Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Study Abroad Series: 2. Think you can't study abroad? Think again!


I had never really considered studying abroad before college because it was something that just seemed too expensive. I never thought I would be able to afford it, but two semesters abroad later, I am so glad that I didn’t write it off before looking into it. Here are some common roadblocks to studying abroad and why they may be easier to overcome than you think! If you think you can’t study abroad, think again!
Colosseum in Rome, Italy!

1. It’s too expensive!
Studying abroad can be expensive, without a doubt. There are many costs to consider: the flight, traveling during your time abroad, factoring in that you will be going out more than usual, etc. But studying abroad doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it could even be less than your normal tuition. For me to study abroad, I continue paying my school’s normal tuition rates, as if I were taking classes at my university, and they apply that tuition towards my education abroad. However, a lot of universities and study abroad institutions have their own rates, and if you apply to them directly, you might actually be paying LESS than your normal semester tuition, so that is something to look into on your own time if your university doesn’t provide that information for you (and why would they? They want to make money, too!).
In terms of day to day costs, you don’t have to pay more than you would at home. If you choose London or Paris, you will be paying an arm and a leg to go out and, if you’re on a tight budget, won’t have much money left over to travel. But you can choose a city where you’re dollar will go further (some areas of South America and Southeast Asia, for example). That way, you still get the full study abroad experience and have money for restaurants and activities with friends, but you won’t be breaking the bank. In fact, depending on where you live now, you could even be saving money!
For paying for the flight costs, look to scholarships and programs that provide free airfare. My university provides free airfare for two study abroad locations (Prague being one of them, which is a super popular trip destination in Europe for study abroad students and also really cheap!). Airfare can be one of the biggest expenses for studying abroad, so look to see if your university offers free airfare for any programs. Also, try looking for scholarships. I applied to one through not through my school, but through the study abroad agency itself and got $1000 that I put towards airfare. It was a HUGE help!
My trip to Vatican City
2. I’m afraid I won’t graduate on time!
         That’s a legitimate fear, and unfortunately, if you’re at the point where you realize you can’t graduate on time and also study abroad, there isn’t much to be done. However, if you are in your first or second year and fear that going abroad will stop you from graduating on time, do some research first! My school’s global education website shows a list of classes that the overseas schools offer and what they translate over to. I thought I wouldn’t be able to study abroad the second time, but the ONE class I needed for my major happened to be offered in Florence, Italy. I never would have considered studying there, but it had the class I needed and I wanted to go abroad! As soon as you become interested in studying abroad, set up appointments with your academic advisor and a study abroad advisor. Ask them what classes you would need to take and when and if studying abroad is a possibility. Make sure you will get into the classes you will need, though. If they are super competitive to get into and you go abroad one semester hoping to get the class the next semester, it could be a pretty risky situation. ASK YOUR ADVISORS. They are free, they are knowledgeable, and they have helped countless students do this. They are your best resource if you need help.
Vatican City, Italy
3. I won’t be able to find the classes I need!
         I mentioned this already, but I found the classes I needed to be able to spend two semesters abroad in two different countries, and I’m a film studies major so it’s not exactly common for me to find the classes I need abroad. It was hard but after a lot of research, I found what I needed. If you’re a business major, there are tons of schools that are accredited worldwide for you to choose from. Take international accounting or marketing abroad! If you still need them, it’s the perfect time to take GE’s (general education requirements like art, science, English, social studies, etc.). The earlier on you study abroad, the more GE’s you will have left, and it’s easiest to find classes to take when you just need to take GE’s. So another piece of advice for people with majors that are harder to find classes for is to study abroad early (like sophomore year).
Vatican City, Italy
4. I have never been away from home/I am too afraid to go to a foreign country! I go to school out of state and when my family left me in California, I bawled for days. I was not adventurous by any means at 18 years old. But it was the best thing that I could have done for myself because now, at 21, I have been all around the world by myself and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. It is scary, but if you’re like me, you will always have this nagging feeling of needing to see the world, and it won’t go away until it is satisfied. Will you have the time of your life and never want to go home and fall in love and become a pop star like Lizzie McGuire? No. You might hate it. But your other option is to always wonder what it would have been like, and that’s no way to live at all!
         More practically, it helps to go abroad with someone you know. My first semester abroad in Seoul, South Korea was with one of my best friends from college. We had an amazing time together and it made adjusting a lot easier. The second time, I knew no one. Even if you don’t have a friend that wants to go abroad with you, or to the same place, you can still meet people! Join the study abroad groups for the semester/year/city you are participating in, and if your university or program has a page, join that too. If your school doesn’t already organize meet ups, reach out to the others studying abroad in the same place as you and have a couple get-togethers beforehand. That way, you can coordinate flights, arrange to meet up at the airport, have a familiar face, ask them questions, etc.
         Just remember, studying abroad is like your freshman year of college. Everyone is new, nobody knows each other, and everyone wants to make friends. People who travel are usually friendlier than the average person because they are open to new experiences and people (I swear it is true!). Make sure to put yourself out there from Day 1, meet people to explore the city, for drinks, for dinner, for lunch, for clubbing. People form groups fast, so it is really important to meet as many people as possible in that first week!
Roman Forum, Rome, Italy
5. My parents won’t let me!
         This one is hard, because I had such supportive parents. But, not everyone was as lucky as I was and they had to take some time to convince their parents. Usually parents are scared that you will be unsafe, or that you will go too crazy abroad, or they’re afraid of cost. Refer back to my first point for cost worries, do your OWN research, and impress them with it.
         If you’re parents are scared for your safety or that you will be a devil child while abroad, perhaps choosing the ‘right’ location would help ease their minds. Find somewhere safe to study (hint: don’t go to Thailand right now. Or Egypt.), present them with the facts and go from there. Or if they don’t want you to be on a booze cruise the whole time, try picking a smaller city or even a village if you’re into that. If you’re studying Spanish and want to go to Peru or studying art history and want to go to Florence or Paris, sell that point to them. Choose a location based on your academic interests and tell them why it would be such an invaluable experience.
         I also had some friends whose parents wouldn’t let them do a semester abroad so they compromised on a summer or interterm (January session, if you have it) course abroad. They were with other students from my university plus the professor the entire time, got a few credits out of it, it didn’t put them back for graduation, and their parents could handle the four weeks apart (barely). If that doesn’t work, tell them how important it is to have international experience these days (Michelle Obama agrees with me on this!). You could try to get an internship abroad, too.

I hope some of these suggestions helped to make studying abroad seem more feasible for you. If you have any other roadblocks you’d like help with, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Happy travels,

-A

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