How to Make the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience
For many college students, studying abroad is one of the most positive and rewarding experiences they have during their four years of higher education. Making the decision to leave the comfort of your home university and friend group can be very difficult, but if you decide to step out of your comfort zone, the experience can offer an eye-opening, and for many, life-changing opportunity.
Many students have to weigh a variety of concerns before ultimately deciding to study abroad. Students must consider whether their credits will transfer, how their housing will be affected, and how to cover the expenses of studying abroad. Financial aid is available for some, but it is best to research in advance how much things will cost and what you can expect to be covered by your program of choice. By working with your school’s financial aid office, you’ll understand more about which programs work best with your school. We’ve already listed 8 of the best US universities for studying abroad.
Once you’ve decided that studying abroad is right for you, you’ll have another whole set of decisions to make. Deciding where to go, which semester to travel, and what program to use can be difficult and overwhelming, but ultimately, the decisions and research are well worth it for most students.
Choosing Your Study Abroad Destination
One of the first things you’ll think about as a future study abroad student is where to go. Studying abroad has become popular with students, and there are programs in a wide variety of countries and regions. When making this important decision, you should consider what you enjoy and what classes you’d like to take. Every country has its own unique culture, food, and characteristics so consider what each country has to offer as you make your decision.
What’s your major?
Are you a biology or environmental science major? Many biology majors study abroad in countries that offer unique habitats and ecosystems that differ from their home countries. Places like Costa Rica, Ecuador, Australia, and Kenya are particularly popular, but you’ll also find programs in slightly more off-the-beaten-path destinations like Bolivia, Botswana, or Nicaragua.
Are you more interested in history, architecture, or the arts? One of the most popular study abroad destinations is Italy, and it’s easy to see why with its beautiful cities, delicious cuisine, and excellent tourist infrastructure. Other popular destinations for arts majors include France, Spain, Japan, or China.
For religious studies or history, consider programs that go to the Middle East. Most of these programs stay up to date on the politics of the region and focus their programs in the most stable and safe areas.
Luxury or Backpacker Travel?
Also consider the level of comfort that you prefer when picking a destination. European countries and places like Japan, Australia, or New Zealand all have very modern amenities and conveniences. Developing countries may still offer many of the comforts of home, but finding these luxuries may be a bit more challenging. As a study abroad student, regardless of where you go, you’ll likely find that your accommodation is generally basic and simple. After all, that is part of the student experience, so embrace it with an open mind and an adventurous heart.
Blowout or Budget-Friendly?
Don’t forget to consider your budget when choosing a destination. Cities like London are bound to be more expensive than studying abroad in a country like Peru. Depending on the type of program you choose, many expenses are likely to be included in the upfront cost, but things like eating out, side trips, and entertainment will likely all come out of pocket and prices will vary tremendously depending on the type of program you choose.
Types of Study Abroad Programs
There are a few different types of study abroad programs. Students can choose when they study abroad and for how long. Programs are typically divided into semester-long, year-long, and summer programs. Not every university offers every type of program, so make sure you work with your school to make sure you understand all of your options.
Types of programs typically include exchange programs, direct enroll programs, group programs, and internship programs.
Exchange programs involve trading places with a student at a school in another country. Students become “visiting students” at their new university and typically pay tuition comparable to their home school. These programs give the student a unique immersion experience at a foreign university. The student has an independent experience that lets them immerse themselves in the culture and learning environment. Here’s why you should choose an independent exchange program for your study period.
Direct Enroll programs allow students to study as a visiting student at an international university, but there is no student exchange. Students must pay the tuition of the host university and may take a wide variety of different courses – do it your way, with some freedom and flexibility.
Group programs allow students to travel with other study abroad students and the entire group takes similar courses and participates in the same activities. There is usually a set tuition cost, and students should inquire into what is covered.
Internships abroad offer a unique opportunity for students to learn about another culture and meet or work with locals. Depending on the internship program and the student’s home school, course credit may be available. There are a variety of websites available that can help you locate an internship abroad. Popular options include Go Abroad and Go Overseas.
Before choosing a study abroad program you should speak to your school’s study abroad department. They likely have a list of programs run directly through your school, and programs that the school accepts for academic credit. Reach out to a program you’re interested in and speak to a representative. If possible, speak to a student that has done the program before, as they will be your best source of insider information.
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
One of the best ways to make the most of your study abroad experience is to step out of your comfort zone whenever possible.
College, in general, is about exploring and trying new things, and studying abroad is one of the best opportunities to meet new people and experience a new culture.
Whenever possible, travel around and explore the surrounding area. Make a list of places you want to see and the experiences you want to have before you even leave. Connect with locals. Keep an open mind and when friends ask you if you want to head somewhere for the weekend, say yes (pro tip: budget in advance for surprise travel)! Whether you’re going to stay in a hostel in London, Florence, or Munich, or you’re going on your first ever African Safari, the experiences you have during your free time will likely become the best memories of your time abroad.