Studying abroad can be a daunting endeavor. Not only is it financially challenging, the emotional aspects of choosing to spend even a semester abroad can sometimes be overwhelming. Fully preparing ahead of time can help alleviate adding stress to an already stressful situation.
There are a number of different options to study abroad. Most U.S. colleges offer semester abroad programs at partnership universities. Additionally, companies such as Global Learning Semesters (www.globalsemesters.com) and Global Student Experience (www.gseabroad.com) provide options ranging from a summer program to a year-long study abroad option. Some things to keep in mind when choosing your study abroad country are:
What culture(s) interest you? Do you want to study in English or do you want to try out your French, Spanish, or German, et al? Are there any travel warnings associated with your country of choice? (This can be determined by visiting the U.S. Department of State
Once you’ve decided on a country, it’s time to explore funding. Many times, if you’re doing study abroad through your college or university at a partner institution, tuition will typically be paid to your home institution. If you’re exploring earning a degree at a foreign university, however, it is up to you to obtain funding. Thankfully, U.S. Federal Aid is still available, though there is a cap on the amount of loan money you can receive, at least in the case of graduate level degrees.
Many foreign universities also offer some sort of funding for study abroad students. Information about such programs can be obtained from each specific university. Additionally, information about attending foreign universities can typically be found on consulate websites for any given country and will sometimes include information on where to look for funding.
Passport and Visa Acquisition
Once you’ve decided on a foreign university, have been accepted into a program, and obtained funding, it’s time to think about a number of concerns that, if left unattended, have the potential to create an inordinate amount of stress. The first should be ensuring that your passport is valid and that you apply for your visa. Each country’s visa requirements will be different, and, like information about attending foreign universities, can also be found on each country’s consulate website. You’ll want to start these processes as early as possibly in the event there are unforeseen delays. There is usually an option for a quicker service to obtain both your passport and visa, but you will pay extra for it, so it’s better and less stressful to start the process well in advance.
Travel – Flying vs. Cruising
Next you’ll want to look into your travel arrangements. Of course, flying is the least expensive mode of travel, but it’s hardly without its downsides. Aside from the general hassle of going through security and the jetlag once you reach your destination, you need to take into consideration how long you’ll be staying in your host country. If only for a summer or semester program, the baggage allowances probably won’t be a problem. If you’re staying for a longer period of time, you’ll need to investigate ways of shipping over your items. There are a number of companies which offer this service to students: Voovit, International Parcel Services, and, of course, Fedex, UPS, DHL, and the Post Office. When making plans to ship items overseas, make sure to investigate the companies and obtain quotes from each to ensure the best possible price.
Another viable mode of travel is a transatlantic cruise. Like flying, though, it, too, has its downsides. You’ll need ample time since transatlantic cruises take much longer to reach their destination and they only dock in a small number of cities, so you’ll most likely need to explore further travel to your final destination. They also don’t run nearly as often as flights and tend to fill up quickly, so you’ll need to plan as far ahead in advance as possible. On the plus side, while cruising is more expensive than flying you won’t suffer from jetlag, there is no cap on baggage, and you get a mini-vacation in the process. There are a number of cruise lines that offer transatlantic cruises including Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean.
Studying abroad can be the experience of a lifetime and will offer many opportunities. To ensure enjoying your time abroad to the fullest, do your homework, plan ahead, and make sure all of your travel paperwork is in order. These simple steps can allow you to focus on the fun of attending university abroad and immersion in the local culture rather than dealing with the insanity of avoidable problems.