What to Consider When Considering Study Abroad
For many students, the decision to study abroad is merely the first step in a long process of decisions and actions. Many questions will be formed, by the potential study abroadee, their family and friends, their school, family doctors, etc. When considering study abroad, there are a few key things to question yourself.
First, it is important to know roughly how long you want to be abroad. As an athlete, you might be able to afford only your off semester versus an entire year. If you are extremely dependent and close with family, then perhaps going abroad for a short-term summer program might be the best option for you. It also depends on how your degree is structured at your home institution. Knowing how many classes you need that could transfer will help you in your searching for a program length and structure.
Second, your interests. What type of experience are you interested in? For many American students, there is a high desire to go to Europe or Australia. Both areas of the world provide mostly western settings, which allow for students to feel comfortable during their time abroad. (Another appealing factor about Europe is that with countries so close to each other, it makes it very easy to visit more countries during a semester time length.)
As an undergraduate student, I had a strong desire to go to Spain through my college. I felt that spending a semester there would have improved my Spanish-speaking skills and allowed me to once again live with a host family, as I had when visiting Japan in 2006. Through various reasons though, I discovered halfway through the spring semester of my sophomore year that I was no longer able to go to Spain. Instead of becoming discouraged, I became more determined to have a truly different abroad experience than how my college was structured. I decided finally to study abroad in South Africa, and almost two years after my return from that semester abroad, I would say it was one of the best decisions of my life. Although I did not live with a host family, I was living in dorm buildings with students from all over the world, was a minority (in a pre-dominantly black university), large, public, co-ed college that offered more classes on regional topics than my small, private, and all girls undergraduate college could afford me.
Third, the location. If you are studying a foreign language or culture, it is highly suggested that you spend time abroad in a country where that language is spoken. (A dear friend of mine received a double bachelors degree in economics and Russian, and spent a semester in Russia – perfecting his language skills even more.) For others, they may want to go see where their family comes from. (Another friend of mine has ancestors from Germany, so she spent a semester there.)
If you keep these three things in mind as you search for the right study abroad program for you, you will find it is an easier experience when faced with the more difficult issues such as how to finance the experience. If you believe you will gain things from an experience, and that it is worth the cost and time away from family and friends, then you will greatly benefit from your time across an ocean or a very long drive away.
Your interests may change as life goes on – but knowing what you want from an abroad experience (i.e. wether you want to be in a western setting or in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the length, etc.), will help you, and your family, as you determine what program is right for you.