Your desire to study abroad may occur as early as freshman year when you try one bite of dorm food only to find it tastes as fake as it looks. For many college students with any sort of inclination to travel, studying abroad is often where it begins. The idea taps into a yearning to see the unfamiliar.
According to the Institute of International Education, the number of U.S. students studying abroad for credit has more than doubled in the last 15 years. Still, the 313,415 students who studied abroad for credit in the 2014/2015 school year; represent just over 1.5 percent of all U.S. students enrolled in institutions of higher education.
Despite its growing popularity, there are several barriers that keep students from studying abroad. If you are thinking about studying abroad, follow these tips that will help guide you through the process. Learn how to prepare for the experience, make the most of your time abroad, and find ways to make your trip transferable to life back at home.
1. How to Prepare
Any sort of hesitation about studying abroad is usually related to cost. The reality is that there are all kinds of scholarships available, including merit-based, student-specific, destination-specific, program-specific and subject-specific. Some are competitive, but what students don’t know is that they are frequently underutilized. As far as location, 40 percent of U.S. students choose to study in Europe, according to the Institute of International Education. France, Italy, and Spain remain the most popular destinations. However, places like China, Costa Rica and even Germany are proven to be cheaper, according to GoOverseas.com.
2. Apply early
Programs and scholarships alike often accept applicants on a first-come-first-serve basis. When writing your personal essays for your applications, write about your passions and how they connect with why you should be chosen for the experience. Be authentic and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to pitch your story.
3. What to Bring
Perhaps the greatest advice you’ll hear when it comes to travel: pack light. You don’t want to carry around unnecessary clothing and baggage. First, it makes for an added expense on your flight. Second, you may get stuck and have to haul your things for extended periods of time. And third, you will likely only wear a few selected items. It’s best to do your research to figure out general weather expectations and then pack accordingly.
Also, depending on the currency of the country you are studying abroad in, you may want to consider a travel credit card. Certain banks offer credit cards that are designed for travel that allow you to not have to pay a currency exchange fee. This will likely save you a ton of money.
4. Make the Most of Your Time Abroad
It can be challenging to navigate in a foreign place, especially when you are thousands of miles out of your comfort zone (literally). When you feel homesick it is key is to remember that your time there is only temporary. It will fly by quickly so you want to make sure you get out there and enjoy it as much as possible. Challenge yourself to make new friends, try different foods and experience the culture of wherever you land. Try to view the world through a “local’s lens” and you will gain an empathetic perspective that you will always cherish.
5. Things You Can Do To Transfer Your experience Many students describe their time abroad as life-changing. The problem is that they often have difficulties describing their overseas experience beyond that. The key is not that you studied abroad, but rather that you could articulate the value of your experience. Transfer the experience to your career by using the knowledge you gained through your time emerged in different cultures to distinguish yourself among the crowd. Highlight your intercultural communication skills in job interviews, on your resume, or cover letter.
One of the most intangible impacts of studying abroad is the personal growth you’ll experience. According to the Huffington Post, “Every experience you have while studying abroad lets you learn a bit more about yourself. You get to know your leadership style, conflict resolution skills, strengths and weaknesses, and how you prepare for the unexpected. By gaining a better understanding of yourself, you can use that knowledge to work well with others.” Overcoming challenges in a foreign country helps the struggles at home seem a bit easier. You might become profoundly independent. It could even cast a whole new confidence on you that you will bring home. That confidence is in fact, the most beautiful souvenir.