Studying Abroad: Things to Consider
Study Abroad is an experience that I believe every college student should have. Whether you spend a week in Honduras teaching English or a year in Italy studying law; it is one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences a person could ask for, and, let’s face it, very little studying seems to take place. That is the beauty of it. It isn’t about the papers you write or the tests you take, it is about the people you meet and the places you see. My study abroad trip took place over the summer of 2013. It was one of the best summers of my life, and arguably the reason that I have continued to travel as much as I can (which still isn’t as much as I would like). Below are some things that I wish I would have known before my trip and some recommendations on how to prepare for your trip abroad.
My sophomore year I distinctly remember a group of students coming to visit my “Intro to Selling and Sales Management” class to present on Study Abroad. I sat there listening to the different experiences each student had and then the final girl came up, a senior in the same major, and said the only thing she would have done differently is studying abroad sooner so that she could have done it more than once. After waiting until the end of my junior year, I’d say she was spot on. I returned from my summer thinking that all I wanted to do was go again. I even considered studying abroad during my last semester of college, but FOMO held me back from doing it. So if you are reading this, and you have the opportunity, please study abroad early. Even if you start with a shorter trip over Christmas. DO IT. You will thank me later.
Now, I understand not everyone will want to Study Abroad twice, but either way, there are a lot of things to consider when picking a program: location, duration, time of year, cost, etc. For the remainder of this post I am going to break down some tips, tricks, and advice on picking a study abroad location, and how to prepare once you have.
Let’s start with where you are going. Location can sometimes be predetermined by your major area of study and the programs offered. I recommend starting with this. Make a quick stop by your Study Abroad office or go online and do a quick search on what programs are offered. Side note: it is possible to create your own study abroad program if you are set on a specific destination. If you are interested in this you need to get in touch with your adviser to talk about the appropriate steps to pull this off. Once you have an idea of destinations that fall within your major area of study, it is time to take into consideration what your preference is. Often times duration will also be tied into this decision as well. Some destinations may only be offered over the summer or in the spring semester for example. Some key things to consider for your destination: language, city vs rural, what other destinations you can get to easily while you are there, and cost. If you are only going to study abroad once, I personally recommend picking a destination in Europe. I recommend Europe for a few reasons. One, there are several destinations that almost every major will offer programs in. Two, Europe is a very budget friendly place to travel for college students. You will have the opportunity to visit many different countries for much cheaper than someone trying to hop over to Asia from Australia for example. I was able to visit 13 countries throughout the summer, whether it was for a long weekend or after I wrapped up my studies.
Destination choice helps me circle back to my original point: Study Abroad early so you can Study Abroad more than once. In my perfect world, I would have spent a semester in South America, and then did my internship program in Europe over the summer before my senior year. This would have given me the opportunity to see two completely different parts of the world. I mention South America and Europe, but let’s not forget about Australia, New Zealand, or Asia. Each place offers a lot of opportunity but keep in mind what you are hoping to accomplish while you are there!
Now, let’s talk cost. There seems to be a fallacy in the world that Study Abroad is incredibly expensive, and therefore unrealistic for some students; especially students that already feel like they are drowning in debt. The good news is, study abroad can actually be a really cost effective way to travel. In fact, if you enroll in an exchange program you will pay your universities tuition cost plus the flight to get you there. If you are trying to Study Abroad as cheap as possible, this is the obvious choice. Make sure to filter your destination choices based on what programs offer “exchange.” Other costs to keep in mind are additional travel, sightseeing, and food/drinks. To save money on additional travel, STAY IN HOSTELS; they are the opposite of scary, offer an amazing way to meet new people, and often include free meals. You can go to a lot of places if you are willing to focus more on experience rather than luxury.
Once you have decided when/where/how to go you need to decide who you are going with. This is a small but very important detail. You will have the opportunity to travel with close friends, students from you major/university, or completely on your own. I believe there are benefits to every single option. I personally travelled with my best friend, and we had an absolute blast. It gave us the opportunity to grow even closer. I also took the time to travel on my own afterward so I feel like I got the best of both worlds. On the other hand, traveling completely on your own really forces you to put yourself out there, experience new things, and create incredible new friendships. If you are someone who gets homesick easily I would lean toward traveling with friends. If you are really independent throw yourself out there and go it alone.
No matter what you decide it will be an absolutely life changing experience. Just remember it’s not as difficult as it might seem; just go!