So you want to study abroad? If you are thinking about studying abroad, you probably find yourself faced with what seems like a never-ending list of questions.
-Is study abroad right for you?
-When should you study abroad?
-Where should you study abroad?
-For how long should you study abroad?
-How will you pay for study abroad?
-What do you want to gain from study abroad?
-Will you live with a host family?
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Studying abroad will change your life. It’ll teach you new life lessons and give you the upper hand later when applying for jobs. So it is important to take time to properly answer all of these questions.
That is where I come in. Although I can’t answer these questions for you, I can provide some guidelines and advice I’ve learned from studying abroad myself.
How to Study Abroad
Step 1: Figure out if study abroad is right for you
Studying abroad may seem awesome, and maybe all your friends are doing it, but is it really right for you?
-Do you like traveling?
-Are you comfortable with being away from your friends and family?
-Will you be okay out of your comfort zone?
-Can you live independently?
-Will it work financially?
If you answered “yes” to most of those questions, then studying abroad is something you would probably enjoy. Don’t worry if you answered “no” to the previous questions. But do take some time to seriously figure out if studying abroad is something you really want.
You don’t have to be the only one involved in the decision-making process. Talk to you family and get their opinions. It’s best to keep communication open during this time–especially if they’ll be providing the funds to make your study abroad dreams come true. But do remember, as much as it’s good to get advice from your friends and family, the ultimate decision is up to you.
Step 2: Decide when to study abroad
Deciding when to study abroad during your college career is an important decision. In fact, it’s so important it’s a decision you shouldn’t make alone–go make an appointment with your academic advisor. Together you can make sure that studying abroad makes sense for your academic and career goals. Some majors might just be too intense and require you to complete all four years on campus–make sure studying abroad won’t set you back.
Talking to your advisor will also help narrow down how long you’re able to study abroad. Many universities offer 2 week winter trips, 1 month summer trips, full semesters and year-long options.
Protip: If you know study abroad will be in your future, go see your academic advisor as soon as possible. Even if you’ve just started freshman year, it’s better to start planning ahead to make sure everything falls in line later.
Step 3: Pick where you want to go
Do you have a particular country you want to study in? Maybe even a particular city picked out? If not, that’s okay– but it’s good to have at least an idea of what geographic region you’d like to be in. Maybe you’re studying Chinese so you want to go to China or maybe you love Italian food so you want to go to Italy.
Protip: If you still have no idea where you’d like to go, try reading some study abroad blogs. This will give you a better idea of life in a particular country.
Once you have an idea of a few countries you may want to study in, it might be a good idea to start thinking about possible cities to narrow it down further.
Some things to think about include:
-Do you want to live in a rural or urban setting?
-Is there a certain University you would like to attend?
-Do you want to travel to an area where English is available?
-Is a homestay opportunity important?
-Is it important to be in an area accessible to other travel excursions?
-Do you want to learn another language?
If you know what city you hope to be in, or the city does not matter to you, then you’re ready to start looking at programs!
Step 4: Find a program
Most universities will have a study abroad office where you can find resources for finding programs. In fact, most universities will already have pre-designed programs for you to apply to.
Since you’ve already got an idea of where you’d like to go, start by looking at those countries first. There will be many different types of programs: direct exchanges, group study abroad, internships, programs related to your major, homestays, etc. Some programs will arrange housing for you, but for others you’ll be expected to figure that out on your own. Make sure to read all the details carefully.
While looking around, make sure to write down programs you like plus their features. It’s really easy to lose track quickly of which programs include what–every program will be slightly different. This is where making lists can be helpful.
Check to see what activities they offer and what classes you can take that will transfer back to your university. And remember to step away from time to time–this process can be incredibly overwhelming. But with a bit of patience and research, soon you’ll have found the perfect program!
Protip: Maybe pick out 2-3 alternate programs you like so you have a few backup programs in mind.
Step 5: Make sure all prerequisites are complete
Some programs require that you are at least a junior, or maybe have taken two years of language courses before taking part in their program. Once you have a list of possible programs that interest you, double check that you qualify for all of them, before moving onto the final step…
Step 6: Apply!
Grab a snack and prepare to fill out a bajillion forms. Applying for study abroad programs is no short task. Many require a lot of paperwork, followed by multiple essays. So don’t wait until the last minute to apply! Start applications early and write a killer essay that’ll make it impossible for anyone to turn you down.
Winter break is the perfect time to finish up those study abroad applications, after all…deadlines are soon approaching (for University of Illinois it’s January 15th, 2013).
So what are you waiting for? It’s never too late to consider studying abroad. Once you’ve finally filled everything out, check it all over, take a deep breath and hit submit. And now the fun part begins: the waiting game.
I hope this advice finds anyone who needs it. Studying abroad has been one of the great experiences of my life, and I hope others have the opportunity for these amazing experiences also. Let me know where you end up!