This article is about tips and other information I think is important to know about studying abroad. This is a depiction of my own experience at my university, which could be different at other universities depending on their size and study abroad program.
If studying abroad and travelling is as important to you as it is for me, then I would suggest including it in your research and criteria when choosing a college. I wanted my university to have a wide range of countries I could study at to keep my options open when it came time to decide where to go. If it didn’t have enough countries, then that university didn’t make the cut. It isn’t enough to stop there, though. If you have a specific country you want to go to, then do more research to make sure your university is partnered with schools that offer classes for your major. I studied in the school of business at my university and it was required for me to study abroad in order to graduate. This meant that my university’s study abroad program was geared towards business majors, therefore, there were more options for me than say an engineering student. Keep in mind that your home college can only send a certain number of students to their partnered universities, so have a couple of options you would want to travel to (in terms of universities and countries) just in case you don’t get your first choice.
Now lets talk money. It is the biggest concern students have and often holds them back from an amazing opportunity. The way that study abroad works is that you and a foreign student exchange places, therefore, you don’t have to worry about paying additional tuition fees to a foreign university. If you receive financial aid, or have tuition paid for the year, then you get reimbursed for your room & board fees for the semester(s) that you will be abroad. This is to help you pay for your room & board fees abroad and/or your flight. Sometimes the reimbursement is enough and sometimes it isn’t. Mine wasn’t enough because I didn’t take out an additional loan that I usually did every year, but once I did I was able to provide for myself and country hop for a semester.
Before I was reimbursed on my additional loan, I freaked out about how I was going to live abroad without money. I forgot that I didn’t take out the loan for the school year ( it was the first time I didn’t need it to cover my tuition) and wasn’t financially prepared. Some advice I could offer is obviously working on/off campus and in the summer, family & friends, gofundme.com, scholarships, and talking to your financial advisor about loans/grants/scholarships and other options.
This next issue isn’t talked about as much as it should be and it leaves students returning to their home university behind in credits. Studying abroad has the potential to set you back a semester, or even an entire school year. For some students that’s fine, but for students like me, graduating on time and not racking up any more debt was important. There are two ways losing out on credits can happen. 1) The credits of your home university doesn’t match your abroad university. For example, 1 credit = 2 ECT credits at my foreign university, which meant I had to take more classes to make it count towards a single 3 credit class at my university. Mind you, advisors recommended students take 4 classes abroad, I had to take 5 or 6 in order to count as a full class schedule. There were some classes worth 3 ECT and even fewer worth 6 ECT. I had to combine some 2 ECT and 3 ECT classes. 2) There are certain classes only offered in the fall and only offered in the spring for both your home university and abroad university. It can be a puzzle trying to figure out what classes you can take and when. You may miss out on being able to satisfy a class requirement until the next time it’s offered.
My best advice for this is to prepare for studying abroad as soon as freshman year. Think about the country and university you want to go to, whether you want to study abroad in the fall or spring (or full year; summer semester is rare), then sit down with your advisor to discuss your classes and credits. Try to obtain a copy of your potential foreign university’s fall/spring classes and match it against your home university’s. Of course it can still change by the time you decide to study abroad, but it could help better prepare you. If you do miss out on credits and don’t want to be behind try to work it into your schedule when you return. Another option is summer classes and/or online courses, but that is extra money. I wasn’t about that life and opted for a full class load when I returned to my home university. It was hard, but I survived.
The last thing to prepare for is living arrangements. Since cultures are different, it also reflects the living options universities have available to their students. For example, a lot of countries in Europe have a very family-oriented culture where students live at home, this effects whether a college provides on-campus dorms. Some do, and some don’t. This leaves students to have to explore other options, such as living with a host family or getting an apartment. Either way your foreign university will give you additional information and resources to help you find your living arrangement. I was expecting all universities to have on-campus dorms/apartments and was shocked, and worried, when I discovered that wasn’t the case. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of living with a strange family in a strange land, and I was never responsible for my own apartment in my home country let alone want to have my first experience in another country. Decide the best option for you.
I hope this was insightful. These tips and information I feel is worth knowing when exploring the study abroad program. Some of this information I already knew and some of it I wish I knew beforehand. Of course if you have any questions, I am more than happy to answer to the best of my ability. If you have anything you wish you knew before studying abroad, comment that as well. I will have more Study Abroad topics about packing, living abroad, and my experience, so keep a look out for those as well. Let me know what you think!
– A Dose of Denise