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How to Choose Where You Should Study Abroad

How to Choose Where You Should Study Abroad

Choosing where you should study abroad is a HUGE decision. I decided to study abroad in El Salvador and, not only did I end up working in El Salvador for a year after I graduated, it impacted my eventual career path.

Now, there’s no need to stress that your study abroad program is going to change the course of your life. But, it very well could if you choose wisely.

We’re going to dive into the key factors you need to consider when you choose where you should study abroad. We’ll be talking about everything from volunteering to internships and glamorous to roughing it. So, let’s get started!

When Should I Study Abroad?

The timing of your study abroad program needs to fall in line with your overall academic plan. If you’re hoping to graduate by a certain time, you need to be sure that your study abroad program offers the classes you need in order to stay on track towards graduation.

Before falling in love with a study abroad program, go talk with your academic advisor. Get a firm understanding of what classes you need to take before you graduate and know how you plan to complete them.

This is also a great time to figure out if you have any wiggle room in your schedule. Can you take extra classes next year so that you can live your dream of spending a semester in Paris? The more you understand the full scope of your academic journey, the more control you will have to shape it to accommodate your study abroad program.

If you’re really struggling to find a way to fit a study abroad program into your academic year, consider studying abroad over the summer! Not only will the stress of fulfilling classes be lessened, you’ll actually get a few extra classes under your belt. And, you’ll be free to take classes you enjoy, as opposed to ones that suit your degree. Fancy taking a cooking class in Italy?

Why Should I Study Abroad?

Well, Michelle can say it better than I can so…

The question of why you should study abroad isn’t as obvious as it seems. No two people have ever had the same reasons for studying abroad and no two people ever will. Let’s just run through a few of the options:

  • Explore a new country
  • Meet new people
  • Take cultural classes
  • Specialize in a certain topic
  • Volunteer
  • Complete an internship
  • Connect with locals by living in a homestay
  • Connect with other students from your own institution
  • Connect with students from the country’s institution
  • Deeply understand the city in which you’re living
  • Travel widely to neighboring countries

Not to say that you can’t hope for any or all of those options, but it’s a good idea to know your primary motivation for studying abroad. Once you know WHY you want to study abroad, you’ll more easily find the WHAT of the program that’s right for you.

Where Should I Study Abroad?

As we’ll chat about in the next section, where you choose to study abroad may depend on where you can afford to go. Some countries are cheaper to travel to, while others have a lower cost of living once you get there.

Finances aside, there are many factors you need to consider.

  • Can you speak the language? If not, is it a language you want to learn?
  • What’s the culture like? How about the politics and social perspectives?
  • Are there any fun weekend trips you can take from the country you’re considering?
  • How’s the weather at the time you’re going?
  • Do you like the food?
  • Do you want a country that’s completely different than what you’re used to, or something similar to home?

Do some research on the countries you’re interested in and make sure that they offer what you’re looking for. While study abroad programs in Rome may seem romantic, if you don’t care to learn Italian and don’t like big cities, it may not be a great choice for you.

Be sure that whichever country you choose matches with the why you decided upon above. If you want to live with locals, be sure to pick a program that offers home stays. If you want to take cultural classes, be sure you like the culture you’ll be studying.

These points may seem obvious, but it is so easy to get swept up in a dream without considering them.

How Can I Afford to Study Abroad?

It’s no secret that studying abroad is expensive. Think about regular tuition + program fees + travel fees + your adventure costs. It can add up really quickly.

If you’re worried about finances and still want to study abroad, there’re a number of questions that can be helpful to answer:

  • Are there any scholarships I can apply for?
  • Will my financial aid cover any of this?
  • Can I take on a part-time job or start a side hustle to help me save money?
  • When are the best airline deals to the country I want to travel to?
  • Are there countries I want to travel to that have lower costs of living?
  • How much will all of this cost, anyway?

This last question is actually the most important. Most of us get so excited about an international adventure that we forget to map out every dollar and penny. While budgeting seems to take the dream-like quality out of studying abroad, this meticulous financial planning is the only way you’ll ever get to study abroad in the first place.

If you have a study abroad program in mind, figure out exactly how much it will cost and then hustle to get there. Having a firm financial goal will help you stay motivated to save, earn, and budget.

What Type of Study Abroad Program Do I Want?

As study abroad programs have grown in popularity, so too have the number of options available. No longer do you have to simply pick a program where you take typical university classes with other American students. While those programs are still the most popular, there are a lot of options for those who want to step outside of the box.

Classic Exchange Programs

These programs are largely based on having a typical student experience in the country of your choice. You’ll likely be going to class 4-5 times per week, have regularly scheduled vacations like Spring Break, and live with other students in your program.

A classic exchange program is ideal for anyone who really wants to explore a new country but doesn’t need the other bells and whistles. It’s also great for someone who wants freedom to make their own travel plans and explore on a whim. Although many programs offer cultural trips, in a study abroad program like this, you’re essentially only expected to attend class. Whatever you decide to do with your time outside of class is up to you.

While this freedom can be a benefit, it can also make it harder to build friendships and community. If you want a program that really fosters community building, I’d consider the volunteer program below.

Volunteer Programs

I studied abroad twice in my colleges days and both were volunteer based programs. Not only did I feel like this type of program immersed me more in the culture and the people, it also gave me great insight into my passions and future career path.

volunteer programs study abroad

Volunteer programs are great if you want a lot of your time planned and structured while you’re abroad. When I was in El Salvador and the Philippines for example, our schedules were filled with classes 3 times a week, full day volunteer work two times a week, community events on the weekends, longer cultural immersion trips, and regular evening gatherings.

While this isn’t true everywhere, when you choose a volunteer program, you’re often choosing a very community-based experience. This was great for a person like me who wanted to leave the planning up to the program, but not ideal for someone who hopes to do a lot of independent traveling.

Internship Programs

If you’re looking to expand your skills and gain work experience while also getting a new cultural experience, an internship program can be a great choice. Depending on the country and program you pick, you could find yourself in an internship about marketing, fashion, business, and more.

The great thing about internships within study abroad programs is that they often find the internships for you. No need to stress out about trying to find the perfect placement across the pond—your program will help you find a great fit!

Summer Intensives

Summer programs tend to be more specialized. Over a 4 week, 6 week, or 8 week period, your program will immerse you in the topic of your choice. There are programs that specialize in the language and culture of the country, fashion, business, design, multi-country travel, and so much more. Choosing a summer program is great for those who can’t fit a study abroad into their academic schedule. It is also great for those who want a whirlwind experience and be fully immersed in the community and topic of their program.

Ready to Jump in?

Here are some of my best study abroad recaps:

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