Should I move to Sevilla, the bull-fighting capital of Spain, or Paris, the city of love and light? Maybe I’ll go to Australia, where American girls swoon over Aussie boys’ accents, or China, where I would be completely lost but would probably leave feeling that I could fit in anywhere. These are the questions I’m asking myself now that I’m planning to study abroad next spring.
Some colleges are starting to require their students to study abroad, and I completely support their decision. Everyone should be exposed to a different culture at least once in their life. As a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, my school does not require it, but almost every student I know has or is planning to study outside the U.S. in their time at school.
I’ve found myself browsing through tons of study abroad programs on my school’s website, and it’s hard to narrow down the choices.
Here are some things I’ve looked for when considering a program:
Price– With the poor exchange rate of the American dollar, it is hard to travel abroad and not completely blow up your college savings. I’ve found that bigger, more expensive cities in Europe have higher tuition and housing fees than less popular destinations like India. Though the countries in Europe are places everyone should see before they die, the rest of the world will be just as eye-opening. It also helps to know how long you want to go abroad. Year-long programs will obviously cost more than semester programs or five-week summer programs.
Be sure to check if your school offers study abroad scholarships (most do), because every little bit will help. Sometimes you will find special programs through the scholarship office. For instance, my school has a two-month summer program for freshman to study in Southeast Asia after their first year, all paid for by donors.
Imagine—a free summer in Singapore and Thailand!
Eligibility– Unfortunately, I haven’t met some requirements for study abroad programs that have interested me. Some require a GPA of 3.5, others want four years of French language, and some will only take juniors or seniors in college.
I wanted to go to Prague, but I did not meet the requirement of an International Studies Major, so my dream was a bit crushed. Be sure you check out your eligibility so you know if you’ll have a chance of getting accepted into the program or if you should move on.
I found that my four years of Spanish made me eligible for all the programs in Spain, so I’m starting to gravitate towards that area.
Program Curriculum– Different programs have different agendas. At my school, the program in London requires you to go to school as well as get an internship in the city. There are scientific research programs in Tokyo, and we even have the opportunity to go to Cuba for a semester if we are completing a major in Latin American studies.
Pick a program that interests you (and definitely don’t go somewhere because your friend from home is going too—you will be placed with other students when you get to your new country and will probably end up best friends with them).
Planning ahead is extremely important. I’m studying abroad starting next January, but my application is due September 15. Watch out for deadlines that will sneak up on you!
Getting a passport is also an obvious part of leaving the country. If you don’t have one already, give yourself at least a month-and-a-half’s time to make sure it arrives before you go abroad.
Read about where you plan to go. It helps to know a little, if not everything, about your new home’s culture, so you won’t feel as helpless when you get there. If they don’t speak English where you’re going, practice speaking useful phrases in the language of your country. The people there will respect you for trying to learn about their lifestyle and it may also help you not get lost and confused every day.
Remember that what is okay to do in the U.S. may not be okay to do in other places. Familiarize yourself with the laws of your new country because if you break a law there, you won’t have the same Constitutional rights as Americans, and you could end up in foreign jail, or worse.
After weeks of perusing programs online, I think I’ve made my decision. I’m going to Sevilla, where I will take Spanish history, literature, and language classes, and I get to live with a Spanish-speaking family. The price is almost the same as tuition and housing costs at home, so I won’t be paying off loans for the next year. Hopefully I will come back a fluent Spanish-speaker and completely immersed in the art and culture of Sevilla.
All it takes is a little research, and everyone can have a life-changing experience abroad in college.
Study Abroad Florence Learn Italian in the birthplace of the Renaissance through our study abroad program in Florence, Italy.
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