All Things Considered
After pouring over pictures of your dream country and looking through travel magazines and study abroad brochures, you could discover you have a serious case of wanderlust. Do not panic, do not worry. I had it too, and now, after months of planning and preparation, I will be off to my dream country in August. I am no expert, but I hope to at least give a little guiding point to future expats like myself.
So, all things considered, is study abroad as right for you as I hope it is for me? Let’s look at what you should consider, and I will give you a little of what I experienced choosing to go abroad.
1. Academics: We hear it often – you’re a student first, and, ultimately, that is the reality. College is about learning, and study abroad can be a great way to learn, but always talk to your academic advisor. It is never too early to alert them of your dream to eat bagels in France, see the Topkapi palace in Turkey, study religion in Israel, or learn about spirituality in India. I had to speak to several advisors before I knew for sure that I was going abroad. There were my major and minor advisors that helped me look at classes I still needed to graduate, review syllabi from my study abroad program to see what would count, and help me get prepared to live in India by giving me books and papers to read. The study abroad advisor helped me deal with the financial aid office and the courses that would count towards my general education, so I could use almost all the classes I am taking in India for something. Additionally, I had to talk to the general liberal arts advisors and financial advisors to figure out if this was worth it (it would have been anyway to me).
2. Finances: It can seem like a dream crusher, but finances can help you better plan your study abroad trip. If you are a scholarship student, ask your study abroad or global studies advisor and financial aid advisor about using your financial aid and scholarships to help pay for the cost. Some schools may not allow this, but my university said as long as I continue to meet the requirements of my scholarships that they can work with me to ensure I get the money I need. Your study abroad program might also offer scholarships and fundraising ideas, so you can have a great time in your dream country. There are also multiple databases of international study abroad scholarships and country specific scholarships. Try out a language intensive program or a volunteer abroad during the summer that may help you with some of the costs. What I have to pay for:
My plane ticket
My vaccines (look at cdc.gov for specific info)
My passport and student visa
Transportation while I’m in India
School Supplies (textbooks included)
Looking at this list makes me nervous, but planning a year or even longer ahead means having time to save up money to pay for these things. Look at the costs of different programs and different countries to see where you can get the best deal. If you can’t go to your dream location, settle for a country near it that is cheaper, so you can visit your dream country while you’re there.
3. Culture: While you may see yourself dancing in Brazil, your language skills or stomach may not be up to par just yet with your dream culture. Study, research, and discuss as much as possible to make sure that you are ready! People laugh at me when I say I am going to live in India for a year. I had one person tell me that I was a little crazy going to one of the hardest cultures to assimilate to my first time out of America. As true as this might be, I am getting as prepared as I can- watching documentaries, reading books, and talking to international students here at my university. This is probably one of the most helpful things I have done, students have told me what plug converters to buy and what clothing to pack. Seek out international students and ask them about their home country! Chances are they will love to talk about it with someone who knows a little bit about their home.
4. Goals for Study Abroad: I plan on writing more on this topic in a later post, but I want you to start thinking about it now. Goals for going abroad may help you pick a program. If you want to do community service, you could find a program that has that aspect or that is all about volunteering. You might want to focus more on academics, and some programs are more academically intensive, but you might want to get the full cultural experience, and that is what some programs are about. Look at if programs are more hand-holding or allow more student freedom if you want to travel on your own. Another great question is do you want to make a close group of friends or be in a large group with many students in order to make as many connections as possible because that will help you choose a small or large program.
This is only a glimpse of what you might need to know to decide to go abroad. As I said before, I am still learning, but I hope you at least started thinking about the important questions to decide whether studying abroad is right for you.