How to Study Abroad
Making the decision to study abroad at any age must be done carefully. There is a lot you must consider before you actually leave home and embark on this great opportunity. Where will you go and when? How will you pay for it? Where will you live while you are there? Why do you want to go? The truth is, there is a process to studying abroad. It is not as simple as applying to a program and leaving home. In fact, depending on the program, it could take a few months for you to be fully prepared to leave home and begin your adventure.
If you have already decided to go, you’re ready to begin the process of applying to study abroad and making plans. Though the specific process of leaving home to study abroad varies according to the destination, the general process remains the same.
Finding a School
For those in undergraduate or graduate programs at a college or university, deciding to study abroad is a great learning opportunity that will further your education and enhance your future career. For you, studying abroad means locating schools with study abroad programs where you can earn credits that can be transferred back to your home school. There are a few ways to find a study abroad program:
- Sister Schools/Branch Campuses: In some cases, the college or university you already attend may have a sister school or branch campus to which you can travel. Some schools even have more than one sister school or branch campus available. If you need further guidance, go to your school study-abroad office. The staff will be able to provide you with information on sister schools and other schools that may fit your needs.
- Find Your Program: Finding a program on your own is exciting, though it can be a little trickier than choosing from a list already compiled by your school. There is nothing wrong with going out to research this on your own, but you need to be able to refine your search. Look for schools offering a degree or program similar to yours so that you can study what you want and easily find credits to transfer to your home school. Make sure that credits from these schools would transfer back before you decide to apply. You should absolutely study where you want, but make sure the classes you take will contribute toward your degree.
- Find a Location: Another way to narrow your scope is to decide where you would like to live while studying abroad. Have you studied French with a passion all your life? Head to France, Togo, Guinea, Luxembourg, or any other French-speaking country. Maybe your dreams are more specific and you have always wanted to stay and live in Buenos Aires. Consider your budget, too, while looking at schools. Some countries, of course, have a higher cost of living than others.
- Use A Study Abroad Organization: For those not sure where or what they want to study, there are plenty of organizations to which you can apply for assistance. Maybe you want to go to Central America, but you aren’t sure specifically where or for what course of study. These study abroad organizations will match your interests with a program and location. Some of these organizations simply set up trips and educational opportunities that allow you to travel and learn in different regions. Do some research and find an organization that fits your particular circumstances.
Choosing When to Go
The second step in this process is deciding when you want to study abroad and for how long. To determine this, you need to consider the demands of your current program and your budget. If you have a rigorous academic program, consider a short-term trip or summer program. If you have more available time and the budget to support you, think about studying abroad for a semester, or even a year. To help you make this decision, here is some information on duration of programs:
- Short-Term Trips: Short trips last anywhere from one week to a month and generally focus on cultural studies, practical work experiences, and volunteer work. You can find travel study abroad trips in locations all over the world through many different organizations or your school. Some professors offer trips that dovetail with their areas of study or interest.
- Summer Programs: If you want to travel, volunteer, or study during the summer months, then look for organizations, colleges, and universities that provide opportunities for you to study abroad during your summer break. The advantage of these programs is that you do not have to worry about getting credit because you will not miss any courses at your school. Again, check to see if professors at your school are leading any trips.
- Long Term: If you are more interested in totally immersing yourself in a foreign culture, you might want to consider studying abroad for a full semester or an entire academic year. When you decide to study abroad for the long term, you have the chance to live on your own or with a host family. Both options offer you new experiences and can lead to relationships that will last the rest of your life. Your classmates will likely be other international students or students from your destination country; the same goes for your professors. This diversity adds to your learning experience. A long-term trip means you’ll also be able to travel around the country and any neighboring countries, furthering your experience and knowledge.
Preparing to Study Abroad
After you have decided where and when you will be studying abroad, it is time to start actually preparing to leave your home school. This is the part of the process that may take some time, depending upon where you are going and for how long. There are a few things you will need to do and a few things you will need to consider as you prepare to study abroad:
- Passport and Visa: Since you are going to be travel abroad, you will need a passport and a student visa, if necessary. Obtaining both of these documents can take several months, so begin the application processes as soon as you can. You also need to check and see if you will need a visa to study in your destination country. If you do, you will need to gather supporting documents and schedule a visa interview.
- Booking Flights: After you have addressed a passport and visa, you can book your flights. To get the best value, book early, and try to book flights during the middle of the week and far from any holidays.
- Contacting Your New School/Program: After you know when you will be traveling, it is a good idea to contact the school you will be attending or the program that you will be enrolled in to let them know when you will be arriving. If you are staying with a host family, you should let them know when you plan to arrive so they’re ready for you.
- Packing Your Bags: Before you start throwing your belongings into a suitcase, take some time to think about what you will need. Do some research on the weather in your new home and pack appropriate clothing. It is a good idea to purchase toiletries when you get there, instead of packing them. Try to leave valuables at home, where possible, so they are less likely to be misplaced or stolen.
Studying abroad is a great opportunity. Before actually going abroad, however, you need to determine your goals. You are not just picking a location and school. You are selecting a temporary home. Make sure that your choice is suitable by thinking about location, language, budget, and coursework and planning accordingly.