What I Learned from Studying Abroad (And You Can, Too)
Immediately when I went to college, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. It was 2010, when I got that chance. I studied with Semester at Sea, visiting countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. I made lifelong friends and was able to comparatively explore and learn about different countries, while participating in service projects, visiting organizations abroad, and seeing some of the most beautiful sights and most amazing people I will probably ever see.
As a Global Studies major, I knew that I would study abroad, and then I worked to find the best classes that would complement my major coursework. While abroad, I took two classes for my major, a general requirement, and a class for my Communications minor.
Although I studied abroad years ago, I still think of my experiences daily. It has never been easy for me to adjust to a new experience or environment, and studying abroad was no exception. I was put far outside my comfort zone, but the skills I learned through my experience have played a huge role in my professional and personal experiences.
I became more independent, too. I am sure that students who study abroad will agree that not everything goes according to plan when traveling, and the ability to adapt and navigate unfamiliar situations is an invaluable skill. From speaking with past students and friends who have studied abroad, there are so many benefits from an international experience, including: cultural sensitivity, independence, confidence, and a global worldview.
The same year that I studied abroad, my family hosted a foreign exchange student. These two experiences led to my love of learning about different cultures, travel and working with students. When I returned from study abroad, I worked with study abroad on campus, attended graduate school, and eventually entered the field of international education.
My favorite part of my job is working with students and helping them realizing their dreams of studying abroad. I’m often asked by students how they can get started on that process. For those just beginning their journey, here are a few answers to commonly asked questions:
Start Planning Early
If you are considering studying abroad, this is my first key piece of advice. I suggest planning for your study abroad experience as early as possible, but at least a year in advance. There are even steps you can take before you become a college student. Research study abroad programs to get a sense for what type of study abroad you might want to do. Apply for a passport (U.S. passports are good for 10 years!). Educate yourself on the types of study abroad and the financial models for each type.
There’s More Than One Way to Study Abroad
Don’t have an extended period of time to dedicate to a study abroad experience? That’s OK. Study abroad options can range from a full semester or yearlong programs to options such as two-week summer programs or travel courses that build a travel component into the curriculum.
Ask for Help
Members of your Office of International Programs are ready to assist you in every step of the process. They can recommend programs for students based on academic, financial, personal and professional development considerations. They can also walk you through the financial models for study abroad programs as federal and state financial aid is generally transferable to study abroad programs.
Opportunities Are Available No Matter Your Major
Students in any major can study abroad. The classes offered abroad vary by program, and your Office of International Programs can assist you in finding the most appropriate program. Look for opportunities to learn more about all the options available to you whether it be at informational events on campus or simply swinging by to talk to a staff member in person.
Yes, You Can Make This a Reality
Study abroad is a large commitment and takes significant planning, both academically and financially. If this is a goal for yourself, don’t wait to get the ball rolling. Connect with your academic advisor as soon as possible and inform them of your intention. Meet with your International Programs Office as early as your first semester to discuss what type of program might be best. Speak with your Student Financial Aid Counselor regarding what aid can be used on the type of study abroad you are interested in.
I hope that you will explore the international and global opportunities available to you as a student. I truly believe that study abroad is a wonderful opportunity that will enhance your college experience.
It will stay with you for life, and I say this from experience.