Have you been dragging your feet on the way to class lately? Do you daydream about rattling off phrases flawlessly in another language, or doing research at a field station deep in the middle of the rainforest? There’s a reason that students who study abroad can’t stop talking about it. Spending time abroad not only fulfills academic goals, but also lets you experience a new culture, language, and environment. Nailing down all the details can seem overwhelming, but lucky for you, GoAbroad is here to help! With a directory of over 30,000 study abroad programs and all sorts of helpful tools, it’s easy to turn your study abroad dreams into reality.
STEP 1: FIND A PROGRAM
Here’s how to study abroad. With so many options to choose from, this can be the most daunting part of your search. Is it better to learn Spanish in Argentina or Spain? Which countries have the best programs for engineers? Should you go for a whole year or just a semester? Before you have a mini-breakdown, take a deep breath and remember why you want to study abroad. You can do this! There’s a perfect program out there waiting for you and tons of resources to help you find it.
At GoAbroad, you can search for programs based on destination, field of study, and duration. If your results list is still throwing out dozens of suggestions, get in touch with an Online Advisor to help you narrow the field to a few solid choices.
Take Advantage of Resources:
- People. Now’s the time to chat up everyone who will be involved in your experience, from your school’s Study Abroad, Financial Aid, and Registrar’s offices to your friends, parents, and professors.
- Online. Become best friends with Google as you delve into program reviews, peruse study abroad articles, sign up for MyGoAbroad, and read as much as you can on your chosen destination.
Keep in Mind:
- Locations. If there are several places you’re interested in, browse some articles or read our comprehensive guides to studying abroad in specific locations. In the end, rest easy knowing there’s no bad choice!
- Educational Benefits. Will you get academic credit for the program you’ve selected? How will credit transfer work? Be sure to check in with your school to make sure you receive credit for your efforts overseas!
- Cost. Study abroad program costs vary and often depend on the level of support you receive from the program provider or host university. Be sure to factor in things like housing, excursions, food, and airfare when comparing prices; these may or may not be included in the program fees.
STEP 2: HOW TO PAY FOR IT
We know what you’re thinking. College is already expensive, so how will you find the extra cash to take classes in another country? It’s true that some study abroad programs are pricier than others, but the good news is that programs exist for every budget, if you’re willing to do some searching.
If you’re not planning to self-fund your trip, be sure to involve your parents early on in the discussion to choose a realistic budget for your program. Remind them of the benefits of study abroad programs and that their investment will last far beyond the semester you’ll be away.
Regardless of who’s footing the bill, below are some tried and true methods for reaching your goals:
- Financial Aid. If you’re currently receiving a grant or scholarship, especially if supplied by the government, chances are it can be used for studying abroad. Contact your financial aid office or scholarship provider. Pro tip: choosing an approved study abroad program through an accredited U.S. school is the simplest and surest way to know aid will apply.
- Scholarships. There’s free money out there with your name on it, you just have to find it! Check out GoAbroad’s scholarship directory and read some articles on finding and apply for scholarships.
- Loans. Get the scoop on loans for study abroad and start comparing providers.
- Crowdfunding. Many students have realized their study abroad goals by using an online fundraising platform such as FundMyTravel. Let strangers and relatives alike help send you across borders and seas for an enriching learning opportunity!
- Get a Job. Work now, play later. While it may be tough to hit the books after a long shift on your feet, the extra effort you put in now will all be worth it when you hop on that plane.
Studying abroad does take serious budgeting and planning (welcome to #adulting!), but it’s not as daunting as it first appears. Saving is much easier with a goal in mind, and what better goal than knowing you’ll be wandering foreign streets in less than a year’s time?
STEP 3: PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIP
Once you’ve chosen your program, secured funding, and spent sleepless nights imagining yourself greeting strangers in a foreign language, it’s time to start planning your trip. This will probably be fun and stressful at the same time, but don’t worry! This is a feeling you’ll grow to know and love in the coming months as you navigate a new culture.
Your study abroad provider will be key in helping you through this process. Most programs offer assistance with your application, the visa process (if needed), course registration, housing, airport pickup, international health insurance, and even events and excursions. That said, there are still some things you’ll need to take care of on your own:
- Documents are everything. Ensure you have a valid passport and visa for your destination. Be sure to also carry other important documents such as program and host family contact information, travel insurance numbers, and printed copies of travel reservations.
- Do a health check. Visit the CDC website to find out if you need any vaccinations or medications before arriving in your host country.
- Pull out the flashcards. Start learning some of the local language, including greetings and common phrases. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “konnichiwa” instinctively.
- Packing. Be sure to consider the weather, culture, and airline luggage restrictions before throwing something in your suitcase. If all else fails, go light!
If you feel like you’re forgetting something, you probably are! But learning to go with the flow and solve problems on the fly is what studying abroad is all about, so think of these preparations as good training for your time abroad.
STEP 4: SUCCEEDING ABROAD
Studying abroad is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new. Never tried the tango before? Now’s your chance! What about tasting local bushmeat or hiking to the top of a volcano? It’s impossible to predict the unexpected, hilarious, and memorable situations you’ll find yourself in once you’re abroad.
Academics may be the reason you’ve decided to study abroad, but they aren’t the only thing you should focus on. For a well-rounded study abroad experience, it’s important to balance school with the cultural learning that happens outside of the classroom. Go to class, study for tests, and be an engaged student, but don’t neglect what’s going on around you either!
Going abroad can be challenging because you’re dropped into a new environment with new cultural norms, but learning about your surroundings is part of the fun. Do your research in advance to learn about local customs, but then try to make friends with locals who can confirm what you’ve learned. They’ll be the best resource for information about your city, new culture, and the local language.
Make an effort to immerse yourself. If you’ve traveled to China to learn Mandarin, challenge yourself to only speak your new language and then be amazed with how quickly your skills progress. If you chose to study ecology in Costa Rica, spend every weekend you can getting out into nature and exploring your surroundings. There’s a reason you saved your pennies and traveled across the planet - don’t waste a single opportunity!
STEP 5: RETURNING HOME
You may be thinking, “Why do I have to think about returning home already? I’m still just trying to get there!”, but we firmly believe having the end goal in sight will help your overall study abroad process run smoothly. And while we hate to break it to you, you typically do have to come back home, although some students choose to prolong their stay by adding another semester or finding internships abroad.
Your return home is when the real work begins. With new eyes and new perspectives, you now have the unique task of stepping into your global citizenship and creating impact in your communities. Use your new-found confidence to become a campus leader or join a conversation group to keep up your language fluency. And don’t forget to add your experience abroad to your resume!
Use these end goals to motivate yourself to stay productive, sharp, and intentional during your time abroad. The return can be bittersweet; you will bring many things back home, but also leave much behind. Try to actively connect your study abroad experience with your life back home in creative ways, and then start planning your next trip!