Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Considering Study Abroad? Facts & Myths
Are you thinking about studying abroad? Wondering if it's a possibility?
I'm not even going to try to sound unique.
(Edit: Do everything reasonably possible to make it happen.)
Here are some steps to help guide you in your fabulous possibility of a journey:
1. Do your research. And plan ahead.
I cannot emphasize this one enough -- make an appointment with your school's center of international education. Make a list of which programs are compatible - whether that be an exchange program, a program that your school alone sponsors and supports, or third-party programs. Go early -- a year in advance will be just enough time for planning and budgeting.
2. KNOW what you want.
Ask yourself - WHY do you want to study abroad? Is it because you've always just wanted to travel the world? (If so, consider your reasons carefully. Although study abroad and travel do go hand in hand, you'd have to make it back for school every Monday. You still have to study. Financially, it's more economical to travel after you graduate for even a few months.)
Do you have something in particular you've always wanted to study? Studying in another country can enrich your education. Music? Vienna. Art? Florence. Spanish? Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, etc. Maybe your great-grandparents were from Ireland, and you'd like to go there. You get the idea.
If you still don't know what you want, go back to number 1 - research. Figure out where you want to go. If you aren't picky, next on the list is…
3. Decide how much you'd want to spend.
There are plenty of tips out there in blogosphere on which countries have a higher cost of living. If you're open to simply going abroad, just about anywhere, do a simple Google search. I'm sure, however, when you look at your programs, the drastically (and I mean drastically) different costs will show themselves. I put this at number 3 for a reason: if you determine your place solely on cost, you won't get the most out of your experience if you're looking at something else that's a better fit for you.
4. Get a head start. Realize that anything's possible. Look for the opportunities you want.
The world's a pretty unlimited place. The biggest limitation that exists is yourself. Fundraise. Find that perfect program for yourself. Don't count anything out. Plan ahead, but learn to improvise when changes come up.
Some common myths that my experience absolutely disproved:
Myth 1 - You have to take classes that go towards your degree.
I took painting, art history, and Italian. Then I graduated with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. (Yes, I still received financial aid.)
Myth 2 - Go during your sophomore or junior year.
I went senior year. Most people do go during their junior year, but I personally feel that the junior year is crucial for academics, internships, and networking at your college campus.
Myth 3 - Studying abroad is like a dream come true, and it will automatically change you.
Well, partial truth here. Simply going abroad is only the beginning of your adventure. I'll be the one to warn you straight up -- you'll cry. Feel that swoop of nostalgia and depression. You'll miss things of your home country that you never thought you'd miss (haha -- free water, anyone?). Learn to change yourself, rather than expect change.
Myth 4 - You'll travel everywhere, all the time.
This one depends on your expectations. Many students run "out" of money early on -- those weekend trips add up! One mistake can cost you hundreds (losing your wallet, getting on the wrong train, missing your flight, etc.) and you still have school every week. You can't have everything. You'll likely travel, but don't set your standards to be impossibly high. You'll want to rest, and stay in the city you chose to study in for a reason!
Myth 5 - You or your family must be well-off.
I have a friend who's about to go abroad. More than 90% is paid for with scholarships and financial aid. Don't underestimate! I paid 28.57% of the cost of my program. (Quite literally. I just put it in my calculator). Although most students do come from more affluent backgrounds, this is NOT a fact. Stop comparing yourself.
I hope this helps give objective perspective to studying abroad. It's everything that people say it is: life-changing, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime (but I truly hope not :) -- but I wanted to provide some solid points to draw back on for structure. Structure is what can help make those dreams become a reality.
So if you're thinking about studying abroad -- go get on that train! You don't know when it will leave.
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
― Wendell Berry