3 Biggest Hurdles to Studying Abroad (& How to Overcome Them!)

by Amanda Thompson

Studying abroad – whether you go to another English-speaking country or choose to go someplace superduper foreign – is the experience of a lifetime, and a fantastic high-impact learning opportunity for any college student. Study abroad programs allow students to make new friends, experience new cultures, and mature greatly while becoming more independent than they’ve ever been during their young adult years.

Silhouette of man jumping in the mountains at sunset
Don’t let the misconception of lack of study abroad opportunities prevent you from going abroad.

Are you thinking about studying abroad, but feeling deterred by the challenges of studying abroad? Here’s everything you need to know about the potential obstacles to study abroad and how to overcome them:

1. Lack of Opportunity

Some students don’t study abroad simply because they think they don’t have the opportunity to. But guess what? Even if your school doesn’t have an official study abroad program, the chances are likely that you can find some alternative study abroad opportunities. So let’s get started.

Many websites – much like GoAbroad :) – exist to specifically give you a directory of study abroad program options and help you make a decision. The study abroad programs listed are generally unaffiliated with a specific school or department, meaning thousands of opportunities for you to see the world.

Feeling overwhelmed with options? Ask our Online Advisor, a program matchmaker, for suggestions.

If you can’t find opportunities on GoAbroad that suit you, why not make your own? You might, for instance, just decide to apply directly to a school in a foreign country – whether for your entire degree or simply for a summer. Sometimes figuring out credit transfers and overcoming language barriers can seem like the biggest difficulties of studying abroad, but these are not impossible hurdles to overcome. 

That being said, it’s definitely simpler to go through an established study abroad program, and there are literally hundreds out there, whether you want to study abroad for spring break, a semester, or an entire school year.

Ka-pow! One of the major study abroad challenges is officially BEAT.

2. Fear or Misgivings

If you didn’t have at least a bit of apprehension about studying abroad, you would probably be either crazy or not taking everything into account. Moving to a foreign country to study for an extended amount of time is a little frightening! However, many of today’s study abroad programs have excellent support systems, and you’ll probably have other contacts abroad (so that you don’t feel totally alone). If you’re afraid of studying abroad, here are a few things you can do to make yourself feel better about this enriching experience:

Silhouette of man jumping
Make sure you research your country and school intently, before going abroad.
  • Look at various programs and opportunities carefully. If you’re concerned about being totally on your own, opt for a program where you live with or nearby to other students from your home country, or where there is staff on hand to support you throughout your transitional periods.
  • Read reviews from programs to leverage past travelers’ wisdom. Compare experiences from veteran travelers to know if a program is a legit or fulfills all of their promises. Reading reviews can make or break your experience abroad!
  • Consider multiple countries. If you’re not proficient in a foreign language, you may want to opt in on an English-speaking country, of which there are many. Also, check out which countries that are going to be safer for travelers from your home country, as this can help ease your fears or the concerns of your family members.
  • Spend some time researching the country of your choice on your own. Get to know cultural customs and basic language skills, which will help you maximize cultural immersion once you land in-country. Even knowing a bit about the locals you’ll be encountering will help you feel more confident in your ability to succeed in a study abroad program.

The world may seem like a big scary place, but that’s precisely why you should travel and explore it as a student. Study abroad programs have infrastructure and safety nets in place that you won’t find as an independent adventurer. Not only will you be exposed to different countries, but you’ll be given context and a framework for understanding their complexities. Use your fear to propel you forward – to rid yourself of stereotypes and unjustified fears – rather than hold you back.

And just like that, a second major challenge to studying abroad is a thing of the past. Let’s battle on with confidence!

3. Financial Hurdles

For many students, study abroad financial aid and other financial hurdles are the most alarming of all study abroad challenges. Even for students already going to expensive private colleges, a semester abroad can potentially add a couple thousand dollars in addition tuition expenses – and that’s without plane tickets, living expenses, and sightseeing!

While the financial aspect of a study abroad semester or summer can seem daunting, it’s important to take a few things into account. For one thing, most programs and universities offer specific study abroad financial aid and you can almost always get a semester abroad covered by low-interest loans. For another, a semester abroad is really an investment more than an expense. You’ll never have another unique opportunity like this one, so seize it while you can!

Girl overlooking mountains and water on a cliff
After overcoming these hurdles, you’ll be well on your way to an adventure and experience of a lifetime!

You can definitely cut down the costs of studying abroad for a semester or summer in a few ways. Before you choose a program, be sure to:

  • Check out the exchange rate, and choose a country with an exchange rate that works in your favor. For example, European trips can be especially expensive now, because you’re spending much more on food and essentials than you would back in the U.S.
  • Dig deeper and research other, more affordable programs. Don’t just accept your school’s study abroad program as the only option, as it might not be the most financially viable. Instead, make sure you check out several different programs to find one that suits you financially and personally.
  • Double check your credit card has no foreign transaction fees, as they can add up fast. An easy solution for this is to meet with your bank provider to find out if your credit card qualifies for zero foreign transaction fees, and if it does, make sure you budget enough time to apply for another card.
  • Triple-check to ensure your credits will transfer. It’s essential that your study abroad credits count toward your college degree. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of money, only to have to pay for more semesters of college to make up for that lost time in the long run!
  • Budget where you can. Many study abroad programs will come with certain living expenses, such as housing and transportation to essential events, covered. However, you may be required to pay for your own food and sightseeing. If this is the case, make sure you set a budget ahead of time, and stick to it!
  • Get a job. In some countries, you can get a part-time job while studying abroad. Though you wouldn’t want to work all the time, putting in a few hours of work a week can give you spending money, and give you an interesting new twist on cultural immersion.

I can’t believe I made it this far without mentioning the magic “S” word: scholarships! Not only are there dozens of scholarship applications just waiting for you to click “Submit,” we have an amazing collection of study abroad scholarship articles to help you write winning words.You can also go directly to GoAbroad’s Study Abroad Loans directory to get the inside scoop on other forms of funding for study abroad.

Secondly, your college’s financial aid department is a great place to start the scholarship and grant search; they will likely be able to point you toward financial aid that is specifically for students studying abroad.

Lastly, participating in an exchange program will also help you lower your living expenses, eliminating monthly rent from the equation. Not only will an exchange program save you money, it’s also a deeply immersive study abroad option, enabling you to learn about the culture firsthand in a way that you might not get when living on campus or in an apartment with other foreign students.

Man cliff jumping
Overcome those hurdles by preparing beforehand, and taking that giant leap ahead!

Hurdles = Jumped

While it’s perfectly normal to have concerns about studying abroad – feeling like a program just isn’t out there for you, that the we should curl up in a ball and avoid the world, or that the #struggleisreal when it comes to finances – these shouldn’t be blockades to the incredible life-changing experience that is educational travel.

If you’re serious about study abroad, look carefully at these three major challenges of studying abroad, and commit to getting over or around them! It’s been done, and you can do it too.

If you’re ready to take on the hurdles of studying abroad, save and compare programs side by side with MyGoAbroad and find your next adventure today!