Today on GoAbroad we feature a post from guest blogger, Daniela Baker, where she writes from the student perspective about overcoming misgivings associated with studying abroad. Also keep in mind to talk to your campus study abroad office and advisors about all the questions or concerns you may have about study abroad. They are there for YOUR benefit and will help to make your travel dreams a reality. Explore the world!
Studying abroad, whether you go to another English-speaking country or choose to go someplace completely foreign, is a fantastic opportunity for any college student. Study abroad programs allow students to make new friends, experience new cultures, and mature greatly due to being more on their own than they probably ever have been during their young adult years. If you're thinking about studying abroad but are focused on the three biggest hurdles – lack of opportunity, personal misgivings, or financial issues – here's what you need to know about these potential obstacles and how you can overcome them.
Lack of Opportunity
Some students don't study abroad simply because they think they don't have the opportunity. Even if your school doesn't have an official study abroad program, though, chances are likely that you can find some alternative study abroad opportunities. There are actually several websites that list study abroad opportunities, most of which aren't affiliated with a specific school or department.
If you can't find opportunities on these sites that suit you, why not make your own? You might, for instance, just decide to apply to a school in a foreign country and go there for your entire college experience or just for part of it. Sometimes figuring out credit transfers and overcoming language barriers can be difficult, but it's not impossible. With that 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 the summer, a semester, or an entire school year.
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 will probably have other American contacts in the foreign country 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:
- 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 Americans or where there is staff on hand to support you throughout your transition periods.
- Consider various countries. If you're not proficient in a foreign language, you may want to opt or an English-speaking country, of which there are many. Also, check out which countries are going to be safer for American travelers, as this can help ease your fears or the fears of your family members.
- Choose a program that gives you plenty of preparation, especially if you're going to a foreign language speaking country. Ideally, you'll spend some intensive time before the program being immersed in the language and culture so that you feel less lost when you get to your host country.
- Spend some time researching the country of your choice on your own. Get to know cultural customs and basic language skills. Even knowing a bit about the people you'll be visiting will help you feel more confident in your ability to succeed in a study abroad program.
For many students, financial hurdles are the biggest problem with studying abroad. Even for students going to expensive private colleges, a semester abroad will probably add at least a couple thousand dollars in addition tuition expenses, and that's without plane tickets, living expenses, and sightseeing!
While the financial prospect of a study abroad semester or summer can seem daunting, it's important to take a few things into account. For one thing, you can almost always get a semester abroad covered by low-interest financial loans. For another, you'll never have another unique opportunity like this one, so seize it while you can!
You can definitely tamp down the costs of a study abroad semester or summer in a few ways, though, if this is the biggest hurdle for you. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Check out the exchange rate, and choose a country with a better exchange rate. European trips can be especially expensive now with the exchange rate because you're spending much more on food and essentials than you would in the US.
- Make sure your credit card has no foreign transaction fees, as they can add up fast. If money is an issue, consider traveling to Africa or the Middle East, where the exchange rate is more likely to fall in your favor.
- Look at different programs. Don't just accept your school's study abroad program as the only option. Instead, make sure you check out several different programs to find one that suits you financially and personally.
- Make sure your credits will transfer. It's essential that your study abroad credits count towards your college degree. Otherwise, you'll be paying a lot of money only to have to pay for more semesters of college to make up for that 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 when studying abroad. Though you don't want to work all the time, working a few hours a week can give you spending money and give you an interesting new twist on cultural immersion.
If you don’t have enough money in savings to cover the expenses of studying abroad, there are a couple of additional financing options: credit cards, financial aid (like scholarships or grants) and participating in an exchange program. If you're uncertain about the possibility of making monthly credit card payments, then a more fiscally responsible option may be financial aid and participating in an exchange program.
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 programs that are specifically for students studying abroad. 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 will also enhance your overseas experience, 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 overseas students.
Studying abroad is certainly one of the most enriching possible college experiences, and it's one that more students should attempt to have. If you want to study abroad, look carefully at these three major hurdles, and learn how to get over or around them! It's been done, and you can do it, too, as long as you do your research and are willing to compromise a bit.
Check out more ways to study abroad at GoAbroad.com!