The world is waiting: get out there!
In order to make the whole experience-of-a-life-time-study-abroad-trip happen, you're going to need to get your advisors on board. Your academic advisors, in addition to your campus study abroad advisor, will serve as great resources for selecting programs, ensuring you won't delay your graduation, transferring credits, and seeking general logistical and practical advice. Begin the planning stages of your great adventure early to ensure you have the best and most academically beneficial experience!
The cost of your study abroad experience will inevitably depend on many different factors - for example, some destinations cost less to travel to (think: Mexico versus South Africa), some countries' currencies are more favorable to exchange to (think: China's yuan versus England's pound), and some programs will be cheaper than others. Even though studying abroad may end up being an expensive investment, it is not impossible to finance, especially if you make a proper budget or fundraise! Is the cost still upsetting? Check out our scholarship database for a small preview of all of the available financial aid out there to help you Go! Overseas! (Here are some tips for getting you the big bucks too!)
Many argue that the most enduring lessons of their study abroad experiences actually happened outside of the classroom rather than in it - and while that's great, you still have a responsibility to attend classes and finish any homework or exams. Don't let studying abroad crash your GPA; it is likely any desirable skills you picked up during your time abroad will be offset by your clear disregard to your actual studies while there, particularly if someone to look at your transcript and see it was also a semester of low attendance and poor grades. Maintain a healthy academic approach!
There are a LOT of different places where you can study abroad - even if your university only offers programs in a few destinations, it is possible to find an independent program that will take you just about anywhere. Don't settle for France if you've always dreamed of going to Ghana! This is YOUR study abroad experience - make it count!
Take some weekends to explore the neighboring cities.
Although going abroad fundamentally denotes change and a new lifestyle, it shouldn't have to compromise your health. It's important to stay physically healthy while you are studying abroad (besides, a thicker waistline isn't the most ideal souvenir)! Stay active - run around the city or town and see the streets that are often overlooked by visitors. Join a nearby gym (which may give you more opportunity for interactions with locals) or an after school sports team. Climb mountains. Go swimming. Do it all!
Inevitably, you're going to end up spending a lot of time in the airport. We recommend booking flights via Student Universe, as the site specializes in providing affordable flight options for students. Another fun website to check for flights is Sky Scanner, which you can use to search for flights "everywhere." If you're hoping to do some traveling during your study abroad experience, we recommend trying out a budget airline flight - it's usually cheaper and it's better for the environment! #Awesome!
Have you already finished high school or college, but you're not sure what's the next step to take?
Don't figure out your life by sitting around your hometown bumming with old friends. Get out! Take a gap year, explore this big beautiful world, and you'll be surprised to find what makes you feel alive and gives you more direction. Avoid falling into the idea that taking a year off during or between education years is a waste of time.
One of the best methods for acquiring a new language or getting a clearer picture of how ordinary life is lived in your study abroad destination is to participate in a homestay. Being welcomed into a family and cultivating tight-knit relationships will undoubtedly provide the most valuable experiences while you are studying abroad. If a long term homestay sounds too intimidating, try selecting a program with a few different short term ones. Be sure to remain a respectful and gracious resident, or check out our etiquette for living with a homestay family tips for more info!
Smart kids ask questions: don't forget!
Don't try to get out of them; embrace and enjoy all of the awkward get-to-know-you games . If anything, they usually provide a couple of giggles, and besides, you never know what you'll find out you have in common with your new classmates! In any case, everyone will have at least one similar interest: the desire to travel and experience something completely different.
Join internationally minded groups
Put your global knowledge, overseas experience, and intercultural skills to use! Many of the most successful social, ecological, peace, and political movements have begun on college campuses. Once you've returned from overseas, you should continue to build on your study abroad experience! Join internationally-minded student groups on campus, get involved with the nearby international community, research local opportunities for engaging with local immigrants, intern with foreign companies, volunteer with organizations that emphasize global citizenship, connect with prospective study abroad students, join (or start!) a language club, write for Go Overseas, or study abroad again! Connect your overseas experiences with your life back home.
Give that camera of yours a workout, and be sure to document your experience through words, either by physically journaling or keeping up with a blog. Your stories from abroad should be written while fresh and while the true details are available. Documenting your experience will help you expand upon your ideas and reflect more deeply upon the lessons you have learned. Beside your photos and journal entries, be sure to buy small souvenirs that will remind you of your adventures overseas in the years to come. These small tokens will be sweet reminders of happy days later in life (and often help to boost the local economy!).
The most efficient way of learning a new language is to reside in a country or city where it is widely spoken. However, it won't just happen overnight! You must be pro-active and seek out opportunities to practice the local language whenever possible. In this way, you really will never get a "break" from the language, and in most cases, you will have to become comfortable with using it in your every day life. If you are living in a country whose language is different than English, take advantage of the opportunity to acquire new language skills.
Enjoy the chaos of learning about a new place.
Be flexible - it is likely that your experience overseas will leave you abandoned at a train station or waiting helplessly at a bus station at least once or twice. Learn to go with the flow, and find ways to make the most out of potentially challenging or upsetting situations. While life abroad can be frustrating at times, we always (always always) implore you to expect the unexpected. After all, sometimes the unanticipated plan is more rewarding than the original!
New friends! New experiences! New new new!
Moving abroad is a workout for your senses - just about everything will be brand new and interesting (even the imperfections!). After a while though, the giddy, shiny stuff may wear off and what you're left with may be culture shock. Things can start to get a little messy at this point - you may find things you don't like about your new home, or you may feel a combination of homesick, rattled, frustrated, depressed, and confused. Don't fret though! There are lots of ways to help conquer culture shock, even the reverse culture shock you may experience after you return home.
Keep in contact with your parents and friends via Skype so that they know you're still alive. Seriously! On the flipside, beyond the occasional phone call home, we recommend you step away from the computer (yes, you read correctly!). Try to discipline yourself to use your computer sparingly while you are studying abroad - after all, it's hard to immerse yourself in a culture from inside your room in front of the glowing screen. Add some authenticity to those Facebook updates!
Two suitcases will fill up faster than you'd imagine, but packing does not have to be something worth stressing out about. It is important to remember to pack the essentials, and if you have a little extra room, stuff it with a few of these handy study-abroad items. Give yourself plenty of time to pack and as the old travel adage goes, take only half of what you think you need. It may seem crazy now, but you'll thank yourself later!
Soak up the culture first-hand.
Explore your program options and be picky! There are a lot of great programs out there, so don't settle on the first one that you come across. Check Go Overseas' study abroad reviews database to gauge the quality of the program you are interested in participating in via other students' honest testimonies. When selecting a program, you should take both the location and the program type into consideration, and find a program that best fits your needs and goals. Do you want to improve your Spanish? Up your "guanxi" in China? Keep looking until you a find a program that meets your goals, but remember that no matter if you are interested in environmental work, health care, or teaching, you have to keep the organization and people that you will be working with in mind.
Your future career options will improve as an individual who has an extended international experience under your belt. As a return study abroader, you will find that you have an edge over many other applicants for some of the same positions. As the business world is rapidly integrating worldwide, employers are interested in hiring individuals who have proved their ability to function independently overseas or have skills to work alongside people from other cultures. You will reap the benefits of a study abroad experience even after you graduate college, as study abroad returnees are generally afforded better academic and professional opportunities.
Safety and laws
One aspect of preparation many study abroaders tend to overlook is understanding the legal system in your host country. Get informed about the laws in your host country, and do not make the mistake of assuming you are exempt from punishment for illegal acts. Furthermore, always be alert and aware in order to lessen your chances of becoming a victim of petty crimes. Stick to big groups and always let someone know where you're headed if you're going at it alone!
Tourists (and how to not act like one!)
Everyone has a desire to 'become' a local when traveling in a foreign country; we strive to learn their language, navigate their streets without a map, and find a little local restaurant not listed in the travel guidebooks that we can claim we discovered. Familiarizing yourself with your host country's culture, making friends with locals, and being discreet (i.e. not walking around with a camera around your neck) will all help you look less like a tourist. Avoid attracting excessive attention to yourself or being disrespectful; use this unique opportunity to teach others positive things about the American culture. Instead of identifying yourself as an intruder, participate in and learn about the local scene.
Don't forget about the 'study' part in 'study abroad.'
Urban vs Rural environments
You not only have options regarding which country you want to study abroad in, but you also have your pick in regards to what part of the country you would like to study abroad in. You will quickly realize the obvious differences between the lifestyles and people of rural areas versus urban places. The pace of life varies within countries, resulting in very different local customs within the already unique underlying national culture. Maintaining a comfortable living environment has an important effect not only on what you learn, but how you learn, so it is wise to choose a study abroad destination based on the living situation that sounds the most ideal to you.
Visas and passports
In order to travel abroad, you will need to apply for and purchase a valid US passport. Once you have received your passport, you will then need to apply for a student visa that is issued from your intended country of study. Most student visas will require applicants to have recent medical check ups and up-to-date immunizations - so be sure to pay the doc a visit! The ease of obtaining these important documents differs from country to country, so it is advised that you apply early!
One of the best parts of a study abroad experience is the ample opportunity to not only travel around your host country, but to also explore its neighbors! Weekend getaways and short jaunts elsewhere will really help you see first hand that from culture to culture, from place to place, sometimes the most fascinating thing is the similarities between people, not the differences. Some study abroad in Europe returnees had the chance to visit a double-digit number of countries before the end of their semester (wow!). Traveling to foreign places, making mistakes while traveling, and interacting with people from many different walks of life will help you learn more about yourself and challenge you to be a more open-minded and compassionate individual.
Stay on top of political events.
X for which candidate?
Stay politically active while you are abroad! Whether this implies registering for and submitting your vote via an absentee ballot, reading the local newspaper headlines, or staying informed about international current events, it is important that you use this unique opportunity to (respectfully) share with others your opinions on the matters affecting the world today. Avoid "trash talking" American politics and instead speak critically and thoughtfully about hot topics in the news, challenging the (unfortunately) ever-present stereotype that Americans "just don't know anything." Listen and digest your international classmates' opinions, and when you return from abroad, further reflect on your own stances. The changes may surprise you.
Your youth - take advantage of it!
It may be hard to see this now, but a study abroad program really is the best opportunity to live and travel abroad for an extended period of time without a long-term obligation. Most people who wait to travel pretty much never do, whereas there are plenty of people who waited until after their travels to find a steady job or attend grad school (of those who actually follow through). Study abroad and travel while you're young - once you become a working professional, opportunities to take four months off to experience another country are few and far between. Besides - you deserve to have a good time and see what's out there! Don't end up with regrets; just do it!
Zealous sports games!
Are you excited for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London? What about the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil or the Cricket World Cup Down Under? Nations really come alive when they are rooting on their favorite sports teams or watching their favorite games - embrace the energy of the sports match and see how the people come together as a real community. Don't wait four years for the next international sporting event - check out all of your options and plan accordingly!
Photos courtesy of Rowena of the Rants, MC Quinn, scui3asteveo, Anosmia, M Reza Faisal, Dainis Matisons, and Maged Helal.