sure the clothes you bring and wear are appropriate. This means knowing 1) the climate of your destination (would hate to show up to New Zealand in July with just shorts and t-shirts) and 2) the cultural climate of your destination. This might sound shocking to you, but many small towns in developing countries don’t necessarily like your yoga pants or tank tops or underwear hanging out your pants. Some countries might have religious beliefs that prefer shoulders and knees covered. It’s up to you to research in advance and make sure you pack the types of items that won’t shock any abuelas in your new home.

Phone plan. Either you have to phone your BFF and tell him/her that you survived the trip or you have to instagram the exotic food you are tasting, but you will need a phone plan which fits your needs in the new country. it’s mandatory to have internet to access all your data if you stored them online, and in case you get lost and you need to find the way back to your language school on Google Maps. Wifi is usually included in the price of your accommodation, so you can also Skype with your family/boyfriend/dog!

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Now, pick out your suitcase (or backpack, you modern adventurer!), pack everything together, say goodbye to your granny’s delicious cuisine and hightail it abroad, already.

Prep your brain for language immersion courses

Before leaving your home country for your full immersion program, save some time everyday to watch an episode of a TV series, a video, a movie, or a gameplay, or set aside time to read a book or the news in your target language. Shortly, you’ll be forced to understand the target language (because you will be literally surrounded by it!), so you’d better get used to it! For example, I watch an episode of a TV series in one of the languages that I am studying every day, and I know a ton of folks who learned English by watching gameplays or Friends, or by playing online videogames daily. See what fits your schedule best, but make sure to find something that you enjoy doing (or it will be just more boring homework).

You need to make the best out of the short time you are taking language immersion courses to get a handle on the target language. Language schools usually provide full immersion courses or intensive classes, but you have to be receptive and eager to learn. Listed below there are a few tips to help getting a handle on the language faster. Let us know which one helped you the most and how do you think your fluency has changed during your intensive full immersion!

blank notebook and pencil
You’d be surprised how many people forget the bare necessities.

Have a mission

Set a goal—a realistic one—and select your strategy to achieve it. For example, you could say “At the end of this full immersion program I want to master the B2 level grammar” or even “I want this language course to boost my vocabulary”. Having aims and making plans is an effective way to stay focused and not to lose sight of the main reason why you came there—to learn a foreign language.

Talk about this with your language teacher or your language school abroad because they are the most qualified people, and frankly, they can help! They can tell you what you should focus on and what you should do in order to improve. For example, if you are willing to sound more natural when you speak, you could decide to learn three idioms or three new expressions a week. The main advantage of full immersion programs is that, since you are surrounded by the target language, you can hear or utter an idiom or a word multiple times a day in context i order to fully comprehend its meaning.

Use S.M.A.R.T. goals to REALLY kick your proficiency up a notch (or 10).

Plan to never eat alone

It sounds weird, but sharing food is one of the most efficient ways to socialize. While you are eating or cooking something to eat, ask your housemates if they wish to taste whatever you are cooking. Sharing food and chatting are one of the most effective ways to improve your language skills. Language courses boost your grammar and vocabulary, but chatting increases your fluency. It’s a very relaxed and casual moment of the day, no one is in a hurry, and chances are high that your dinner mates will be more eager to correct your mistakes and explain to you carefully how to reformulate a sentence. Plus, you will learn all kinds of words related to food or cooking in general. NOM!

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Get a notebook, now

Buy a notebook which you can fit in your pockets and carry around with you. Write new and useful words in there that you hear either at your language school, during your language classes, or while you are talking to someone or walking around. This doesn’t mean going around like a fool writing down every word you hear, but just those interesting terms you come across. Ask natives how they spell them to learn how to write them down properly and review at least some of them every day in order to memorize new vocabulary.

For example, you could read three pages while you are on the bus, two before going to bed or four while you are having breakfast. It i just 10 minutes a day, but it saves you hours and hours of studying before a test. Intensive language courses are impressively helpful, but you have to help yourself up a bit too!

Decide to minimize interactions with your fellow countrymen

Have you met someone from your native country? Great now run away as fast as you can.

We’re mostly kidding, but if you are traveling with a friend or you meet someone abroad from your home country, try to avoid speaking with them in your native language too often. Remember: You came here to learn a new language. It’s a wee bit rude to only use English when there are so many helpful folks and experiences around you. We don’t mean that using your native language is banned, but let’s try to use it only when it’s strictly necessary.

Bonus tip: Be curious! The more you speak and communicate the more you will learn during your language course. Language immersion programs abroad have the bonus that you can always ask always tips, grammar questions, meanings, cultural differences etc etc. Locals are usually happy to help those who are eager to learn their native language and you have been given the chance to have professors and new friends which happen to be natives. Get your questions out there!

pavement and road signs in japanese characters
Now the road to language immersion courses is paved for you to go!

Fill your first week with tours

This might sound counter to the beauty and joy of striking out on your own—and yes, we’ve all been on some eyeball-roll-worthy tours in our day—but, hear us out.

Who speaks with a wide range of vocabulary, employing various sentence structures, with a clear and loud voice? Tour guides! Get a guided tour in your target language and try to adjust to this manner of speech. Nothing beats this formal-but-not-too-formal style of talking, and there is the cultural bonus in addition! Find walking tours, museum visits, or even guides at popular locations. Bargain hard for a fair price and stay focused while they talk!

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*DING!* Language immersion courses are now in sesh

Language immersion courses abroad are a unique chance to improve your language skills inside and outside the classroom and to test your language skills on every level so you should definitely take advantage of the chance you have been given. Before your full immersion experience, it’s mandatory to take your time and plan your visit carefully, starting with your visa til what kind of socks you should put in your suitcase (pro tip: wool ones).

With your mom not being around, you will have to deal with empty fridges and piles of laundry, but freedom always comes with a price. Never forget that attending a language school abroad means being on your own in a foreign country, but also being able to live a new adventure, make your own decisions, and rock your independence like never before.

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