BY DANIKA McCLURE
Studying abroad may be one of the most beneficial experiences a college student can have. International study programs provide a life-changing experience where students are immersed in new cultures, have the opportunity to learn a new language and see the world, and expand their worldview beyond that of what is offered at the traditional college campus. It may even inspire you to pursue a degree path you hadn’t yet considered.
According to experts at IES Abroad, traveling and studying in another country is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences students can choose to do in their college years.
“It has been nearly ten years since I was a student in Vienna, but not a single day goes by where its impact is not felt in my life,” writes former study abroad student, Jason Thornberg. “My time there fundamentally changed how I view the world and has given me the ability to view the world, and its issues, from several perspectives.”
Others students have echoed his perspective, noting that their study abroad experience directly helped impact their careers years down the line.
“My semester [abroad] launched me into a personal involvement with Spain that has already lasted 25 years,” writes Gary Abramson. “A political science lecture in Madrid about U.S. and Spanish involvement in an obscure war in Sahara…led to a graduate fellowship to Spain and North Africa, which led to work as a foreign correspondent based in Spain.”
Although opportunities abound for those who choose to study abroad, it takes a lot of careful consideration, and requires a tremendous amount of foresight and planning. It can be nerve racking for students to consider all of the things they need to know when surrounded by strangers in a foreign country.
For students considering taking advantage of this unique and lucrative opportunity, here are a few essential steps to keep in mind.
Consider the cost
Cost should be a major factor in a student’s decision-making process, as the cost of studying abroad can be quite expensive. Prices vary for different programs and typically depends on where you’re from and where you’re going. As with attending college in the U.S. there are also fees to be considered, as well as the day-to-day living costs, and the cost associated with participating in cultural exchange.
Though price is a huge factor, it shouldn’t be the primary reason a student chooses not to travel abroad.
“Depending on the program, students may be able to apply financial aid from the university if they are affiliated,” notes Jeffrey Whitehead, director of the study abroad office at the University of Pittsburgh. “In addition, some schools offer scholarships that students can use in specific programs and some study abroad program providers offer scholarship assistance as well.”
There are also scholarships and grants that have been created to specifically help lower income students experience the benefits of studying abroad. Financial advisors at your university will be able to further help you prepare in the months before you leave the country.
Prepare your documentation
Studying abroad requires proper identification, which may take several weeks to process and require coordination as early as possible. All students traveling to and from another country will require a passport, and depending on your destination, a student visa.
For example, countries in the Schengen Area — a coalition of 26 European countries —allow tourists and visitors to visit for up to 90 days without a visa, so depending on the length of your study abroad program, you may or may not need to obtain one.
Still it is important to do the proper research ahead of time, as these documents may take time to obtain.
“Every college student should have a passport that’s up to date, whether they plan to study abroad [at some point] or it will happen in their immediate future,” writes Josh Irons of Studyabroad.com. “You never know when the opportunity is going to arise or when there is something going on outside of the country and you don’t want to be left high and dry and shocked that it takes a while to actually get one.”
Plan Properly for Packing and Arriving to your Destination
For many students, determining what to pack for their study abroad program is no easy task. In addition to packing the proper attire and toiletries for your chosen study environment, there are a number of essentials students should consider bringing as well. Remember, that you’ll essentially living out of two suitcases for the greater part of your time there, unless you plan on relocating for the long haul.
It’s also important that you have emergency money in your destination country’s currency. Important documents, a cell phone with an international phone plan, and an outlet adapter. If you are on prescription medications, be sure to pack enough for the entirety of your stay and have the proper documentation to bring them into the country. If you smoke or vape, be sure to research the international vaping laws.
When it comes to choosing your flights, it’s important that you know when to book your trip. Typically, travel experts advise booking 3 months in advance in order to receive the best deal.
Research the culture
Studying abroad may require some extra homework on the student’s part. Since you’ll be living and functioning within another culture, it is important that you learn the norms of the culture. This may impact the way you choose to dress, the way you speak to and interact with others, and the way you go about cultural exchange.
“It’s important for travelers to practice sensitivity throughout their journeys, as your behavior may otherwise offend others unnecessarily or bring a bad name upon all travelers,” writes Goabroad.com’s Megan Lee.
Studying the culture beforehand also prevents you from embarrassment and ostracism when you make cultural blunders, and will help you to better assimilate in the long run.
“The better you understand the cultural nuances of the host nation, the easier it will be for you to honor their way of life and fit in,” says Larry Kaminer, president of the Personal Safety Group.
As you are a guest in their country, be sure to put in the work to determine proper etiquette when traveling.
There are a number of factors students should consider before making the plunge into a new country. For students who want to partake in cultural exchange, gain meaningful and new experiences, and potentially change their careers for the better, studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity.
Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on Twitter @sadwhitegrrl