Study Abroad

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Love to travel? Love to meet new people? Love to learn about other cultures outside of a textbook, television or Web site? Then studying abroad may be for you! Every year thousands of students expand their horizons and set their sights on foreign countries to enhance their education, their experiences and definitely their resumes. Just think of how great "I spent a semester studying in China" sounds to a potential employer in a competitive market.

The first thing you should do is figure out why you would want to study abroad. If your reason is just to have fun, sort of like an extended spring break trip, then this isn't for you. Yes, studying abroad is definitely filled with fun experiences, but it is not a cakewalk and should be looked at as a way to enhance your education and your overall life experience.

Then you need to determine the type of program you would like to participate in. You can go for a summer, a quarter, a semester or an entire year. Some programs focus their studies in one city; others have you traveling to several countries. You can join an English speaking course, or take part in a language immersion program. You can even take elective classes while abroad.

There are many questions you will need answered before traveling abroad. Your academic advisor, department chair and/or study abroad advisor should be your first stops, who in turn should be able to point you in the right direction for any answers they may not have. You can also find a lot of information online. You will need to find out if you qualify for the program you want, how traveling and living accommodations are made, what schools you will be attending and what courses you should be taking, how these courses will count towards your degree at home in terms of transferred credits and how you are going to pay for all of it.

Before things seem completely overwhelming, keep this in mind: just about everyone who partakes in the study abroad experience speaks of it in glowing terms. They will tell you how fascinated they were with other cultures (as others were with ours), how much they learned about other economies, politics and world affairs, how much traveling they got to do outside of the classroom, how they've made lifelong friends, how they've gained independence, and how their perspective changed towards the world as a whole. Many call it the most enriching experience of their lives. Clearly there must be something to this!

Though you will get the majority of your information from your school, here are some other tips to consider:

Things you should do:
  1. Make sure your passport is valid and up-to-date.
  2. Make sure you have the proper visas to study in a foreign country for the time frame you will be there.
  3. Make copies of your passport and visas. Keep the original and a copy with you and the leave the rest of the copies with your family.
  4. Make sure your medical insurance is up to date and that you are covered for any medical emergencies abroad.
  5. Investigate the cost of living of where you are traveling to and allot for miscellaneous and unforeseen expenses. Set up a realistic budget.
  6. If you are going to require financial aid, look into this as soon as possible.
  7. Check into any travel warnings or public announcements for the country you are traveling to and any other countries you may visit.
  8. While you are in a foreign country you are subject to its laws; learn them and abide by them.
  9. Learn as much of the language as possible. Even if your classes will be taught in English, it can only help you to have the language basics for elsewhere. Remember that your experience abroad will be as a resident, not a tourist.
  10. Learn about the culture and customs of the country you are going to, and respect those aspects while you are there.
  11. Speak to other students who have studied abroad, especially those who have partaken in the same program you are going to.
  12. Find out the overseas rates for your cell phone plan. See if there are any special terms that you can arrange for cheaper rates so you can call home without worrying about a mounting phone bill.
  13. Keep a journal and jot down everything. It will be indispensable when you return home and for years to come.
  14. Bring a camera and keep the battery charged. You'll treasure those photos.
Things you shouldn't do:
  1. Leave your luggage/possessions unattended or carry someone else's packages.
  2. Wear expensive looking clothing and jewelry. It's an educational journey, not a fashion show. Don't make yourself a target.
  3. Worry about being homesick. The best way to get over homesickness is to distract yourself and keep busy, and what better way to do that than to just go out and get involved. You're in a foreign country - take advantage of it in the short time you have.
  4. Look down on the country you are staying in or its culture. In the same thought, don't boast about how much better you think your country is. Respect the differences.
  5. Be put off by culture shock. It is a natural occurrence and usually diminishes once you start involving yourself in activities and the surrounding culture. Look at it as an opportunity to reach outside your comfort zone.
  6. When you return from your journey studying abroad you may also experience something called reverse culture shock. Students may be surprised at the level of readjustment they feel when they return, having become acclimated to the environment they were living in and realizing the ways they've grown and changed. For some, their own country becomes the one that seems foreign for a short time.

    Much like your college career, study abroad is what you make of it. Mostly what is asked of you is to be open minded, welcome challenges and commit to the experience. What you get in return can truly change your life.