So you’ve decided you want to study abroad but don’t know where to start? With these tips and advice that I offer in this post, I hope you are less daunted by the process and become more prepared for the incredible experience that lies ahead.
Before You Go
Research, research, research.
I would suggest starting with your university’s study abroad page and looking to see what programs are offered in what countries. You will notice that there are two types of programs: programs and providers. Exchange programs are study abroad programs that allow you to do an exchange with another university abroad thanks to exchange agreements between the two institutions. They usually tend to be more cost effective since tuition tends to be the same as it would be at your home institution/university.
Third party providers (or international education providers) administer their own programs in a number of countries worldwide. They tend to be more expensive, but there are scholarships and financial aid available for students who need it. Examples of third party providers include Semester At Sea and IFSA-Butler to name a few. To learn more about the differences about programs and providers, check out this link. Also, ask your friends who have studied abroad what made them choose their program for ideas. Attend the study abroad fair on campus and watch travel blogs on YouTube of people who have studied abroad with the program you want to go on (if available).
Make a list of the 5-10 programs you like.
This might be hard! Pick up to ten study abroad you like the most and that feel like a good fit after more extensive research. It is always a good thing to be prepared, so have the list with you when you meet the study abroad advisor at your next appointment. Your study abroad advisor will help you narrow the list with you and help you select something that works for you and your course of study.
Put in your application – and get it done early!
Whether you are going through a program or provider, you will need to fill out some sort of application. In many instances, you will need to signatures on forms, recommendations from professors, etc. Get this done as soon as possible and well before the deadline so you are less stressed. Fill out any other things that you need (ie financial aid, scholarships, etc) early as well.
Attend your Pre-Departure Orientation.
The study abroad office at your institution will hold a pre-departure orientation for students studying abroad that is mandatory to attend. There will be information on health and safety abroad as well dealing with cultural adjustments. In some cases, you may have study abroad returnees who will be able to answer your questions and offer you tips and advice. Make sure to connect with them, they are a wonderful resource!!
Read up on your host country and pack, pack, pack.
Make sure to read about cultural norms, learn some basic phrases and generally do as much as research as you can on your host country before you go. Culture shock is unavoidable, but having some knowledge of the country you are going to be in will make you feel more prepared. Not sure what to pack for your study abroad? Check out this link and this link. Don’t forget to reach out to your study abroad adviser and returnees for any questions to may come up.
After You Return
Attend a “unpack your study abroad experience” seminar hosted by the study abroad office.
A lot of institutions/universities will have some sort of presentation to help unpack your study abroad experience after you return. Depending on your school, it might be mandatory to attend.
Join the study abroad returnee student organization on your campus and/or work for your study abroad office.
If you absolutely loved studying abroad and want to give back, join a student organization related to study abroad or become a student worker at your university’s study abroad/international office to meet like-minded individuals and encourage others to study abroad.
Stay connected with your alumni network.
A lot of providers will have alumni networks that can be utilized once you complete your program. Universities may also have something of this nature as well. Use them!
You will experience reverse culture shock.
Reverse culture shock is defined as feeling culture shock while back at home. Things that may seem total normal to you before you left now seem strange. This a totally normal phenomenon. The State Department does an excellent job of going into detail about what reverse culture shock is in this link.
I hope these tips have helped! Share your thoughts in the comments below.