What I Wish I Knew Before Applying to Study Abroad

Ever since I was young I wanted to study abroad.  I have always loved traveling and wanted to adventure to places all around the world.  Maybe that’s just the Sagittarius in me. It always seemed like a great opportunity to travel and explore a new place, while studying.  As well as all the personal growth I could have while abroad on my own. So, when I got to college it was my personal mission to learn more about studying abroad and apply.  Jump forward to now- I am a sophomore who has applied and been accepted into my study abroad program and learned a couple things along the way. While I did get a lot of information about studying abroad, there are a few things I wish I had known beforehand. That being said, I’m here to share my experience with the application process and a few things I wish I knew before applying to study abroad.

I decided the best time for me to go was spring of sophomore year. I didn’t waste any time with starting my application process once I started college.  Study abroad 101 was the first thing I learned about in my freshman seminar called ‘International Enrichment’. In this program, a study abroad advisor and fellow UNCC study abroad student talked to the class.  Study Abroad 101 is a bunch of modules you have to watch prior to applying that are super informative on how this process to study abroad is going to be. One thing that study abroad 101 taught me was that there are so many options!  I didn’t realize how many options I was going to have to choose from.  UNCC has programs that are affiliate, faculty-led, exchange, direct enrollment, and internship programs.  You can study abroad for a semester or year long, or if you don’t want to take time away from school, a spring break trip or summer program.  That’s only the beginning of the options though. UNCC offers study abroad programs to over 70 countries around the world with a variety of costs (some even cheaper than your tuition).  Each program may have different requirements or steps so pay attention to those. There are a ton of options available to you and surely you can find one that works for all your goals and needs.  If not, talk to a study abroad advisor that can help you find something!

Talking to a study abroad advisor is one of many ways you can get more information about studying abroad.  I felt very overwhelmed with all the options, programs, and what would truly fit me. I realized this quickly, and something everyone should know when trying to study abroad is that there are so many resources available to help through the study abroad process.  I have talked with two study abroad advisors who were very helpful in providing me information and answering my many big and small questions I had about studying abroad and choosing between an exchange and affiliate program.  I also went to a study abroad panel which was informative because I heard directly from UNCC students who went through the process. You can also get in touch with students who have studied abroad through the study abroad website, they are called ‘peer advisors’ and provide their emails for anybody to reach out with questions and advice.  I found one girl who actually did the same program that I was interested in (and ended up choosing) and I was able to email her about her experience and all the questions I had. I also went to the study abroad fair that took place on campus and took about 20-25 pamphlets and booklets of programs. Even the study abroad office (located in CHHS) has a room full of booklets and pamphlets to look at and even take.  For me personally, these pamphlets and booklets were very helpful in narrowing down my program because they were hardcopies to mark up. If hard copies aren’t your style, there is an online browsing option available on the study abroad website as well. A very helpful way to get updated knowledge about study abroad UNCC is by their calendar online that posts the dates and locations of all their events. While the situation can feel very isolating, you are not alone in this and there are resources on resources to help you and show you that you are not alone!  

I looked through all the programs and talked with an advisor about my questions and concerns and all I had left to do was choose my program.  The only way I was able to make the cut between two programs (both of which I was in love with) was because I knew my priorities and trusted myself.  When it comes down to it, do the same… know your priorities and trust yourself.  In the beginning of studying abroad I thought I wanted to go to Copenhagen, Denmark because I was introduced to that in an open house for communication studies students.  But, when I seriously started thinking and looking into programs this summer overwhelmed with programs across Europe I just couldn’t decide what I truly wanted. I looked into each one trying to find something to make me realize what I needed from the program and it came to me.  My dream job would be a job in fashion and I can’t take fashion courses here so I might as well take them abroad when I have the opportunity! I narrowed it down based off of making classes a priority. I then was between Paris, Rome, and London. This is about the time I made a pros and cons list of the programs I was going between and my criteria and priorities.  They were classes, where I would stay in the host country, any excursions, meal plan (if any), and location. However, I ranked them all within .5 points of each other with Italy and London tied for first. I knocked out Paris and then it came down to the hardest of all, Rome and London. I have always dreamed of going to Italy and traveling through Italy because in my family it’s all I’ve heard about as a dream trip, that the food is amazing, and the country is beautiful.  Rome also had interesting fashion classes and I would be able to travel with other study abroad students to Milan as an excursion. It seemed like a dream. Then I had London, a place I have already visited, but have always loved London from a young age and they had such unique classes including fashion and very English cultural activities with other study abroad students. Again, a dream to me. I debated in my head for what seemed like weeks on weeks going between London and Rome because I felt that London was a “lesser” choice for studying abroad with over 70 countries to choose from since it seems most like the US.  The thoughts in the back of my head pushed me for so long and I knew I just needed to let it go and trust myself.  

In the end it came down to who I am and what would fit me best.  I thought that if I chose Italy I could be that Italian traveler girl in flowy dresses, photogenic, and gelato, but I realized that girl is still me, Isabella, no matter where I go.  I believe I could be in either place and love it with all my heart, but my heart for studying abroad is telling me London and that it could be a home for me- it was perfect for me.  

When I first told my sister, my friend, and then my family, saying it aloud made it more real and showed how excited I truly am with my choice and knowing it was right.  No matter what any back of the head thought or what anybody told me I knew this is where I should go and belong for my semester. It doesn’t stop me from going to Italy for my spring break to travel or any other place I considered in Europe.  There are so many options from me to travel or call those places my home in the future, but for studying abroad this was the choice for me. Know and believe in yourself and you’ll pick the right choice.  

From choosing the program (especially with an indecisive mind like mine) and then filling out the application it may take a lot more time than you think.  Study abroad and academic advisors recommend to start planning your study abroad a year ahead. I would recommend you do so too because you definitely need to account for the time and effort it takes to apply for study abroad.  You never know what may come up and stall you in the process.  There are other things that may take time too, like meetings with a study abroad advisor and/or academic advisor to talk through your plan to be abroad.  There are a ton of options and you need to make sure to do a full indepth research of your program and options to make sure it is a right fit for you personally and academically.  After you choose your program and how ever much time that took you, you now have to do the application. The first (and maybe only) application you need to apply for is to OEA (UNCC’S office of education abroad) to get permission from the school you can study abroad.  This application includes a bunch of forms that may take you some time filling out and understanding, as well as a personal statement of why you want to study abroad and information on your program. There are forms on forms on forms during the application process so be prepared for forms, lots of them.  The forms include FERPA, immigration forms, personal information, cost estimate, eligibility agreements, etc. Take your time and pay attention to them so you don’t miss anything crucial.  Once you complete all the forms it may take up to three weeks to hear back approval, which you are advised to wait for to fill out your specific program application. I was lucky and heard back with early approval, which I was thankful for because there was not one day I didn’t check the status of my application.  I then had to apply for through the affiliate program for my specific program. Each program is different in their ways of applying, but for mine I had another application to do. So I got started which took a bit more time filling out even more forms! I also had to take the time to meet with my advisor to sign my course approval form.  My program did not require a personal essay, but I know people who did have to do an essay or answer questions for their application. I also did not have to get a teacher recommendation, but I do know that some programs I looked at required that. Just know that there are plenty of steps you need to take to study abroad and it requires your time and effort so plan ahead accordingly to make that due date!  And spoiler alert… even when you get accepted to study abroad there are even more forms for OEA and the specific program to be filled out prior to departure.  

In conclusion, there are a lot of things that go into applying for study abroad but none of that should turn you away from the amazing experience it may lead to.  No matter if you have that Sagittarius piece in you, consider studying abroad. Think of how much you can grow personally, explore, and experience while studying abroad in a new country and culture.  I for one highly encourage others to join me in the experience and journey of studying abroad and becoming more aware of how great this opportunity is. I can’t wait to study abroad in London Spring 2020 and share my experience with everyone!