How to Choose the Study Abroad Program that Works for You
For many people, their experience studying abroad during university remains one of their favorite memories. Studying abroad helps build intercultural communication skills, fluency in a foreign language, and the ability to cope with new situations. However, with the increasing availability of student exchanges around the world, it's more important than ever to choose a study abroad program carefully. If you're considering studying abroad, it's essential that you consider these six factors before you commit to an exchange.
The first thing you absolutely must consider is whether or not you can afford to study abroad. Begin by looking into the tuition costs and student fees. Some programs allow you to pay your tuition to your home university in your country's currency, while others require you to pay tuition directly to your new school, in the local currency. Once you're comfortable with tuition fees, research the cost of living in potential new cities. Generally speaking, American university students can save money by studying abroad in developing countries, while expenses will likely be the same in most of the developed world and even higher in places like Scandinavia, Switzerland and Singapore (you don't have to avoid every country that starts with "S" though... Spain and Slovenia are generally quite affordable!).
Next, you need to investigate the academic programs offered by potential overseas universities. Do they offer courses in English, or will you have to study in the local language? Will the credits you earn overseas transfer back to your home university and count towards your graduation requirements? If possible, talk to other American students who have studied at that university and who can give you some insight into the workload, academic rigor and teaching model.
Student housing is dramatically different around the world. You may be offered a traditional American-style dormitory on the university campus or a shared apartment off-campus, or you might have to find your own place to stay. You may have the option of sharing a place with another exchange student or a local student; rooming with another exchange student is great for weekend getaways and expat parties, while rooming with a local student will help you become fully immersed in the local culture. If the university doesn't arrange accommodation they should be able to direct you towards the most useful online or print resources to find your own short-term rental, and ideally they will also assist you in understanding the rental agreement (if it's not written in English).
What are you looking for in a study abroad experience? For rigorous academic immersion, look to schools in the United Kingdom or East Asia. If you prefer a more leisurely pace of learning (and an afternoon siesta), look into schools along Europe's Mediterranean coast. If you're more interested in living like royalty, your dollar will go further in South America or Southeast Asia. Of course, you will also need to consider the local religious and cultural practices. In some parts of the world female students need to dress modestly, while in others interracial dating is still highly frowned upon. Make sure you choose a destination where you can feel safe, comfortable and happy.
Some universities offer internships that allow foreign students to earn some money during their overseas experience. Often this involves working as an on- or off-campus English tutor for local students, but other opportunities with local businesses may be available too. If you're worried that you won't have enough money to enjoy your time overseas, look for programs that allow you to study and get paid at the same time.
One of the best parts of studying abroad is exploring your new home country. It's a lot easier to explore when you are well-connected via local and long-distance public transportation. Choose a university, and accommodation, that has easy access to the city center, restaurants, nightclubs, supermarkets and medical services. It's even better if your new home city has frequent bus or train connections to other destinations, so that you can jet away after school on Friday, do a whirlwind tour of another city, and still make it back to class on Monday morning.
For students who thoroughly evaluate their study abroad options and carefully select the best school to meet their needs, a year or semester abroad can be life-changing. For students who rush through the decision-making process, however, their time abroad can be a nightmare. Keeping all six of these factors in mind when you're exploring your student exchange opportunities will help you make the most of your overseas adventure.
Credits: Anna Lutz