Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity for students that allows them to travel, live in a new culture, and connect with people from around the world. Whether you are considering studying abroad for a summer, semester, or full school year, here are some insider tips to help you have the best experience possible.
Study abroad program vs. Direct enrollment
It’s important to understand the difference between a study abroad program and directly enrolling in a foreign university.
Study Abroad Program
Many students study abroad through third-party organizations that organize the students’ housing and offer the curriculum. A benefit to going abroad through a program is there are fewer details for you to figure out on your own, such as housing. Additionally, your classes will be formatted similarly to your classes in the U.S. so you will not have the added challenge of navigating a new education system. Lastly, programs allow you to surround yourself with other students studying abroad. This can be helpful when trying to make friends and provides peers to travel with if you plan on taking trips. Sometimes programs even plan your trips for you.
However, some students find it more difficult to connect with the local students and culture when both living and studying with a group of American students. This is a drawback of going through a program, which of course can be overcome but may take extra effort if you want to submerse yourself in the culture. Also, programs typically have mandatory meetings and other events for their students which may cut into plans you want to make for yourself.
The other option when studying abroad is to directly enroll in a foreign university. Directly enrolling gives students more freedom when choosing where to live and what classes to take, as you can choose from the university’s course catalog. Additionally, students may have more freedom when scheduling which may make it easier to travel and without programming, it may be easier to genuinely access and participate in the local culture.
However, direct enrollment can be challenging because of its lack of oversight and support. For some, it is harder to find friends when you are an exchange student because locals are already integrated into the student body. Additionally, directly enrolling requires you to select classes and adjust to the local education system, usually without much academic advising or assistance. Lastly, as a direct enrollment student, there are no overarching program directors to address issues with housing or classes.
Choosing Where to Go
How to Decide Where You Want to Go
Deciding where to go is undoubtedly the biggest decision you will make when planning your study abroad experience. Usually, depending on your major, you may have two, sometimes three, options to choose from. Think about what you want from your experience. Do you want to travel as much as possible? Do you want to increase your fluency in a foreign language? Do you want to live in a culture completely different from your own? Answering these questions for yourself will help you choose the location that is best for you.
What to Do When You Can’t Study Abroad in Your Country of Choice
Some students already know where they want to study abroad only to find out that their university does not have a program for their major in that country. This can be a difficult and frustrating situation. For example, if you wanted to go to Argentina but you can only get credit for your biology major in the United Kingdom, what do you do?
There are three options: 1) choose not to study abroad, 2) go to your ideal country for a summer study abroad to avoid losing credits for your major during the semester, or 3) still study abroad during the semester in a different location than you initially planned.
The first of these options is not ideal for most students as they would miss out on the opportunity to study abroad. The second option is a viable choice for some students but requires paying tuition for additional credit hours over the summer which is not an option for every student. The last option allows you to study abroad but requires a few adjustments to your initial plan.
If you decide to study abroad in a country different than your first choice, think about the culture and research the University. Chances are you already knew this information about your first-choice location, so make sure to educate yourself on where you are going. This will help you adjust your expectations so that they better align with the experience you are going to have. As you adjust your expectations, don’t just think about what you might be missing out on, take the time to discover all the new opportunities you will have in this new place! A positive outlook will help you be more excited about the country you’re studying in.
Small Details You Might Not Think About
Choosing Your Housing
If you have options for your housing, do your research before making your decision. Location is everything when you are in a new place. If possible, ask a friend who has gone to the same country about the best place to live. Ask where most other students live, both exchange and local. If you are choosing from university housing, you can look online for a map of the dorms or apartments. However, if you have never visited the university then distance might be difficult to gauge on a map.
Overall, when it comes to housing, you want to be as close as possible to other students. This will make it much easier to make friends than if you have to walk 30 minutes just to visit with a classmate. Average travel times will be different depending on if you are in a town or a city, but consider these when selecting where you will live. Your housing can play a big role in helping you find your community in a new place so be thoughtful when making your selection.
Expectations of Your Experience
Many students return from studying abroad elating over the best three months of their lives and exclaiming they wish they could have stayed. While studying abroad can be an exceptionally exciting time for many students, it also presents unique challenges since most students have never moved to another country, away from friends and family, for a few months.
Before you leave, take a moment to consider what your expectations are of the experience. Acknowledging what you are expecting will better prepare you to deal with any challenges or surprises you may encounter as you settle into the new country.
Don’t worry if your expectations are not met or if you arrive and everything is different than you imagined. Studying abroad is about being flexible and having new experiences! Remember that it is okay to face difficulties, especially when you first arrive. But addressing your expectations before you leave will help you identify any challenges you may encounter and will make you better equipped to handle them so that your experience will be as exciting and enjoyable as possible.
Alice is a senior at Emory University, pursuing a B.S. in Biology and minor in Dance and Movement Studies. As a tutor, she works to develop critical and analytical thinking skills with students. She believes it is crucial to teach a thorough understanding of the material rather than formulaic memorization. She believes in paying careful attention to the ways students learn to then utilize their skills to help them succeed.