It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly global society. Goods, ideas, businesses and people flow across national borders more than they ever did before. The global economy today is more truly “global” than even just 15 years ago. As you pursue your higher education, you owe it to your future to gain exposure to other cultures, languages and ways of life as a way of broadening your career prospects. Besides the fact that studying abroad is good for your future career, a semester or an entire year abroad also represents the adventure of a lifetime. Why wait until you’re old and gray to travel? Study abroad while you’re still in your college years to get the most out of your travels.
Steps to Traveling Abroad While in College
As you start thinking about studying abroad, there are certain important, practical factors you should first take into consideration. Planning for studying abroad can essentially be broken down into these five steps:
1. Find a program abroad whose course credits will transfer back to your home university.
Imagine spending an entire semester studying abroad only to discover that the college credits you thought you were earning will not be recognized by your home university. Although you may come home with some great travel stories, you won’t come home with the college credits you were expecting.
Many universities have an office dedicated to students who wish to study abroad. These schools will have a comprehensive list of programs affiliated with the university whose credits are transferrable. If you are interested in a study abroad program that’s not affiliated with your university, be sure to find out ahead of time if the credits you earn will be accepted.
2. Decide whether you want to study abroad in the fall term or in the spring term.
There are good reasons to choose the spring semester over the fall semester for studying abroad. The main reason is that your classes will end at about the same time that summer break begins. The timing enables you to do some traveling on your own before you return home and still have time to recuperate from your journeys before getting back into the swing of things at your home university.
3. Your goals for studying abroad will influence the program that you choose.
If your goal is to become fluent in a foreign language, be sure to choose a study abroad program that either has you living with a host family from that country or in a regular dorm with students of the foreign university. What you don’t want to do is land in a dorm filled with students who already speak your language. Your language skills will not grow nearly as fast as they would if you had chosen to live with a host family or with other students who are native to that country.
On the other hand, if you are traveling to an English-speaking country, such as the U.K. or Australia, decide what your academic goals are for your trip and make plans accordingly.
4. Investigate what you will need to do to get a student visa.
In many cases, when you study abroad, you will need to get a student visa. Getting a student visa requires paperwork and planning in advance. Don’t wait until the last moment to find out what the visa requirements are for the country where you are studying; if you wait too long, you may inadvertently delay your trip.
5. Apply for financial aid.
It’s often possible to get a scholarship, grant or loan specifically for studying abroad. For example, your college may sponsor students engaged in certain research projects who choose to study abroad at particular foreign universities. Alternatively, the nation or university you are traveling to may offer some type of incentive for students to study there. Finally, some professional organizations and trade organizations may offer internships or scholarships for students in certain academic fields who wish to study abroad.
6. Listen to the advice of those who have gone before you.
After you’ve talked to your university’s administrators and advisors, the advisors of the universities where you will be studying, government bureaucrats and so forth, don’t forget to seek out the advice of students you know who have already spent time studying abroad. Their advice is often as invaluable as the “official” advice you receive from your university.
Conclusion: Studying Abroad is a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity
Don’t let fear of the unknown, price or paperwork scare you away from studying abroad. When you look back at your college years, there’s a very good chance that your semester abroad will be one of the things you remember and appreciate the most.