Deciding to Study Abroad

Deciding to Study Abroad

Will Studying Abroad Fit into My Schedule?

​Is it truly possible for all students to study abroad during their undergraduate career? I believe that the answer is yes!  Whether you are an athlete who can’t miss an entire season or a pre-med student who has a hard time fitting sleep into their schedule, I’m certain that there is a study abroad program for you.  Even if you find yourself incredibly busy during the semesters at your home university and you can’t see studying abroad fitting in, you may find that a semester abroad will give you the clarity of mind to finish your studies in a more effective way than if you’d chosen to remain barely swimming for 8 continuous semesters.  By this I mean that studying abroad gives you the opportunity to step away from your usual professors, courses, and extracurricular activities, and allows you to examine all of these things from a fresh perspective.  Choose a study abroad program where you’ll be able to fulfill General Education requirements (don’t take all of them your freshman year!), and you won’t be “wasting” your time abroad.  All of these courses will still count towards your final degree program, but you’ll still have the opportunity to be abroad!  If you’re certain that you want to be taking major or minor-related courses while you’re abroad, find a destination that is well known in your field of study.  For example, if you’re a theatre or literature major, you might want to consider London.  On the other hand, if you’re a biology or ecology major, perhaps Australia, New Zealand, or certain African countries may be better suited to your field, depending on how adventurous you are!  If you still feel that you are absolutely unable to take an entire semester away, never fear- there is still a study abroad opportunity out there for you!  There are a multitude of summer and winter break programs that will allow you to go abroad anywhere from a week or two to a few months, still while not missing a semester.  Unfortunately, these programs are often more expensive than semester programs because the fees are in addition to the regular tuition you’re already paying while semester programs are often somehow integrated into your tuition.  These programs also run the risk of being “vacations” more than semester programs because you’re only abroad for such a short period of time.  Try to find a program that is at the very least 3 weeks in length, but preferably even longer in order to get the most out of your experience!

Michelle and I

My host mom and I in Aix-en-Provence, France in 2013. This was 2 years after I lived with her initially!

How to Choose a Program

​With so many study abroad programs to choose from, how is it possible to narrow it down to just one?  Consider the following criteria to make the job a little easier!

  • Location– The location of a study abroad program means everything to some students, and very little to others.  To figure out your perfect location, start big and work your way down to the smallest details.  For example, which continent do you want to be on?  Is there a specific country or language you’re looking for?  Do you want to be in a big city or a small village?  Do you want the locals to be able to speak English, or would you rather that they don’t?  Once you narrow down the qualities of the location you’d prefer, you’d be surprised how quickly a program or city will stand out to you.
  • Type of Program– There are three main “types” of study abroad program: direct enrollment, island, and hybrid.  A direct enrollment program typically means that you enroll directly into a foreign university, usually through an agreement that your school has with the foreign school.  You take classes at the foreign university just like any other attending student.  There may or may not be extra support or programming available for you (depending on the agreement and what the school offers).  Direct enrollment is usually the most immersive type of study abroad program because you’re able to take classes alongside local or international students, and you truly get to live as if you were a local student in that country.  An island program is a program typically run through a study abroad program provider (company or organization) that provides classes just for study abroad students.  They have their own faculty and administrative staff, and may run their program alongside a university, but there is typically not an opportunity to take classes directly at the university with local students.  Usually these programs are located in non-English speaking countries, and they give students who don’t speak the language well enough an opportunity to study in that country or city.  Many of these programs have some sort of language exchange or buddy program with local students so that you can still interact with local students outside of class.  These programs also typically provide different excursions and activities for study abroad students to enhance their experiences.  A hybrid program is exactly what it sounds like- a program that mixes the benefits of direct enrollment and island programs.  These programs offer classes just for their students, but also give you the option of taking courses at the local university with local or international students.  This option typically gives you the best of both worlds, as you’ll usually have the same excursions, activities, and support that an island program provides, but with all the access to the actual foreign university.
  • Course Availability– Do you need a program that offers courses which will count towards your major/minor?  If so, you’ll need to be extra selective when looking at your program options.  Before deciding on a program, make sure that you have the syllabi for each course you think would fulfill a requirement, and check with your academic advisor to see if they agree.  You’ll also want to make an appointment with your university’s study abroad advisor to see what the process is for having credits transfer back (and in what quantities they’ll transfer back).  It’s typically best to be more open to taking general education requirement courses or electives, as this will give you the largest amount of program options, but you’ll certainly be able to find a program that will give you courses that count towards your major/minor!
  • Price– Understanding the price of a study abroad program is not as simple as looking at the price tag on a website.  First, you need to know how your home university handles study abroad tuition payments.  Many universities will have you continue paying your normal tuition rate (including federal aid and scholarships), and then they pay the study abroad fee, so nothing actually changes for you.  This only gets complicated if you also have a work-study or assistantship position, because it’s often hard to continue those while you’re abroad (so you might not receive that aid for that semester).  In this case, the only difference in price will be for room and board.  If the cost of living is less than in your home country/city, then you’ll probably pay less than you would during a normal semester.  However, if the cost of living is higher in your host city, you’ll likely be paying more.  If price is a serious concern for you, consider countries with a low cost of living, and you may save some money!  These countries don’t all necessarily have to be in the developing world, either.  For instance, the cost of living in the Czech Republic is significantly less than in most other Western European countries, partially because of the currency exchange rate.  If you’re looking for a scholarship to help fund your study abroad program, check out this website.
  • Housing​- Study abroad programs usually have 3 different types of housing- private apartments, dorms, or home stays.  Private apartments and dorms will be much like they are at home, but a home stay is unique to study abroad.  During a home stay, you’ll stay with a local person or family in order to better immerse yourself in the local culture.  Many home stays also include meals so that you have an opportunity to practice the local language or learn about your host country around the dinner table (which also saves you from having to cook or buy your own meals).  Participating in a home stay is a great way to learn about your host country, and it’s a fun way to connect with people in a foreign country.  If a home stay is an option with your study abroad program, I definitely recommend choosing to do it!  Even four years after living with my host mom (and host puppy!), I still keep in touch and go to visit whenever I can.  I also have a place to stay whenever I go back, which is a plus!

If you’re looking for a comprehensive search engine for study abroad programming, check out GoAbroad.com or GoOverseas.com.

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