It all sounds so glamorous in the college catalogue a year (or perhaps more) in Barcelona, Paris, or Tokyo, but some students sign up before they’ve really thought things through Here are some factors to consider when deciding if studying abroad is for you.
1. Make sure your credits will transfer. Most colleges and universities have sister schools abroad and the programs are designed to mesh with those at home. But even so, you should check to make sure the course offerings will fit into your required curriculum. If you’re an English major and you choose a school that is strong in science but only has the basic classes in humanities, you may not be able to get the upper division classes you need. Even if that is the case, you may decide to go ahead for the experience if your money and time budgets allow. You may also gain some unique coursework not available at home.
2. How secure are you? Do you only feel comfortable when you’re surrounded by all of your electronic toys, your familiar furniture, and your well-known friends? Going abroad requires you to travel light you’ll want to once you find out how much it costs to ship things. You’ll be in a foreign setting and it’s possible you may not even speak the language that well. You may not be able to come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas; in fact, to get the most out of an overseas experience, it’s encouraged that you stay there through holidays. With the internet and cheap phone rates, you’ll still be able to be in touch with friends and family, but you won’t be hanging out with them on the weekend. Instead, you’ll be making new friends and experiencing a new culture. Sound like fun? Then sign up.
3. How sensible are you? Maybe you’re not the best one to answer that question, but if you tend to get caught up in spur of the moment activities like drinking parties, a year abroad could be disaster. Drinking is prevalent on campus in European schools. At one British university, hitting all nine pubs on campus is called doing a round of golf. You need to be responsible and have good self control. It’s really a waste of money to go just for the party. The purpose of a year abroad is to broaden your life scope with new experiences and people.
4. What will your finances allow? Happily, many U.S. colleges have reciprocal agreements with foreign colleges. You simply pay your ordinary tuition here and it gets you in over there. Sometimes, housing which is less likely to contain dorm meals may actually be cheaper. But, of course, there are other costs: transportation, sightseeing money; phone calls, and food. A word about each of these. Check into special rates for students through discount travel sights. Include money for travels on your school vacations. And, if being in another country for a year will lengthen your college program, determine if you can afford to do that.
5. Are you open-minded? If you go with the attitude that the only country that counts for anything is your own, you’ll make enemies and come home no wiser than when you left. But if your mind is open to learning about new ways that doesn’t mean adopting them you will gain tremendous knowledge and appreciation for the diversity of the world.
All of these suggestions are made with the student who wants to spend a year abroad. For the student who wants to get an entire degree in another country, there are additional considerations. What is your life plan? Do you plan to remain in that country and work after graduating? If not, is the school widely recognized for excellence in its field back at home in other words, will a degree from the particular school enhance or decrease your chances of getting a good job.
Studying overseas can be life changing and can open eyes to the world. You may come home fluent in another language and conversant with a culture not your own. These are skills that will put you miles ahead in understanding others for the rest of your life. If you’re fortunate enough to have this experience, be grateful and make the most of it.