Studying abroad can be a life-changing educational experience. Students studying and living in other countries learn independence, resourcefulness, and discover other cultures firsthand. To have the optimal study abroad experience, a student will want to find the program that best fits his or her needs and goals. There are several things to consider as you evaluate what study abroad program is right for you.
- Where will this program put you? The basic first question all potential studiers-abroad must answer is "Where do I want to go?" Once you pick your country of interest and look into programs that can get you there and start evaluating the specifics. If you want to study in Italy, do you want to be in Rome, Milan, the countryside? Pick a program where you can get where you actually want to go (or as close to it as you can get.) Some programs only offer limited options: one university in one city. Others, like the one I went through when I studied in Australia, offer tons of choices--universities literally all over the continent. Ask yourself this: Where do you want to go specifically and can this program get you there?
- Ask: What can I study? An art history major might love the idea of studying in Paris and find the perfect program that sends her to the Sorbonne. But what if the program is for business students and only allows her to take classes in finance and accounting? Not a good fit. Make sure the program you're applying to lets you study what you want and/or need to for your field of interest. Yes, a great part of the study abroad experience takes part outside the classroom, but, eventually, you will have to go to class, so make sure you can take the classes you need and want.
- Check to see if your current school is okay with it. A lot of colleges and universities sponsor their own study abroad programs so transferring credits and picking classes that fulfill home-college requirements isn't a problem. But if you're looking into a study abroad program not affiliated with your own school, make sure that your school approves of the courses and the program so you don't end up a semester behind!
- Figure out who you want around you. As a student studying abroad, you will meet people through your program and outside your program. The program you choose may effect both of those things. If you're hoping to stick with at least some other people from your home country, you may not want to sign on for a program where the other traveling students come from all over the globe. On the other hand, if you're looking to strike out on your own, such a group might be just for you. Similarly, if you want an immersion experience, you may not want a program that keeps all English-speakers in one dorm. Or, if you're sort of shaky on the language, you might want a program that gives you at least some connection to people who you understand. So, look into it: will other people from your home country be traveling with you and/or living with you or not?
- See what other opportunities are offered. Along with classes, study abroad programs can offer a lot of other things you'd expect to find at any university, like internships and jobs. Does your program let you work? What other kinds of opportunities are available to you? Are you interested in them? Check these things out before you sign on.
- Consider how much support is offered. Studying abroad can require a lot of paperwork. How does the program you're considering help you out as you get ready to go? Are there people you can ask about passports and visas and shots? What about when you get there? Will there be people in your host country attached to the program, ready to help when you first arrive, in case of emergencies, or on a regular basis? What resources will your host university provide people in this program? Also consider the amount of help you want. Maybe you'd prefer a program where someone checks in with you frequently or maybe you'd prefer to just be on your own.
- Look into financial aid. Traveling abroad to study is expensive. When studying abroad you have more than the usual college costs, there's also airfare, transportation, additional lodging costs, a difference in the exchange rate that could affect you negatively. And of course, there will be expenses for any of the travel and exploration you do. Does your program accept regular college loans? Does it offer other financial aid like travel vouchers you can apply for to defray the cost of your flight or other transportation? Will the host college offer any financial support. These are all things to consider.
- Consider the general reputation of the school. Make sure you're only trusting your study abroad opportunity to a reputable and safe program. One reason so many students choose to study abroad through their home college is because they are assured of the safety and reliability connected to these established trips. Make sure to do your homework if you opt out of your university's program, talk, if possible, to past participants, and make sure that you'll be safe and pleased with the experience.