The best way to make the most of a study abroad program is to learn as much as you can before you go. Read about the places you will visit on the Internet and in travel books. Talk to students who have participated in the program before. Most importantly, get as much information as you can through your study abroad department or student exchange program. There are numerous resources available to help you prepare for your upcoming adventure!
Make sure you ask these important questions before departure and plan accordingly:
• How much will it cost? It’s always a good idea to have an understanding of the bottom line. The cost of study abroad programs can depend on a variety of factors, such as the type of program, the length of stay and the sponsoring school. If the program is through your home university, tuition costs will probably be similar to your current rates. Remaining fees may include costs such as airfare, meals, housing and additional travel expenses. Many programs require that these fees be paid prior to departure. Contact the study abroad department you are considering for a breakdown of expenses.
• How much spending money will I need? You should create a budget prior to departure. Separate any known living and school expenses such as food, housing, transportation and textbooks from extra spending money. Chances are you will want to have extra cash available for museum visits, extra weekend trips and souvenirs, among other things. These types of expenses are generally not included in your study abroad program fee. Traveler's checks, credit cards, ATM cards and cash are accepted almost everywhere. Keep in mind that it’s never a good idea to carry excess cash. Consider using several different forms of payment for expenses.
• Do I need study abroad insurance? Most colleges and exchange organizations require that students have a health insurance plan while studying abroad. If you have health insurance through your parents, it may cover you in another country. If not, you can also purchase a student study abroad insurance package. It is important to be prepared for unforeseeable circumstances.
• Will the grades and credits I earn abroad be accepted at my home university? You will want to have all the information about credit and grade requirements from your home institution before you choose a program abroad. Check with your academic advisor, study abroad advisor, registrar or admissions representative to make sure the credits you earn abroad will be accepted at home. A semester abroad doesn’t have to setback your graduation timeline; with the variety of study abroad programs available, you should be able to find one that offers courses you need to graduate.
• How long can I study abroad? This is entirely up to you. If you haven’t been far from home for a long period of time, you might want to do a shorter program over summer or winter break. If you are comfortable being abroad and can handle the distance between you and your friends and family, consider a semester or yearlong program.
• What are the housing options? The housing options vary with each program. Many students live on campus in dorms, often with a roommate. Other programs may have the option to live off campus in apartments, and still more require students to live in a native family’s home. Each housing option has its benefits. If you are hoping to improve your foreign language skills, living with native speakers is a great way to increase fluency and immerse yourself in the culture. Find out exactly what is included in your study abroad program’s housing package. Do you have to pay for your own meals? Provide your own linens? Is there a curfew time? Don’t be caught off-guard; ask these questions before your bags are packed.
• Will I be able to communicate without being fluent in the language? When it comes to venturing abroad, Americans tend to have it easy. Although you will want to make an effort to learn key phrases, it will not be essential for you to have fluency in the language before departure. Most likely you will be able to find someone who speaks a little English if you need assistance. However, you should make the most of your study abroad experience by making an effort to learn the local language. You could enroll in an intensive language class prior to departure to get some practice. If you are not comfortable with your language skills, you could choose to study in an English-speaking country or select a study abroad program where the classes will be taught in English.
• What documents will I need to travel abroad? The documents you will need can vary with your study abroad program and the country you are visiting. Contact your study abroad or exchange program for official pre-departure information. Almost all foreign countries require that you have a passport, and some require that you have a visa, international student identity card and international certificate of vaccinations. Your study abroad program will have all of the details you need.
• What will the food be like? Studying abroad is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons and try new things – including new foods! Chances are the food in the country abroad is not going to be like Mom’s cooking. This can be a wonderful part of the experience. However, it may be difficult for some. Be sure to follow the guidelines about what precautions to take when sampling local foods and drinks. Make sure the tap water is safe to drink or buy bottled water if you are uncertain. Also, you will probably find that many popular fast food chain restaurants from the United States are all over the world. I suggest that you immerse yourself in the abroad experience and avoid these fast food chains. After all, studying abroad is a time to be open-minded, experimental and try new things. I’m guessing you already know what a Quarter Pounder tastes like. If you have a weak moment and feel the need for something American, be warned - fast food restaurants sometimes attempt to cater to the locals, meaning the menu may vary slightly from what you are accustomed to.
• How can I keep in touch with my family and friends back home? In the increasingly Internet-savvy world, many students find that e-mail and social networking sites are the best way to keep loved ones updated. These means of communication allow students to update their loved ones all at once and even share pictures. However, you can also send postcards, faxes and call home. While rates may be higher to connect overseas, these services work very similar to those here in the United States. No matter how you plan to connect, you will probably want to purchase a calling card before departure in case you need to get a hold of your family immediately. Be sure to find out the appropriate access numbers for the United States as they vary from country to country. Also, remember there’s most likely a significant time difference! If you are just calling to update your loved ones, try to call home at a reasonable time. You’ll find your family to be much more excited to hear from you when you don’t wake them up for a 3 a.m. chat.
Making the Case for Studying Abroad
Study abroad programs let you explore a new country for a summer, semester or even an entire year. College is the perfect time to broaden your horizons, become more independent and experience new things, and there’s no better way to change your life than learning and living abroad!
Top Reasons to Study Abroad
• Personal Growth. Studying abroad presents the opportunity to challenge yourself with new situations, adapt, learn, and gain independence and self-confidence. When you try a different way of living and experiment with new ways of thinking, it is natural to grow as an individual.
• New Perspectives. Immersing yourself in a different culture can help you see the world from a completely different perspective. You can broaden your understanding of the world and gain a different view of international affairs. Studying abroad is a chance to step outside of the ordinary and experience the extraordinary. Experience life beyond the borders of the Unites States. Just remember to go abroad with an open mind.
• Professional Development. Studying abroad is a great way to become more marketable in today’s global economy. Many companies look for college graduates who have spent time studying or living abroad because they want employees with international knowledge and cultural awareness. This also applies to graduate schools; the international skills that make you more marketable for employment are also important for higher education. You can highlight your study abroad experience on your resumé, write about your growth and development in essays and cover letters, and also discuss what you learned in interviews.
• Meet New People. Education abroad gives you the opportunity to make lifelong friendships with people from all around the world. Some programs allow you to reside with a native host family, while other programs provide housing with other students. Either way, you are sure to build relationships to last a lifetime!
• Language Fluency. Studying abroad can give you the chance to develop fluency in a new language. There’s no better way to learn a language than by surrounding yourself with people who speak it! On the other hand, if you aren’t studying a second language, there are study abroad programs that don’t require any prior language experience.
• Cultural Awareness. Experience different cultures and customs. Try new foods. Learn a new way of life.
Grab your passport, pack your bags, and get ready for an unforgettable, life-changing experience!