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7 Things I Wish I Had Known About Study Abroad as an Undergrad

I have officially worked in the profession/business of study abroad for two months now. And in this short time period I have learned so much! But mostly, I have realized that I did study abroad all wrong as an undergrad! Almost daily, I find myself proclaiming to students that “if I had known then what I know now, I would have done study abroad completely different.”

I really wish there was more education about studying abroad in high school. Too often I meet with students who are already juniors and seniors in college, and they have missed out on so many opportunities simply becuase they didn’t know anything about studying abroad. There are also a lot of myths surrounding studying abroad — it’s too expensive, I can’t get the credits/courses I need, it will set me back with my major, etc.

Today I want to share what I have learned to hopefully combat the ignorance about and the myths surrounding studying abroad. Personally, I think every American student should study abroad (you can read why here), and the good news is as the industry grows, opportunities abound!

#1 There are lot’s of different ways to study abroad
Typically students are only familiar with one form of study abroad, usually whatever is more popular at their university or what their friends/family have done. I did a faculty-led summer program as an undergraduate because that was all I knew about. But, there are lots of different types of programs when it comes to study abroad:

  • Faculty-Led: As the name indicates these are led by a faculty member and connected to a specific course or courses depending on the program length. These are typically very group oriented and short term.
  • Exchange Program: These are typically semester long programs with an university abroad that your university has an exchange agreement with. The universities are literally exchanging students for a semester or year. These are typically the most cost effective option (which I will explain why below).
  • Direct Enroll: Guess what? Many universities abroad are substantially cheaper than in the US. You might be surprised just how inexpensive directly enrolling yourself in a foreign university can be. This method, however, is for highly independent students.
  • Affiliate Programs: There are lots companies who facilitate semesters, internships, and service learning abroad. My office has vetted several (ISA, CIS Abroad, AIFS, and Spanish Studies Abroad), which we recommend to students when one of our programs doesn’t meet their needs. Affiliate companies offer tons of courses in lots of unique locations. These have the most flexibility in terms of time as well since most offer summer, fall, spring, May-mester, and J-term programing. This option is also less independent than direct enrolling, since you have a company organizing everything and guiding you through the process.
  • Service Learning: Many universities and affiliates also offer service learning programs. These programs allow you to apply your education/skills to serve the need of a community or group abroad. For example we have students who study biomedical engineering and then travel to Vietnam to fit amputees with prosthetics.

#2 You don’t have to go your junior year
I am not sure why people think your junior year is the best time to go abroad. By their junior year, most students need very specific and major-related coursework, which can be harder to find abroad (harder, but not impossible). You can study abroad at any time. And honestly, if I had studied abroad my freshman or sophomore year, I would have planned my undergraduate coursework very differently! Why wait until the end of your college career to have an experience that will mature you and change the perception of yourself and the world around you?

#3 You can study abroad more than once
When I say I would have done study abroad differently as an undergrad, I mean I would have gone more than once. I probably would have gone each year and done a variety of program types (some faculty-led, a semester exchange, and a service learning program). Unless your university has a rule, there is no restriction on how many times you can study abroad. Ideally, I suggest to students participating in a short-term faculty-led program the spring or summer of their freshman year, a semester exchange their sophomore year (and junior year if they like), and a service learning program or internship their junior or senior year.

#4 There are tons of inexpensive options
The biggest myth about studying abroad is that it is too expensive. And yes, many programs are super pricey. But, more and more universities are coming up with creative programing to ensure that study abroad is attainable for all students. Take exchange programs for example. At most schools an exchange program will cost the same as a regular semester at your university. With exchange programs you actually register for your courses through your university and pay your regular tuition. That means that if you receive scholarships/aid from your university you can apply these, along with any federal and state aid you receive, to your semester abroad. If you don’t receive a lot of university aid, you can use your state/federal aid, plus what you normally pay out of pocket, for a direct enroll or an affiliate program. Many of these will cost you between 8,000 and 15,000 for everything (tuition, room, board, etc)  for an entire semester, which is likely the same, or less if you got to a private school, than what you would normally pay. Finally, don’t shy away from federal loan money for a study abroad experience. While I don’t recommend going crazy, an extra 5,000 invested in your personal and professional growth will go a long way and not make or break you when you begin paying back your loans.

#5 You can get all of the classes you need
With so many program options and exchange programs, finding the courses you need is not as challenging as you might think. Of course, going abroad earlier and taking courses to meet your gen. ed. requirements will always be the easiest and most flexible option.

#6 You don’t have to go it alone
You will not be alone or lonely in a foreign country if you study abroad. Not only will you have some one like me from your university helping you arrange everything, universities and affiliate programs have in country staff dedicated to helping international students. On top of that, you will meet so many amazing like-minded people while abroad. And even if worst-case you don’t click with anyone, remember there is a big difference between being alone and lonely.

#7 You don’t need a foreign language
Finally, almost all international programs teach in English. English is the lingua franca of international education. While I always recommend taking language courses while abroad, all of your other classes will be taught in English.

For more study abroad tips and advice, I have added a study abroad section to the blog! You can find it under the travel drop down tab in the main menu. And please let me know if you have any questions about studying abroad below.