Sophomore year of college is the year when you start to feel more comfortable on campus, and start to think of new ways to shake up your college experience. A lot of people start to think about studying abroad, and fantasize taking pictures that make it look like you are holding up the Tower of Pisa. When starting to plan your study abroad there are few things you should consider before you even think about where you want to go.
1. Can I afford it?
I start with this question because the sticker price of my study abroad program shocked me at first. Schools, and mine is no exception, tend to show off all the ways study abroad can be made cheaper (financial aid packages, grants, etc) while dancing around the actual price. In my experience, all of the websites and study abroad advisers are upfront about prices when asked directly, so just ask and talk about it with your family.
2. Will I still be able to graduate on time?
Believe it or not, people actually attend classes, usually, when studying abroad. Talk with a faculty advisor about what you would need to do during that term where you will be abroad, so that you are still able to fulfill all the credits you need. There could easily be some academic sacrifices that you will have to make to go abroad. You may have to double up on classes later, not complete a certificate or give up on a second minor. Either way, this conversation will help you shift through all the program options.
3. Figure out what you want out of your abroad experience.
Each program is going to be different, even if they are in the same country. Some have home-stays, some places have different languages, some more urban and every country has a slightly different education system. I knew going into my study abroad that I wanted an English or Spanish speaking country with access to a big city. I also wanted to be immersed in the college environment and wanted the ability to travel to other countries easily. On the other hand, other people want to explore cultures extremely different from their own.
4. Find the overlap and do your research.
Start to gather a list of schools from your university study abroad office, study abroad program websites or study abroad forums, and start to create a list of three schools that offer the classes for abroad students (just because a school has a class or major doesn’t mean it is available to international students) in a country that meets your criteria. Then start to research the country and ask older friends if they know of anyone that studied there. Guide books, study abroad blogs and pamphlets will not give you a clear picture of your potential study abroad experience by themselves.
5. Think about living arrangements, and other less obvious circumstances.
If you go abroad it may be harder to live in that fantasy apartment with all of your friends, you will be missing a term on campus and not all of your friends will be going abroad. That does not mean that these factors should sway you towards not studying abroad, but it is important to think about what you are giving up by leaving campus for a quarter. I have some friends that refuse to study abroad in the fall because of football season, in the winter because of dance marathon and in the spring because of the good weather. Figuring out what you will miss before you leave will reduce FOMO in the future.
After you have your list of schools, and feel confident about your decision, start to apply. There are tons of ways to get abroad (direct enrollment, through a program or even through your school), so once you figure out the best one for you…go for it!