Studying abroad can be an exciting part of any college career. It is an opportunity to see beyond what a tourist usually sees and understand another country’s culture, economy, and people—all while learning about yourself. However, before you embark on your trip, there is a lot to consider so you can make the most of your experience.
First, you need to decide what kind of program you would like to do—full immersion or island program. For a full immersion program, you enroll in a foreign university, and classes will be taught in your host country’s language. In an island program, you may be at a foreign university, but you take courses taught in English with other Americans.
The length and cost of a program are also important to consider. Programs can be as long as a year or as short as two weeks. Some people find that they can only be away from home a few weeks, while others need a few months or a year to immerse themselves in the culture. You may think that a shorter program is cheaper, but this is not always true. For instance, the cost-per day of a summer program can be higher than a semester program. Review all costs to see what a program includes. Programs may seem cheap, but they may actually include very little.
Where you live while abroad may have the biggest impact on your experience. The two main options are living with a host family or at a university (probably with other Americans, depending on the program). Living in a dorm may afford you more freedom, but living with a family is a unique way to experience a country’s culture firsthand. Also, if you are in a country where the first language is not English, it will help you learn or improve your speaking abilities faster.
It is important to consider how the classes you take abroad will meet degree requirements. Your university may have the perfect program for you, or you may need to take courses through another school or a study abroad program. Even students in non-traditional study abroad majors, like engineering or science, may be able to participate in a study abroad experience. It is best to meet with your academic advisor or a study abroad advisor to find a program that will fit your academic needs.
Everyone has different needs while studying abroad. However, most students experience what is called the W-curve. You will be excited, then frustrated, and then happy after adjusting to your host country’s culture. The second part of the curve is the up and down of returning home. Many students will find knowledge of the W-curve comforting as they experience the ups and downs associated with being in a new culture.
To make the most of your experience abroad, try your best to immerse yourself in the culture and people. It may be comforting to spend a lot of time with Americans, but you may limit your experience if you do. It is best to strike a balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Keeping a journal of your experiences is an interesting way to see how you grow while abroad and to remember all the exciting experiences and people you encounter.