It may seem like this semester’s going to last forever, but with only a couple months left, it’s already time to start thinking about next year. With never-ending midterms, next year’s course enroll period, and the housing lottery ahead of us, it can be hard to get amped up for another semester of the same major, the same people, and the same stuffy dorm room or shabby apartment. But if you’re starting to go a little stir-crazy in your college town, why not switch it up a little? And no, we don’t mean by trying a new flavor of Yoplait Light—we’re talking about studying abroad. A semester or summer in a different country provides a totally amazing, and totally different, summer experience and a chance to travel and explore other cultures without a hectic school schedule in your way. You can use the time to earn major credit, volunteer overseas, explore a new career overseas, even learn the secrets to Italian cooking, while your friends trek to the library and drink Keystone at home.
But don’t hop on that plane just yet—before you study abroad, you have lots to consider. Her Campus talked to Dean Tsouvalas, Editor-in-Chief of StudentAdvisor.com, and to study abroad students around the world, about what to ask yourself—and your study abroad advisor—when planning your time overseas. Hit these five key questions and you’ll be ready to take off before you know it!
1. What kind of experience do I want?
Every city in the world offers a different cultural experience, and wherever you choose to study abroad will have a huge effect on the months ahead. As much as your time abroad will be about studying, working, or volunteering, it will be even more about exploring and fitting into a new environment and absorbing the culture around you. So when considering where to study, you should first ask yourself what kind of feel you want your abroad location to have. Do you want a big cosmopolitan city where you’ll be able to speak English? Consider London. Want more of a small town where you’ll be forced to speak Spanish all the time? Maybe Granada is more for you. Samantha, a junior at Cornell, chose to study abroad in Seville, Spain, because of its unique college-town feel: “I’d visited Madrid, Barcelona and Seville a few years earlier and I thought the charm of Seville, the small town yet city feel, made me fall in love with the city.” Marlyse, another junior at Cornell studying abroad in Paris, wanted a totally different experience: “Paris is pretty wonderful and I knew I wouldn't get bored…after living in a small town like Ithaca, NY (where Cornell is located) I needed a change.”
It’s also important to consider your city of choice’s location on a world map. As much as you may be dying to volunteer in Papua New Guinea, it may not be the most convenient place for weekend trips to France and Italy. Marlyse says she also picked Paris for its central location in Europe, making train and plane tickets cheap and easy for international travel. And don’t forget to look up the weather: when it’s summer in the States, it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa—so Buenos Aires may be a better choice for a winter/spring abroad than for a summer stay. Tsouvalas says weather can be a much more important consideration than you’d think: “While Australia, for example, is a really popular study abroad destination for spring and fall, it’s important to consider that it’s winter in Australia during the June-August, so you may not want to spend a summer abroad there.”
2. What are my goals for this trip?
If you don’t want or need to fulfill extra academic credits, you could use your time to intern, work, volunteer, teach English…the possibilities are endless. So once you pick a location, the next step is to figure out if you want to study, work, or volunteer during your time there. If you hope to get academic credit, talk to your study abroad advisor and explore accredited university programs that are approved by your school. Make sure you do your homework—summer study abroad programs, for example, are often not directly sponsored by your school, so you’ll need to research programs on your own through your school’s study abroad website and then ask your advisor if you’ll be able to get credit. Tsouvalas warns, “The types of credits that you get are probably more class-specific than an actual semester of work. You may get credit for your major for one or two classes you take, but you probably won’t be able to cover a traditional semester’s worth of credits during the summer.” Academic-year programs are usually easier to find and apply to your studies, since you’ll be there for a whole semester and will be able to take a full courseload.
If you want to study while abroad, don’t be afraid to call a program and university and ask questions, such as:
- How many students typically participate in your program?
- How many international students study at your school?
- What language are the classes taught in?
- Will my transcript come from an accredited college or university?
- Is there a staff just for international students? Can I expect any support when I get there?
If the program seems like a good fit for you, go over the university’s course catalogue with your advisor and pick courses you may be interested in, then email them to your academic advisor to see if you’ll be able to get credit for them.
If you want to intern, work, or volunteer, make sure you thoroughly research the program and make sure it’s safe and approved by your advisor. If you want to get academic credit for an internship abroad, set up a meeting with your school’s career services BEFORE you sign up for the program to discuss your school’s policy.
And don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Sonia, a junior at Cornell, proposed doing something totally different and spending a summer teaching children English in rural Tibet. She loved it so much she returned two more summers, and although the program wasn’t originally recognized by her school, she started a club so that future Cornell students could do the same thing. As long as you do your homework and make sure everything checks out with your school, the world is your oyster!