Preparing for International Research

While I already have a post on preparing for archival research I thought it might be useful to combine this information with the more broad topic of international research. Indeed, it appears that for international research, you need to turn to juvenile-seeming webpages about “Study Abroad 101” as well as scholarly resources regarding archival research. I hope this post offers something in the middle of these two extremes. It’s very much the post I wish I had before I started the long visa/contacting librarians/connecting with scholars and conferences process.

I would also love to hear more about your experiences with international research trips, particularly because this is my first.

Yeah, I think we’re a bit beyond this level…

There are already many online guides that discuss the general prep that is demanded when preparing for international research, although many of these tend to lean towards the sciences and offer advice that is not relevant for the humanities–such as expensive research equipment, the use of a research assistant abroad, and many others.

In the humanities, depending on your sub-discipline, your needs for research–whether it is abroad or at your home institution–tend to include the following:

  • Computer/tablet for saving archival/research information (consider using Dropbox or GoogleDrive as well as your usual backup method)
  • Dialogue with research librarian(s), curator(s), etc. at your intended place of study
  • Well-developed time table or itinerary for your research hours
  • Grants or funding opportunities that will allow you more time researching
  • Others. Again, depending on your sub-discipline you could require more resources akin to those in the social sciences, such as the completion and approval of an IRB. These are more thoroughly laid out in my post on archival research.

While these fundamentals remain the same, it seems as though everything gets far more complicated when you’re planning for a research trip abroad. Since I embark on my first year-long archival research trip in September, I thought I would share what I’ve learned about preparing for international study and research:

  • Worry about everything. I’m sort of kidding here, but yes, I’ve done this quite a bit with excessive phone calls and emails between myself, my department, the Irish consulate, the Global Education Office on my campus, the librarians and curators at my intended places of study, etc. If I have a question that cannot be answered on a website (and please do actually look; I mean, don’t be insane), you better believe it goes on my to-do list for the day.
  • Make a Daily To-Do List. Yes, it’s tedious but it really does help with the overwhelming task of constantly refreshing your memory on what needs to happen. Put it on your white board, your Stickies, and so on. Just put it somewhere you can remember.
  • Connect 

    with scholars.


    Twitter,, other social media sites and/or networks to establish connections with scholars in your intended country of study. This way, you can stay up-to-date on readings, conferences, colloquia, publishing opportunities, and other academic events that may not be accessible to you otherwise. If you hate social media, try to jump on relevant listservs.

  • Make the most of your time. By this I mean create a serious and realistic time table that allows you to learn more about and enjoy where you will be researching, as well as attend conferences, readings, and do the very thing that you came all this way to do: research. So, for example, don’t plan that weekend trip to Paris on the same weekend that great lecture is taking place at Hampshire, UK.
  • Go with the Flow. Anyone who really knows me realizes that I’m just about the least “chill” or “go with the flow” type person. That being said, understand that things will happen that are out of your control. For example, at one library I was told that I did not need a Letter of Introduction, only to find out that I do, in fact, need such a document. This is OK. Human beings make mistakes sometimes.

Final Thoughts

For me, these few points have served as the greatest differences between preparing for international and domestic research in the humanities. I wish it were all about just going to big libraries and finding everything you need as soon as you get there, but it’s not. The point is to not go in blind, connect with relevant people, create a schedule for yourself, but also don’t be too afraid to deviate from said schedule if something out of your control happens, or if you find your research is taking you somewhere different.

If only this were it…

I’m still working on this last part; that is, I often find it difficult to let myself discover something outside of the plan. What strategies do you find relevant in preparing for international research? Which has been the most challenging, if any?

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