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11 Things to Consider Before Studying Abroad

Aside from a very rare pros and cons list, I usually don’t flush out my ideas in writing when it comes to personal dilemmas. And why not? It’s a process that works for me when I do it for essays and other assignments, yet maybe applying it to my own questions would feel a little too much like a diary (diaries and I have a long-running, unsuccessful relationship).

What personal confusion am I currently dealing with? A study abroad decision. The Study Abroad Office recommends that Barnard students only apply to 1 to 2 programs, in order to make a decision easier. I did not do this. It wasn’t that I disregarded the wisdom of their advice or anything, it was honestly pure paranoia that told me that the programs I was applying to were competitive, and I’d better be sure to have other options in case I got rejected. I applied, and I did not get rejected. If paranoia was the dominant feeling before I applied, then indecision overwhelmed me as I received offers from different schools. (As an aside, let me say to anyone who is thinking of applying to study abroad: follow the Study Abroad Office’s advice, they know what they are doing.)

I managed to eliminate a couple of schools on my own, which leaves me with three choices: University of Edinburgh, King’s College London, and Sciences-Po in Reims, France. In writing about this, I think the best thing to do is to talk about what my ideal study abroad school is instead of focusing on each specifically. Whichever has the most in common is probably the one I’m already leaning towards, right?


My Ideal Study Abroad School

  1. A great history program

  2. Ideally, it’s located in a city

  3. Options for cheap flights nearby

  4. Close to family

  5. Archives for (hopeful) thesis research

  6. Unique neighborhoods, great restaurants, interesting stores

  7. Smaller rather than bigger

  8. A spring break long enough to travel

  9. A welcoming personal atmosphere

  10. The chance for me to explore something new

  11. Challenging, yet not too stressful


I’ll definitely add more to this list as I think of new items because it is helpful to see a collection of my priorities. The mindset that I really need to escape, however, is the one that says that there is a Right Choice. All of those schools would offer me completely different experiences, and, in picking one, I have to abandon the idea that that means I am missing out on another (possibly better) opportunity. It would be great if one of the schools had every item on my list, but I have to remind myself that those 11 points do not magically transition into an ideal abroad experience.

It will never be that easy, and, ultimately, my experience comes down to what I put into it. Writing about this clarified many of my questions and allowed me to remember that I have to keep everything in perspective. The decision, while important, will only benefit me if I stop comparing it to what could have been.


Tracy Walker

Columbia Barnard '19

I love Pride and Prejudice adaptations, my cat Cleo, and fancy cocktails. A European history major and a senior at Barnard.
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