One great way to use your college summer breaks for learning, enrichment, and fun is to spend it studying abroad. A summer study abroad session gives you a chance at experiencing culture, language, independence, and a slate of classes you might not be able to get at home. If you use your summer to study abroad, you might get to take the fall off for a change, or get back to class in the autumn ahead of yourself in the credit chase. There are plenty of things you can do to make your summer study abroad session a time for learning and fun.
- Find the "best fit" program. So much depends on the program when it comes to having a great time studying abroad. Before you sign up for any certain program, consider a few things. Of course, consider where you want to study- first the country, than the specific locale: famous city, quiet countryside? If you're not sure what's located where in your country of choice, by all means, ask the program advisor or a student who's been there (or better yet, a native of the area...). Consider what you need to study - do you need certain courses for your major or do you have some leeway? Not all study abroad programs offer the same courses, so it's important to check what you need against the available classes. You also might want to look into work and internship opportunities.
Of course you will also want to consider how much the program costs and whether it will fit your budget. You might want to look into what sort of financial aid is available. Consider the amount of independence you want. Some programs offer a lot of support, while others will let you alone. Some put you in an English-speaking environment, and others will let you try your luck in the native tongue. These are a lot of things to mull over before you pick your summer program, but the right program, again, is key to the overall experience.
- Remember the virtues of prior planning. Sometimes a summer abroad session will replace a fall one. For example, when I went to Australia, they started in early July. Other times, people study abroad and then continue with their regular school year. Either way, your time is limited, and probably your money is too, so you want to seriously plan for your experience. This means considering how much time classes or internships will take up and how much time you'll have to travel. You'll also want to budget your money. What will the overall experience cost? What about special trips and other recreational activities? What will you do if you need emergency funds? Also, think about other practical matters like how much you are allowed to pack, what season you'll be experiencing (hemispheres make a difference) and what you can buy over there rather than cart or ship there. Thinking about these things before you go will keep them from being a problem when you are in the middle of your summer abroad session.
Also, remember you're about to go some place where culture and probably language are different from what you're used to. In fact, that's the main reason you're probably taking this trip: to experience something different. So, as part of the planning process, check up on social customs of your destination. This is a good way to arrive somewhat prepared and also avoid any social faux pas. And needless to say, if you're going to a country where the language is different, you'll want to have at least some common phrases handy when you leave. Try taking a class in the language the semester before you leave or even find a short course somewhere a few weeks before you go. A little knowledge can go a long way.
But don't forget to give yourself some leeway. Of course, as much as planning is important, you also want to budget for non-budgeted experiences and expenses. You may want to plan big trips, for instance, but not every single weekend. You might want to set up a "slush fund" without any specific purpose other thing "whatever comes up." A big part of studying abroad is learning to go with the flow and be resourceful as events occur.
- Play by the rules. One big way to keep your summer study abroad session on an even keel is to play by the rules of your program and school and the laws of the land. Anyone who's seen one of those movies where an American gets sentenced to 100 years for carrying contraband knows that some countries really don't fool around with foreigners who break the law. So don't be one of them. Likewise, just as breaking policies of your home college or university can cause you to get the boot, so can doing the same abroad. So, stick to the straight and narrow while abroad.
- Learn outside the classroom. While your classes in a foreign country can be anything from very interesting to downright eye-opening, don't forget much of the best parts of the study abroad experience come from what happens outside the classroom. Don't forget to meet people from your host country and fellow travelers who are often just as interesting. Experience the native arts and culture and cuisine. Get off the beaten path (if safety allows) and see things you'd never find in the guide books. In other words, make your own learning experiences everyday by exploring the world around you.
Study for a summer can change your life's outlook for a lifetime by providing you with memories, new friends, increased self-confidence, and maybe even some college credits. Maximize the opportunity by being smart and safe and by following the sense of adventure that brought you there to begin with. Bon voyage!