From Kenya to Kyrgystan, the options for study abroad programs abound. You can live in a college dorm in London, or with a host family in rural Nepal. You can volunteer with a women’s shelter in Thailand, or integrate yourself into university life in Dublin. In short, your semester overseas can be as foreign—or as familiar—as you want it to be, depending on where you choose to study.
Your study abroad office and your major department will outline a lot of the logistical information you’ll need to inform your choice. You’ll have to consider your graduation requirements and calculate whether or not you need to fulfill some of these requirements while abroad (like that poetry class you’ve been putting off for the past two years). The best thing to do is to consult with a study abroad or academic advisor at your school and discuss your options.
Apart from Gen-Ed requirements, you should also take into account your own academic goals. Studying abroad affords you the opportunity to supplement your college experience with coursework, field work and cross-cultural interaction that you may not be able to find on your own campus. Consider this while you shop around for the perfect locale: what are you hoping to get out of this experience? Are you looking to perfect your Spanish? Take a few classes for your major at a university that specializes in the field? Or maybe you’d like to get some hands-on work experience under your belt in a foreign internship? All of these “valuable experiences” will look nice on your resume and help Mom and Dad feel more at ease about forking over the dough to send you to the exotic land of your choosing.
You’ve met with your advisor and know what graduation requirements you’ve got to take into account. Now, the first thing to do is to see if your school hosts a study abroad program or has a list of affiliated schools in foreign countries. Going through a school-sponsored program ensures that transferring credits and even financial aid won’t be such a pain later on. It also means that there are probably students at your school who have already been on this program and can tell you what the experience was like, which is a great resource when you’re torn between several options.
Max Helzberg (Oberlin ’08) found that Oberlin had a wealth of study abroad options through its affiliated schools list but needed to find a program that would offer classes in both his Economics and Eastern Studies majors, as well a spring semester session, since football kept him busy during the fall. After consulting with an advisor and some students, Helzberg settled on Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. “It definitely changed my life,” says Helzberg. “I then did a summer internship in Japan about a year later and I’m now going to be doing a two-year post-grad internship there. No matter what, I’m looking for a job that’s going to be using my Japanese language skills.”
If your school’s study abroad programs don’t have what you’re looking for, the internet is sure to provide you with boundless options. Looking for something a little unconventional in her study abroad experience, Irene Mathieu (William & Mary ’09) found her school’s offerings to be somewhat limited. Mathieu decided to search on other schools’ study abroad sites and found her program, ProWorld Service Corps [www.myproworld.org], through Princeton University’s website. “I chose that program because it offered a combination of classes and volunteer experiences that were relevant to my interest in sustainable development,” explains Mathieu.
Through ProWorld, Mathieu was able to spend a semester in Peru, taking classes in Spanish, Sustainable Development and Political History of Latin America, as well as working on ProWorld’s volunteer projects. “I have certainly learned a lot about myself from the experience,” says Mathieu. “It’s been a very elucidating journey to be away from campus for a while, and it has helped me gain personal perspective. I have also learned about NGO functioning and what works and what doesn't in sustainable development projects.”
If you’re hoping to do an internship during your time overseas but snoozed through your foreign language seminar, consider going to an English-speaking country like Ireland, Scotland or Australia. Sarah Puleo (Temple ’08) ventured abroad to London for the spring semester of her junior year. With the help of her study abroad program FIE, she was able to land an internship at a music placement agency where she had the opportunity to coordinate music for some of the biggest ad campaigns in England. A communications major, Sarah knew that London was the only choice for her because “it’s a media epicenter. It’s like the New York City of Europe.” Getting work experience in that kind of globally-relevant environment helped her shine when applying for jobs. “Whenever I tell prospective employers that I interned in London, they’re very impressed,” says Puleo. “It definitely gives you a little bit of flair.”
But just because you’re an English major doesn’t mean you have to go to England! Many American universities run or sponsor programs in various countries that might not otherwise offer transferable classes. You don’t have to speak Czech to take a poetry class in Prague through NYU, and if you go with SIT, you don’t have to enroll in Tribhuvan University to learn about culture and development in Nepal. In other words, keep your major and its requirements in mind—but don’t let it limit your imagination!
And if you really can’t make up your mind, you can even opt to visit them all! The Scholar Ship program offers an intercultural academic program aboard a cruise liner and takes you everywhere from Hong Kong to South Africa to Amsterdam.