Study Abroad and Travel – Tips On Doing it Your Own Way

In virtually any topic of study, there are under-traveled areas of the world that would be beneficial. However, many of these places lack established programs for formal study abroad, and thus, there is no way to reap the benefits of these exotic, educational places. It’s overwhelming to have to work through the Study Abroad path with all the paperwork and bureaucratic mess of most schools. Even after you work through it all, you typically end up in a sort of touristy setting, or find your program of study to be too rigid in structure to actually learn and be involved in the local environment (which would seem to be the point of going abroad).

Sometimes issues occur when one of the countries you wish to visit has “Travel Alert” stamped on the books, courtesy of the State Department. Most universities will not support students desiring to study in such places. So, you have to get creative and find a few shortcuts to help avoid some of the paperwork and bureaucracy. Even better, there are ways to study what you want, where you want, how you want and for the most part, when you want. This bit of information is for those of you stuck in the regular grind of school, wishing you could be overseas helping with development, studying another language, or studying overseas in beneficial, lesser-known places.

The author and friend

The author and friend

Why study abroad?

The real question is: Why Not?

There are lots of opportunities to pursue study abroad programs if you are interested in the more common, developed cities of the world, but there may be other options more suitable to your agenda. Seeking independent study can send you almost anywhere in the world, so long as you have the funding and visas. There is great benefit to setting up your own goals and programs for studying internationally. It gives you the flexibility to drive deeper into rural culture, absent of teachers and classrooms. Independent study through professors lets you be more specific to your own hopes and ambitions, reading and writing about your personal experiences and observations of the people.  

Or maybe you have a niche in the area of religious history and want to study the history of pre-Islamic Buddhism in Central and South Asia, but the countries where you would find that information, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, are not exactly high on the formal study abroad list.

Another possibility is that you love art and wish to do a compare and contrast study in London, Paris, Rome, and Madrid, but all existing programs restrict you to one city or at best two. Maybe you’re given to rural development, and found an NGO to work with in an African village, but will not have an online connection most of the time and definitely won’t have access to an actual abroad program. No worries. A bit of direction, ambition, and passion in your field can take you a long way.

Where can you study abroad?

Here’s a Few Ideas

Three scenarios for three students:

One place you might end up

One place you might end up

Student #1 – An International Relations major with a double minor in Middle Eastern Studies and Agriculture. The student wishes to study Arabic in Yemen, and also hopes to have an opportunity to check out the local agriculture. However, the State Department has a warning out, so the university will not support them. The student is relentless though, and just won’t give up this pursuit.

After a few Google searches, the student finds a school to study Arabic at and applies. They are accepted, so now what? They talk directly with their Arabic professor showing the validity of the school, the hours of class, and that the school will provide a transcript. The student is upbeat and charismatic in the approach, so the professor allows them to sign up for a semester course of Arabic as a supplement. (The down side to this scenario is the fact that you have to pay for both schools.)

Student #2 – an Architecture major who desires to observe in person the many different styles of building in southern Europe, as well as some of the ancient North African areas. There don’t seem to be any formal programs offering the opportunity to see multiple architecturally important cites, so the student begins to wonder and search the web for opportunities since there is not an institutionally supportive route.

The student plans the best and cheapest route to have a progressive look at architecture from ancient Morocco to modern Austria while writing a decent paper on all that is observed. After getting everything organized, the student goes to the favorite professor and presents the idea of signing up for an independent study course offered through the department. Because of the student’s ambition and well thought out proposal, the professor works with the student to send them on a new journey.

Student #3 – A major in Social Work and minor in African Studies.  This student desires to work in an orphanage in rural Rwanda, but there are no institutions to work with for credit. So, the student finds an aid organization to work through, applies, and gets accepted. The student is all set up to leave except for finding a way to get credit at university.

This particular student needs to remain full time, which makes things even more difficult. The student researches the exact location and gets a brief summary of the work that will be going on around their city, and then goes to their favorite professor. They explain the need to remain full time, as well as the vast opportunity and edge this would give them in the Social Work field. The professor encourages the idea, and after some dialogue, offers the student an opportunity to get six hours of internship credit. The professor then explains that the student could sign up for another one of their classes if they will read two books and write a 15-page paper on their observations on rural African sanitation. The professor gives the student another professor’s name that may be willing to help, and sets up a meeting to discuss more possibilities for this ambitious person hungry for education and willing to do what it takes to be the best in their field.

How to study abroad?

With a bit of genius and charisma, you can do anything

Living in foreign countries can be very exotic

Living in foreign countries can be very exotic

The first thing you need to do is find out where you want to go. Your field of study will be the main role-playing factor in this decision. Find out where your study is most prominent, or where your specific interests will be met. It helps to do broad Google searches, talk to professors, and any contacts you have in the field. Remember that it never hurts to ask! A great example is in the area of language, so find where the language you with to study is spoken and research the available programs.

There are two options for study once you find a region or country:

The first option is to do some research, find a foreign institution, and follow the procedure of your study-abroad department to study independently in that country (versus through a regular program that they offer elsewhere). To be ahead of things, apply at the foreign institution and have an acceptance statement, even if it’s just an email. From there, you can work out the details with your particular university. This route is good and fine if you know that it’s just a semester of a specific program, city, or country you wish to study in.

The second option is to pursue independent study with your professors. This option requires a diplomatic spirit, decent grades, and the ability to communicate with faculty in your field of study. Professors enjoy having students that can make clear and organized proposals. Having all of your ducks in a row when you go to speak with them will be key to gaining their support!

You should have a list of goals to present them with, such as paper topics and literature reviews you hope to complete in your abroad term. Another helpful tool is having some educational aspirations or hopes to drop into your conversations, such as grad school or something similar. Sometimes professors have independent credit classes or internship credit they can offer students that make these kinds of proposals. Make sure that you stay within range of your professor’s field when making these proposals. You will need to show them how valuable this learning experience will be in your path of study. Prove to them that you need to do this in order to accomplish your life ambitions, hopes, and goals.

Happy travels and happy studies!  

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