Studying abroad is one of the most valuable things that you could ever do, whether you're pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree, taking a gap year or break in between semesters, or have recently graduated and want to check it off of your bucket list. Don't miss your chance to explore a new country (or countries) with your peers before you're "adulting" to the max. Studying abroad provides countless value in helping you to build skills in cross-cultural communication, language, time management, and traveling in general.
You're probably thinking okay, that sounds great - but how? If you couldn't guess by the title of this post, I'm here to tell you! These are the top 5 things that I believe you should consider in order to find the perfect study abroad program for you:
Who do you want to study abroad with? // If you're a current student, there are probably a few programs available through your university. They're likely shorter term, for two or three weeks. This is a great place to start if you're nervous about traveling by yourself and want to stick close to your friends, professors, or university. On the other hand, if you're open to it, you can find countless programs that attract students from around the world, which provides an opportunity to meet new people while you meet new places together. You can also get the best of both worlds by bringing your bestie with you! Find a program that a friend or two is interested in as well (and look for referral discounts) - but just make sure that you go into it with an open mind and a sense of awareness. Don't spend every moment with each other and seclude yourself from the group!
How long do you want to study abroad? // A semester abroad can seem like the most amazing thing or the most terrifying. How long you want to be abroad may depend on the other things going on in your life. If you play a sport, are very involved in clubs and organizations, or maintain a steady job at home, a semester or year abroad might not seem feasible. But you can still study abroad! Search for a shorter term trip. When I studied abroad, I chose a program that was one month long and it was the perfect amount of time for me.
How many countries do you want to visit? Any in particular? // This is important, but don't get hung up on it. If it's your dream to visit Rome, be open to considering both programs that are based in Rome, and those that visit Rome as part of a larger itinerary. Multi-country programs are amazing because they allow you to experience a variety of countries, cultures, and languages, but programs based in one city are also great because they allow you to become fully immersed in a country and culture for a longer period of time.
What kind of courses do you want to take? (And how many?) // Many times students run into issues with the credit transfer of courses because they are out of elective or general credits, and the study abroad courses do not transfer for their major credits. If you plan on studying abroad, talk with your advisors about how you can keep some openings in your course checksheet for study abroad courses. Also think about how many courses you want to take - more courses mean you'll make the most of your program academically, but it also means more of a commitment for studying, reading, and class time.
What extra benefits do you want to get out of it? // Every program has something that makes it unique. Are you looking for professional opportunities? Do you want to do more of a service trip? Are you interested in learning a new language in addition to studying abroad? Do you want to live in an apartment, dorm, or hotel? These are all things to think about, but no matter what, studying abroad will be a new and different experience with more benefits than you could ever imagine.
You may have noticed that I left program cost out of this list. I did so intentionally because I don't believe that the program cost should deter you from pursuing education abroad. There are a ton of resources out there - inquire at your university, research scholarships available in your community, and explore sites like GoAbroad.com and Abroad101.com for opportunities specifically for students interested in studying abroad.
So, where did I study abroad? Between my sophomore and junior years of college, I traveled to Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece, all in just one month! The program I selected was Forum-Nexus Study Abroad (forum-nexus.com), and it completely changed my life. I became friends with students from around the world and I was catapulted out of my comfort zone. And it was wonderful. It reignited the wanderlust I always knew I had. And now I love being able to continue to encourage others to take the leap and study abroad. Every person is different and has different preferences, but I urge you to study abroad in some capacity. I promise you, you won't regret it.