Pre-Departure Information

Basic information

Off-Campus Programs Student Handbook


Paperwork and staying connected

Once accepted into an off-campus program, there are a number of tasks you will need to complete including: paying a deposit for the semester, attending orientation meetings (required), and completing a number of forms. These forms include:

  • Waiver form (part of the pre-application)
  • Health insurance verification form - given at first group meeting
  • Emergency contact form - given at first group meeting
  • Travel request form - given at first group meeting
  • Visa application (for some programs) - given at first group meeting
  • Housing preference (for programs that use host families) - from Program Director
  • Health Forms (both for physical and mental health)

Please complete these forms ASAP. The Health Forms and the Waiver Form must be completed before your interview with a program director/instructor. No plane tickets will be purchased until ALL forms are completed.

As you leave Calvin for either Christmas or the summer, please continue to check your email. There may be important tasks that you need to complete while you are on break prior to departure. Feel free to stop by the off-campus programs office and let us know the best way to contact you prior to departure.

Pre-departure orientations

In most cases, once accepted into a specific program or class, there will be additional orientations to help you prepare for the experience. Students are required to attend these orientations, so talk to the program director early to reserve dates for orientations and training. When you arrive at your study location, additional orientation and training will take place to ensure that you are prepared for your off-campus experience.

Obtaining a Passport

If you are studying outside of the United States you will need a current passport. Many countries require that your passport be valid at least six (6) months beyond the completion date of your trip. Some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met. Information for applying for a passport can be found here.

Getting a Visa

If you are studying outside of the United States you may also need a visa. Calvin’s Off-Campus Programs (OCP) office will help with this process. The cost of the visa is included in the program cost of the semester unless there is an additional cost because you go earlier or stay later. Check out the appendices for your specific program to see if a visa is required.

A Special Note to International Students

International students often face additional challenges related to paperwork (e.g. visas) and travel arrangements when studying outside the United States. International students are asked to start the application process early and to work with the OCP office in completing all paperwork in a timely manner.

If there are any international students (those with F-1 student status) planning to take your interim/semester program, please be aware of the following:

  1. These students must have a passport that will not expire for at least 6 months after travel dates. 
  2. These students must have their I-20 (signed on page 3).
  3. These students should hand in their current I-94 to the airline or customs officials as they depart the U.S. A new one will be issued upon re-entry to the U.S.
  4. If the student’s U.S. visa in his/her passport is current and will not expire during the interim, there are no concerns about travel abroad in regard to the visa.
  5. If the student’s current visa is expired or will expire while abroad, the student will have to apply for a new visa in the country where the interim takes place. The student must immediately take his/her passport and I-20, an official transcript from Calvin, and financial documentation to the U.S. embassy upon arrival. This is to make certain the process can be completed by the time the interim is finished and the student must return to the U.S.
  6. If the student is abroad for the semester preceding your interim course, he/she may be in danger of overstaying the 5-month limit for absence from the U.S. Check with Bryce Carlton, Admissions Immigration Coordinator, for advice regarding SEVIS regulations.

Registering at the U.S. Embassy

If you are an American citizen studying outside of the United States, Calvin’s OCP Office will register you with the United States Embassy in that specific country through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. For more information about the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program please review the website

The OCP office encourages international students to register with your own embassy. The OCP office will be glad to assist you in this process.

International Student ID Cards

When studying abroad (especially in Europe) you may want to purchase an International Student ID card. This card provides a wide range of discounts and special offers including discounts on flights and ferries as well as museums, bookshops and restaurants. Discounts vary from country to country. For additional information on the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) please see this website

For semester programs, Calvin will issue an additional student ID that identifies you as a Calvin student studying abroad. This card also includes emergency contact numbers of the program director (in country) and Calvin’s OCP office. However, this card does not always work for obtaining student discounts.

Planning to communicate with family and friends

Communicating with family and friends back home will be important during your time away. Before you leave, you should think about how and how often you will communicate. One popular method is through Skype, a program application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. Calls to other users within the Skype service are free, while calls to both traditional landline telephones and mobile phones can be made for a nominal fee using a debit-based user account system. A basic Skype program can be downloaded for free from

One word of caution about using technology like Facebook, Twitter, and Skype: every moment you spend using technology to connect to family and friends back home is time that takes away from living in the moment and experiencing the new places where you are living. So plan ahead and be intentional about the various forms of technology available to you.

Insurance (Medical and Travel)

All students must have hospitalization and medical insurance that is valid outside of the United States while studying off-campus. You must complete and turn in the Health Insurance Verification Form prior to departure. For students not covered under their parents’ health insurance, Knightcare is available through the Health Services Office at Calvin. Another option is HTH Worldwide Insurance Services.

Prior to leaving for your off-campus experience, please check with your health insurance company to find out what they cover when you travel. Ask about the process for submitting claims during international travel. While doctors and hospitals in the U.S. require only that you present a policy number at the time of service, this is not the case abroad. Regardless of what insurance they have, students will be expected to pay all medical bills themselves at the time of service. However, this is generally much less expensive than in the U.S. Remember to get itemized statements and present them to the insurance company to be reimbursed for medical expenses. If your insurance company says you are covered for urgent/emergency care while abroad, you should have sufficient coverage.

In addition to your own primary care insurance, Calvin purchases travel insurance for all students studying on one of Calvin’s programs (semester or interim) outside the United States. This insurance includes supplemental health insurance (for major medical expenses) and pays for emergency re-location in case of illness or political unrest. Additional information about health insurance while abroad as well as Calvin’s travel insurance policy can be found here

The travel insurance bought by Calvin does NOT pay for the cost of the semester if you are not able to participate in the semester program. You may want to consider purchasing additional insurance to cover your trip if you don’t go on the trip for medical or other reasons. In addition you can purchase insurance to cover items that are stolen and lost luggage, if you so desire. The student would be expected to cover these additional expenses.

Absentee Voting

If you are going to miss an opportunity to exercise your right to vote while you are studying off-campus. Please make arrangements to vote by absentee ballot. An absentee ballot can be obtained from the Secretary of State from your home state. For Michigan residents, additional information can be found here.

Travel Arrangements (Airline Baggage Restrictions)

Calvin semester programs (with the exception of Washington D.C. and New Mexico) includes the cost of round trip airfare from Grand Rapids to your off-campus program location. During your pre-departure preparations, you will be asked to fill out a travel form indicating your travel plans. If you are going to travel on the same dates as the group (either from Grand Rapids or your home town) Calvin will make your travel arrangement. If you want to travel on different dates (either going earlier or staying late) you will be responsible for making your own travel arrangements. Once these arrangements are made, please notify the OCP office. At this time, the OCP office will credit your miscellaneous account for the price of the group fare from Grand Rapids. If you are leaving from a city other than Grand Rapids and the price of the ticket is more than the group fare you will be charged the additional cost.

All luggage costs are the responsibility of the student. Each airline carrier has different rules and restrictions that students are responsible to know and follow. Typically, one piece of luggage is included with your ticket (up to 50 pounds), with a second piece incurring an extra charge. Paying for extra baggage or overweight bags can be expensive, so make sure to check with the airline about luggage restrictions.

Sustainable Study Abroad

The benefits of studying off-campus are well documented; however, traveling and studying abroad can have social and environmental impacts on the world around us. As you prepare for your semester off-campus, think about how you can minimize your impact. How will you be culturally sensitive to your new surroundings? How will you minimize the environmental impact of your trip?

One way is to try to reduce your carbon footprint for your travel. This can be done in several different ways. You could volunteer with a local environmental organization and plant trees or a garden or work in other ways to enhance the environment. Another option is to make a donation to the Calvin Energy Recovery Fund (CERF). CERF is a revolving fund used to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emission on campus. The energy savings from CERF projects are routed back into the fund for five years after the project payoff; thereby growing the fund to support future projects. More information can be found here.

What to Bring

Specific information related to your site will be provided in the appendices; however, there are a few general packing tips that are applicable to all programs.

What to bring:

  • If you wear glasses or contacts, bring an extra pair of glasses or contacts.
  • Bring an extra set of passport photos along with a copy of other important travel documents.
  • Take clothes that will help you blend in to the place you are staying. Avoid dressing in a way that could mark you as an affluent tourist. Dress conservatively throughout your stay. Consider the weather and bring clothes that are easily layered for various climate conditions, do not need ironing, dry quickly, and are comfortable and durable. Most importantly, make sure that all of your clothes are interchangeable, i.e. any of your shirts can go with any of your skirts/pants, etc.
  • Travel light. Limit yourself to essentials. Remember you need less than you think you do and that you can get additional clothes and supplies while abroad.
  • Bring a bag that you can store in a secure area that has your passport, extra cash, and an extra credit card.

What to leave behind:

  • Valuable or expensive jewelry (even inexpensive jewelry can attract unwanted attention).
  • Leave a copy of emergency phone numbers, your itinerary, copy of your passport and driver’s license, etc. with your family.
  • Unnecessary electronics and gadgets like U.S. cell phones – most don’t work internationally and you will get a phone in country (if appropriate). Think about leaving laptops, ipods, etc. at home in the States. If you do bring them leave them in your dorm room or with your host family. These items may make you more of a target to be robbed. If you do bring electronics you may need a converter. If you bring a laptop, bring a flash drive that you can use to transport assignments to print and turn in.
  • All unnecessary things in your wallet: library card, extra credit cards, social security card, etc.

As you pack for your trip consider the words of Steve Hanna after he completed a semester abroad: Most people say that you should pack light, but that doesn‘t go far enough. Bring only one bag, and bring it half-full. Not only should your pack be half-full, but you should be half-full as you come to another country to ?fill up.? Half-full means that by going to another country, you will inevitably fill up as you learn about yourself, your new friends, their culture, & your home in the US. A half-full student is a wise student, who comes to learn, not expecting what they already have at home. A half-full student is someone who comes to another country to experience that culture for what it is, not for what it lacks. You‘re not going to Asia or Africa or Europe to experience the same life you have at home, with washing and drying machines, fast food, cell phones, and picket fences, right? You‘re going abroad to learn as much as you can—to fill up your pack, if you will—and to return with much more than you had before.



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