There are many reasons for you to select a multi-country study abroad program, and this is especially true for the first time traveler. It is difficult to choose among so many great places to go, so with a multi-country study abroad program, you can visit several countries on your to-do list during just one program abroad.
While you study abroad in multiple countries, you can decide where you would like to visit again through a future study abroad trip or with family and friends. You'll get to see many more places and experience the diversity of the cities and countries you visit. However, without question, you will need to investigate, plan and prepare in advance, to make the most out of the multi-country experience.
Challenges of on-the-go study abroad
Here are some things you should consider before embarking on a multi-country study abroad program:
1. You'll be traveling frequently, which could mean less time exploring.
Some of your time abroad will be spent on planes, trains, buses, or private coaches. You are on a multi-country study abroad program and need to get from one country to another. Depending on the mode of transportation, this could mean very long and sometimes uncomfortable travel between countries. You need to investigate before you sign up for a multi-country study abroad program to find out how you will get from place to place and how much of your time will be spent on inter-country transportation.
If you choose a multi-country study abroad program that travels by slower modes of transportation (e.g. coaches or buses), you will lose some of your time in the countries you should be exploring, and you should know this. On the other hand, in some countries, the means of transportation is part of the experience. For example, if you are doing a multi country Europe study abroad, taking a high-speed train or an overnight train with a sleeper is part of the European experience. If you will be traveling by coach or bus, make sure you have a good travel pillow, a good book, and some good music to listen to. Even better, try to get some sleep so you will be ready to go when you arrive in the new country.
2. If you don't pack light, you might regret it.
Moves between countries, especially with larger groups, is not easy. Some multi-country study abroad programs have a hub in one or more cities, where you can store larger or heavier bags. You will travel for a few days or a week, and then return to this hub city where you can re-stock. However, other multi-country study abroad programs don't have this luxury, and you will need to carry everything you bring with you from country to country. Once again, you'll want to know before you go!
Regardless, you should probably pack light. Remember, you'll want to buy souvenirs and gifts, and if you do, you'll need to carry them. If you accumulate too much to carry, you should ship some of what you have back home; it will make your life easier and save you from very expensive airline overweight bag charges on your return trip. Pro tip: If you don’t ship some home, remember that it is cheaper to have an extra rather than an overweight bag.
When traveling between countries, a general rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry what you take. You should bring sturdy luggage with good wheels, because you don’t want your bag to fall apart or your wheels to break; this is a nightmare and usually happens at the worst possible time and place. You might consider opting for the more portable (and convenient) travel backpack instead.
Finally, don’t forget to consider the local customs and cultural expectations when it comes to clothing in each country you plan to visit—this might differ significantly depending on your itinerary. Shoot for the lowest common denominator of travel modesty, so you'll be set up for cultural-sensitivity-success no matter which country you're in.
3. Staying in touch with family/friends may have added challenges.
If you are going to study abroad in one country, you can usually get a SIM card with an inexpensive phone for keeping in touch with other program participants. When traveling from country to country, this isn’t so easy. You can buy a new sim card and insert it in the inexpensive phone in each country, but this can be a pain. Texting or messaging may be cheaper, but investigate. Contact your cell phone provider before you embark on your study abroad trip and investigate their international plan to see what the cost per minute in each one of the countries you are visiting in is. Also, remember, if all else fails, you can use Skype and Whats App on Wi-Fi (instead of 3G, 4G, or LTE with your local SIM card) to call friends and family back home.
4. Multiple currencies = budget difficulties.
If you do opt for study abroad programs in multiple countries, you should keep in mind that some countries may be much more or much less expensive than others. Always keep a budget when studying abroad! Also, different countries may have different currencies. Unless you plan on returning to a country in the near future, it is not a good idea to have too much of any particular currency. You can sell back your extra currency at a currency exchange, but there is a heavy cost to do so.
It is normally not a good idea to carry a lot of cash with you in any country. ATM machines are readily available in almost every country and make the most sense. Remember, to contact your bank and credit card company and let them know you’ll be abroad; if you don’t, they may freeze your account.
5. You're gonna walk a lot (but your butt will look great after!).
You will do lots of walking in every country that you visit. You may even have a walking tour as an orientation to each new city and country you visit, and if not, you may want to take a walking tour on your own. Investigate these details before you go! You will want to see as much in each country as you can. With a multi destination study abroad program, you'll get to see more countries, but you won’t spend a lot of time in any of them. Regardless of where you go and how you get there, you’ll still be doing lots of walking, so make sure you bring comfortable shoes.
Don’t forget that you will be responsible for carrying your own bags when traveling between countries. If you plan to pack a lot or your program involves a lot of travel by foot, you might want get in shape before you go! You don’t want to miss out on any activity because you are too worn out or too sore to participate.
OK, you've prepared me for the hard stuff—but what makes these programs GREAT?
The perks of multiple country study abroad are nearly innumerable! Not only will you get to visit multiple countries (who doesn't love having their passport glittered with various stamps?!), you will get to experience a variety of cultures—the perfect segue to having the ability to compare and contrast those cultures. If you're studying a singular subject but from multiple viewpoints, you'll gain a more holistic, comprehensive understanding of that subject. You will always have something to look forward to, and the adventures just won't stop coming.
Multi location study abroad programs are a GREAT option for students keen to explore a specific region or to get a taste of various places before settling in on one for the long term. (You are planning on moving abroad to work after college, right? Right!). You'll also connect with likeminded, adventurous students who are eager to travel the world. Awesome.
Next steps to multi-country study abroad
Don't pack your passport juuuust yet. There are a few items on your study abroad to do list you should check off first.
Decide where to go. Figuring out where to study abroad in multiple countries isn’t easy. The gorgeous highlands of Europe? The steppes of Asia? On the beach? Why not all three? Don't let the long haul flights hold you back—choose a place that's right for you.
Your major courses or something more fun and experiential? You don't only have to take classes that pertain to your major back home (though it never hurts to knock out some credits towards graduation). Look at your course options and decide what combination of required classes and just-for-fun-or-because-you-want-to-learn-it classes are out there. Choose from business, the sciences, education, psychology, and more!
Choose from the best multi-country study abroad programs. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and your ease of getting credits. Some schools or providers may even provide contact info for student ambassadors or past international students if you want the REAL dirt. Here’s our guide to choosing between study abroad programs.
Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge in travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Do your research to have an idea of how much your study abroad program will cost.
Talk to your home university. Getting all your ducks in a row is largely dependent on what your home university requires. Talk to a study abroad advisor or the equivalent at your university to see what choices are available to you.
Which multi country study abroad program will YOU pick?
Study abroad programs in multiple countries have a lot to offer—while we've presented some of the challenges, time and again our students claim that they were absolutely worth it. Having a sober picture of what your life abroad can only elevate your ability to be present and make the most of the entire experience.
Investigate, plan, and prepare before you go, and you'll have a life-changing experience abroad.
This article was contributed by Voyager Europe, a multi country Europe study abroad program provider that immerses students in the art, history, and culture of Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Germany. Their itinerary includes day trips, professional visits, and cultural activities.