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week's question from
Tarah P., Santa Fe, NM
What should students know about studying abroad? Pros and cons?
“And That Has Made All the Difference”: Benefits of Studying Abroad
Studying abroad is a once in a life experience for college students. They can immerse themselves in a different country and/or language and study alongside students from around the world. They engage in authentic learning experiences and come back world citizens and do even better back at their home colleges. And this is the perfect time to study aboard as more and more colleges not only award academic credit for approved programs but also allow financial aid to cover full costs for a semester, full year, or even a summer abroad.
A once in a lifetime opportunity!
Studying abroad has the potential to be the most gratifying and awe-inspiring piece of your college education! It is a chance to explore another culture independently and with classmates. Realize before you go that your perspective on lots of things may change as a result of this experience. Let yourself embrace a new culture and learn from it. Avoid the tendency to be too American in a strange land. See the world through the lens of the country you are visiting; and look at your own country through that foreign lens.
An Experiential Learning Opportunity That’s Worth the Price of Admission
Studying abroad can change your life. As a college ambassador, you’ll be introduced to a whole new world of culture, history, and language. You’ll have opportunities to make new friends and gain perspective on your own country. But be aware that not all study abroad programs are created equal. Some colleges offer overseas programs they directly manage. Others share cooperative arrangements with outside organizations or schools. You need to know if the classes you are taking are part of your college’s curriculum and if you will be receiving full credit for the courses you complete. Otherwise you’re looking at possibly extending your stay as an undergrad. And make sure your financial aid carries over to the program and basic safety nets are in place. If you go for the right reasons, your experience will pay back a thousand fold in priceless memories and global understanding.
Ask plenty of questions before you commit.
Study abroad can be an exciting way to experience different cultures and meet new people. Unfortunately, some programs have serious limitations. Avoid extra costs and disappointments by asking:
- Is the program run by your university, or by an outside company?
- Will you pay more than your usual tuition, room, and board? How much?
- Are your credits guaranteed to transfer?
- Can credits earned be used to fulfill requirements for your major?
- What do former participants say about their experiences?
Fully understanding the pros and cons of your study abroad program will help you make the most of your experience while staying on course to graduate on time.
Ask the Right Questions and Pick the Right program for YOU!
Don’t just pick a program because your friends are going there. You should evaluate the various study abroad programs carefully. Understand who will be attending the program. Will they be mostly from schools in the US or will there be students from other countries? What does it cost and will financial aid help pay for it? Will you earn college credit for your courses?
Consider going alone and meeting others on the trip. Pick the program that best supports who you are as a student and person. This will most likely be a very special part of your life that you will never forget. Enjoy!
Be sure the program credits will transfer!
Having been lucky enough to live abroad for 5 years, I know the immense personal and intellectual growth that comes from the experience. It is important that before selecting a study abroad program, students check, double-check and triple-check the way in which credits will be applied to their degree program at their home school. Be certain the credits from abroad will advance your academic program. Study abroad is a wonderful experience, but not if it comes at an unreasonable financial or credit expense. If that cost is an extra semester or year of undergraduate tuition, it may be too high.
Beware of Possible Barriers to Studying Abroad
While most students are excited to learn that all of their college choices offer some sort of study abroad program, they rarely understand that barriers might be in place. For instance, the major they choose may require a specific GPA in order to sign up for a program. Also, the requirements for some majors are so strenuous that it is often tricky to balance those with an abroad program. For best results, it’s wise to meet with a study abroad advisor early.
Go with a Reputable Program
There are numerous opportunities for students to study abroad during high school and college. Students must vet those programs considerably before committing. Whether the experience is volunteer, cultural, or academic, students must have travel insurance and factor this into the overall costs. Programs should be well versed in the risks involved and articulate about the fine-print of travel insurance. A benefit to studying abroad is that it enhances elf-awareness. Students, however, must plan ahead both mentally and financially.
Great question to ask: How accessible and personalized are the study abroad opportunities?
Virtually all colleges today will offer study abroad options for their students but the quality and accessibility of the experiences vary from one college to the next. If having a global focus in your undergraduate experience is important to you – seek out colleges where a majority of students pursue some of their time abroad. Being surrounded by students who have personal global experiences to share will broaden your international understanding. Also, consider programs that take you to off-the-beaten path places and where you’ll have opportunities to study with native students. Multiple international studies options as well as possible internships abroad are other ways to enrich your understanding of other cultures.
It sounds expensive, but it’s not out of reach
Studying abroad is a fantastic experience to have, especially in today's global society. It can be expensive, but don't necessarily assume that money will be a barrier to this once in a lifetime opportunity. Some colleges have special scholarship funds set aside to help support low-income students study abroad and if you do a little research, you can also find private scholarships. Just be sure you understand the costs of a study abroad program up front. Some colleges have arrangements where you pay the same tuition to study abroad as you do on your home campus; others can cost quite a bit more.
Now everyone can afford to go!
Study Abroad options have never been so plentiful, and colleges have worked hard to make the experience as affordable as a semester on campus. Financial aid will almost always cover travel, and experiences can be as short as a few weeks between semesters or a full year. If you are not willing to immerse yourself in another language, be sure to choose a country where English is the home language. While the shorter visits may not earn you credits, there are many options which involve enrolling in a foreign institution. Whatever you choose, adventure awaits, and it’s in your budget!
Plan Thoughtfully to Avoid the Cons
Whether you participate in a study abroad program offered by your university or one affiliated with another university, choose a program that will have you speaking a foreign language. (In other words, avoid solely hanging out with other Americans while abroad.) Before heading out, do two things: confirm that your course credits earned abroad will transfer back to your home institution, and arrange for campus housing for your return. Two advantages of studying abroad in the spring (vs. the fall) are that you will not be returning to your home campus mid-year, and that you may have the summer to travel.
Read the Fine Print:
Check who runs the program you are investigating and how the grades will transfer to your school. Some colleges like Dartmouth College run their own programs with Dartmouth professors and standard Dartmouth level grading – those are the “purest” type of study abroad programs as the grading and level of classes is exactly the same as it would be on campus. Not all schools are this meticulous – if you go an another school’s foreign study program, find out beforehand if the professors are from that college or from a local school and how your grades will transfer. Will the costs be the same? If your goal is to become fluent in a language, be sure to pick a program where you live with a host family, not in a dorm with other English speaking students. In short, there is a huge different in the quality of foreign study programs – research carefully before committing to one.
Research your options before you go.
Studying abroad can truly enhance your undergraduate years and provide you with a once in a lifetime experience. It can expose you to a new culture and language that would not have the same impact if you had remained state side. Students should be aware of the variety of study abroad programs out there. Many students will use a program that is not connected with their home university in order to save money. I advise my students to make sure what credits will and won’t transfer back to their undergraduate institution before signing up for a particular program.
Students need to know who's supervising, who's granting credit, & who's teaching.
Before enrolling in any study abroad program, students need to know if the courses will count toward their degrees at the home college. If the program is run by their college, this ought to be clear. But many study abroad programs are run by colleges other than the ones where students are enrolled. If this is the case, they need to be sure that the credits will transfer. They need to know if the instructors will be bona fide faculty members; where students will be living; who is supervising the accommodations; and whether the coursse will be conducted in English or another language. If possible, get the names of a couple of students from your college who have participated in this program in the recent past, and ask them about their experiences.
Study Abroad Programs – All Over the Map!
Study abroad programs are all over the map in terms of quality, literally and figuratively. Some are “Party Abroad” programs, lots of free time, few academic requirements, etc. while others offer students challenging coursework, internships, home stays and so much more. So, before you even begin to look at programs, think long and hard about what you want to get out of the experience. Broadening an academic passion? Becoming fluent in a language? Acquiring job skills? Next meet with your college’s study abroad office. Ask about transferring credits, extra costs, accommodations, financial aid, etc. Finally, pack light! Bon voyage!
Study abroad requires preplanning and organization, but it’s worth it.
Study abroad is a terrific opportunity to expand one’s horizons and engage in experiential learning. Some students know they want to study abroad before they even start college; others only contemplate the possibility after declaring a major. No matter when you decide you are ready, remember that not all study abroad experiences are created equal. Some colleges and programs require that you know the local language to take part, others do not. Some programs are fine for any major; others may not be suitable for many majors. Start investigating your options early at your school’s office of international programs.
Study abroad—your passport to the world!
Discuss your interest in study abroad with your advisor early on, especially in majors like engineering where course sequences are tightly structured. Ask the financial aid office if your aid can be increased to cover airfare or other additional study abroad expenses. Whether you decide to study abroad for an entire semester or just a few weeks during the summer or winter break, keep a journal or publish a blog to document your adventure. Embrace the differences in culture, food, recreation, weather, and customs; your perspective will be changed forever, and you will return home more resourceful, independent and confident.
Studying abroad can be one of the best highlights of your college experience!
If you ask most college graduates what they enjoyed most in college, I bet many of them would quickly say that it was their study abroad experience. And if you ask most college graduates what they regret not doing in college, it is many times not taking advantage of the study abroad opportunities they had. If your college offers this option, I say GO! It is always one of the best highlights of a college experience and an
amazing adventure that will be hard to duplicate later in life when you won't have a semester or a whole year to do something like this. There
are only "pros" to this sort of experience, no "cons!"
Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, take advantage if you can!
Studying abroad affords students the rare opportunity to live in another country, experience a new culture, and gain independence. If you’re considering studying abroad, look for immersive programs that allow you to further your coursework and explore areas of interest. Many courses integrate offsite, hands-on learning experiences with classroom seminars and lectures, providing a more stimulating learning experience. Studying overseas also presents an opportunity to solidify foreign language skills and put them to practice in daily conversation. Go for a semester or a whole year and try to take the same course load as you would at your college. Studying abroad may not be for you if you: plan to graduate early; are majoring in a subject that has many course requirements; will incur additional expenses beyond your school’s normal tuition, room and board etc.; or have family/other obligations that require you to be at home.
Take advantage of studying abroad.
No matter your major, there are so many benefits to studying abroad. You get to select nearly any location and immerse yourself in that culture for a few weeks, semester, or year. You will grow both academically and personally in ways that you can't do by staying on campus. You will be exposed to new people, new ideas, new ways of living, perhaps a new language, new classes, and a new way of viewing the world. Plus, by going through your university you will receive credit for graduation. Many times the cost is very similar to staying on campus. The only con may be completing the paperwork that is necessary for credit transfer and studying in a different country, but most schools have departments to help you with those details. So, when deciding on a college take a look at their study abroad program to see how you like it. Then you can go learn the world.
The Opportunity to Study Abroad is Indispensable!
Director of Student Services & University Advisor
The opportunity to study abroad is not only desirable; it is indispensable to the properly educated 21st century learner. Few would disagree with the idea that we live in an era of increasing globalization where familiarity with other cultures and languages is a sine qua non to the future success of the educated leader.
The world is rapidly evolving and the era of American ascendency is apparently reaching its limits. In such a world, the value to the individual educated American of an understanding and openness toward other cultures will be inestimable. Every college student should embrace the opportunity to study outside the U.S. in order to broaden their perspective and understanding that other cultures, though inherently different, have values, traditions and assumptions that are equally valid to their own. At the end of the day, the 21st Century student will need to embrace a global perspective and all that implies about understanding, accommodation and empathy for those who are from different cultures. Not to learn this lesson early and well will be a large barrier to future success in almost every area of endeavour.
The Very Best Thing about Going to College
Study abroad is fantastic! But first, you should know three things: 1)it might be more expensive because of airfare and tuition fees and financial aid doesn't always cover everything, so check that out at the beginning; 2)study abroad will definitely put you out of your comfort zone, so you need to be prepared for that; and 3) it will probably change the way you see yourself and others--permanently. Living in a new culture is not easy, but the investment is entirely worth it. I live in Costa Rica and I can tell you that a lot of being away from home is hard, but most of the time my experiences are very rewarding and lots of fun. I think it's the very best thing about going to college, and I write about it a lot on my blog. Go, go, go!
The World is Flat
A travel agency in Harvard Square once posted a sign that said, “Please go away!” That’s the best advice imaginable for students who want to learn about the world around them and their place in it. The Web is named the World Wide Web for good reason and it has, to paraphrase Tom Friedman, rendered the world flat. Today’s students compete in a global marketplace, no matter what field they choose to study and pursue for a career. An undergraduate experience that doesn’t include some time abroad is “old school.” Those who study abroad find their lives changed immeasurably; they’re prepared for the challenges of the modern world.
What Every Student Needs to Know about Studying Abroad
Students who plan to study abroad should familiarize themselves with the cultural practices, religions, and traditions of the country where they will be. They should make every effort to learn the language or at least some common phrases so they can communicate with the new people they meet. They need to be open minded and eager to expand their horizons. They should be willing to eat the food that is popular in their adopted country. Most importantly, they need to remember that they are unofficial ambassadors of their college or university and the United States and behave accordingly.