Studying abroad can be expensive, set you back in your degree, and may even make you a little homesick. If you gather up all the negatives when it comes to studying abroad, you may decide to just join fellow students back home for a spring break to Miami rather than six months in Spain. Sometimes students opt out of studying abroad because the amount of programs is far too daunting to explore. How you decide to study abroad can truly make or break your experience. I have heard horror stories of programs not giving students credits, resulting in a fifth year of college. That does not need to happen to you.
Step One: Where do you want to go?
While usually this question is easily answered, students do make mistakes here. While studying in Paris may sound glamorous, students should also factor in their interests. If you have absolutely no interest in learning the language, perhaps you should select an English speaking country. If you are feeling more daring, find a program outside of your comfort zone. If you like big cities, study in one. If you want a more intimate program, find towns off the beaten path that offer programs. Know what you can handle and what you cannot.
Step Two: Select a Program
Research like it’s your job when it comes to study abroad programs. Many students just go with the programs their schools are affiliated with, but they do not always meet the student’s wants and needs. Many university affiliated programs merely transport a gaggle of students from your school to a foreign country. Sometimes schools are overly strict on the fact that students must study aboard through their approved schools. If you can select your own program, this may take the most courage, but do it. You won’t know anyone which could result in life long friendships from people all around the world along with a new sense of independence.
If size is important to you, ask the school how many students will be studying with you. If language is your main concern, ask if learning a language is a priority at the school. If you do not want to live with 6 other people in a small apartment, make sure you ask what housing arrangements will be like and where you may live. I once had a program put me in an apartment with some male Italian teenagers. To say the least, I wasn’t happy. If the school seems disorganized and inexperienced from the application process, you can bet your experience will be chaotic as well . Programs also can be pricey so be sure you factor in all costs. Sometimes tuition may even surprise you and be cheaper than at your home university.
Step Three: Get All Your Classes Approved Beforehand
There may be nothing worse than having a wonderful study abroad experience and then returning home to your home university to find your classes do not meet your school’s approval. Most schools make it mandatory to have classes approved beforehand, while others do not. Go through all the headaches and painful registrar visits to get it done before you leave. Trust me, you will thank me later when you don’t have to add on an extra year of college.
Step Four: Ask Yourself Why You Are Doing This
Some people study abroad because the drinking age is lower than in the U.S.. Others want to seem exotic by studying in Italy, but have no interest in Italian culture. If you are going to study abroad, make sure you know exactly why you are doing it. If travel is your main reason, perhaps select a program that moves to several countries. Semester at Sea is a popular option. If improving or learning Spanish is your primary goal, challenge yourself by going to a real Spanish University. If meeting new people is your drive behind studying abroad, don’t choose a program you and all of your sorority sisters are attending. You will stick to each other like glue in a foreign setting, while failing to form new connections in the process.
Studying aboard can truly be life changing. That month, summer, semester, or year in another country will change you in some way. The time will fly by and you will crave to go back. I don’t mean to sound preachy, well maybe I do, but appreciate the experience.