Studying abroad. Learning a brand new skill, meeting new people, experiencing a new culture, exploring a foreign city. It’ll be one of the most unforgettable times of your life. But how do you even go about starting to plan for it? There are so many options that deciding on a country or course can quickly become overwhelming, if not impossible.
Lisbon rooftops: iXperience 2018
The most important thing to do is to choose the right study abroad program for you. This will shape your entire time abroad, from your educational and personal experience, impact on your finances, and your quality of life in a different country.
So what makes a study abroad program a perfect fit for you?
Let’s start with the top three factors you need to consider. Use these points to narrow down your options, and take it from there.
1. Academics and Education
iXperience students at the Cape Town campus at the V&A Waterfront
While a big focus of studying abroad is definitely on the cool new experience of being in an alluring, exotic city, don’t forget that it’s still study abroad.
Firstly, think about the kind of skills you'd like to supplement your degree with. Do some research into industries that interest you, and find out what kind skills you'll require to enter them (if you haven't already done so). That should help you choose a course, or narrow down your options.
Secondly, make sure you're in good academic standing ,and aren't sabotaging your graduation plans before deciding on a course. Check beforehand that, if you need it, you’ll be getting the right amount of credits or core classes transferred from abroad to your home university. Talk to your school and get everything confirmed before you go.
If you're still struggling to decide after that, know that you're not alone! Most summer abroad programs have admissions officers on hand that will help you make an informed decision. Just remember to plan early so you don't miss out on deadlines and potentially risk not getting a spot in your program of choice.
Yes, it might suck, but considering your finances will help determine which program is for you.
Decide what your budget is, find funding opportunities, and search for programs that fit this range. Look at scholarships and talk to your university about resources, but consider the fact that you'll need to cover a host of costs that might include food, extracurricular spending, and transport.
Cities can also differ vastly when it comes to cost of living. Some European countries, like Portugal, are very affordable when compared to places like London. Heading to an African country, like South Africa, will also mean that you'll get more bang for your buck, with an exchange rate that favours US and UK visitors.
When budgeting, consider an all-inclusive summer abroad program. These kind of package deals are often cheaper (and much more logistically simpler) than having to find and fund housing, transport, and excursions on your own. The shared living environment also means that you'll make friends faster, bonus!
3. Extracurricular Experiences
iXperience students at Pena Palace
Study abroad programs come in all shapes and sizes. Academics, community service, research, or interning…the list goes on!
Some are very career-focused and intensive. Others are very open ended, with few classes, and focus on giving students opportunities to conduct independent travel and exploration.
A few are culturally immersive and may even have you promise to speak only the language of the country for the duration of your stay.
If you have a niche interest, definitely make sure to explore that. However, if you're not sure, think about a program that involves multiple aspects, so you get a good, well-rounded experience that will help you to grow personally and professionally, while enabling you to enjoy and soak in the sights and wonders of a new city.
In conclusion, make sure to stay organized and focused in your hunt for the perfect study abroad program for you! Search through the study abroad program websites, talk to your university, get connected with alumni, and look at past student experiences of the program.
Finally, try to envision yourself happily living in your chosen location. Consider ease of transport, the type of food you enjoy, potential language barriers, and the general city infrastructure you thrive best in. After all, it’s a once (maybe more if you're very lucky) in a lifetime experience, and you’ll want to make the most of it.