Congratulations on your decision to study abroad. It’s a wise choice indeed. Spending an academic semester, year, or entire program overseas in another country has so wonderful advantages and is personally and professionally enriching. You will be exposed to another culture and work ethic, have the opportunity to learn a new language, make new friends, get a global education, expand your network, and learn and discover the world independently. The richness of an international education is rightfully looked upon extremely favourably both by North American and overseas employers. If you decide that you love your host country, you can possibly even convert your study visa to a work visa and stay work in your host country as a permanent resident.
I have both studied and worked abroad and found the experience culturally and professionally invigorating and enlightening, but the decision to temporarily move away should not be a whimsical one and needs to made for the right reasons. Before you embark on your personal and academic journey, ponder your decision carefully. After all, it’s an important one that will influence your career direction for the rest of your life.
Some points to think about:
*Is the program of study recognized by North American standards or will I have to re-certify myself when I return?
An important consideration is whether or not the program or academic designation meets your home country’s standards upon completion. If it does not, you may yourself retaking similar courses, paying extra for certification, or even repeating the program. If you are pursuing a professional designation, obtain a detailed syllabus of your desired program and contact your profession’s designated association and find out out if your program’s degree or certification meets local industry standards. Also research your institution very carefully to find out if it is reputable by both your host country and North American standards.
*Are there scholarships, grants, bursaries or financial aid for international students? Is there any general support for international students at my institution of choice?
Study abroad expenses and international tuition fees are quite expensive, even if you look for a job, so think about the resources available to you. Also research the cost of living in your desired country. You have to pay for rent, health insurance, food, books, and many other expenses. Is your host country more expensive or less expensive than your own? To help finance your program of study, you should inquire about financial assistance from many sources, including your own government, professional and private societies, organizations or associations, and most especially your host country’s financial aid and international student offices.
Many academic institutions in Europe have an Erasmus programs that provides help, housing and general assistance for international students involved in educational exchange.
*Will I be able to work in my host country and does my desired program have an internship or co-op to help me gain experience?
An arguably essential element of studying abroad is the precious opportunity to gain badly needed international work experience. If there is an internship or co-op component included in your program of study, you can apply what you have learned in a multicultural work environment. If there is not, try and look into the possibility of also applying for various work visas in your country of choice, Many countries allow up to 20 hours of work per week for student visa holders, so try and look for a job in your field if there is no post secondary job placement. If you are in a country that offers Working Holiday Visas, explore this option if you are approaching the end of your studies and would like to look for a full time job, or are waiting for a long term work visa. If you are in a European Union country and are of European descent, you may be eligible for EU citizenship and should investigate this option prior to departure. This will facilitate the work visa process and eliminate needless bureaucratic red tape.
*Can I handle culture shock and being away from home and is the country the right place for me?
You may love the program and the country, but pragmatically can you easily handle different cultural norms and social etiquette? Some people are home bodys and some are not. Decide if you can adjust and integrate into a different culture and make friends readily, or if you prefer consistency and familiarity. It won’t be easy to reverse your decision once you have made it, so research your school’s reputation and your host country very carefully prior to departure.
If you do decide and go away to study abroad, be sure to register your name at your country of origin’s nearest consulate or embassy in order to vote and renew documents while you are away from home. Many a foreign student has needed legal or emergency help from the Consul General during long stays abroad so register your presence.
Last of all, never forget to vote for your own government;s elections while you overseas.