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How to Get Language Credits for an Alternative Spring Break

Students abroad

Ah, college spring break. A time for spray tans, neon-colored tank tops, and drinks with names like "the Mind Eraser." A time when young men's and women's fancies turn to thoughts of sunburn.

But what if you want something more out of those sacred two weeks in spring? What if you could still have a once-in-a-lifetime trip to someplace memorable while improving your language skills, and getting college credit for your trouble?

You will still return better at the language than you ever thought you could be.

That's right, Go Overseas'er! You want your cake, and you want language credit for it, too!

You're a person who knows that they want, and we're going to help you get it. This is how to get language credit on your 2015 spring break.

1. Find a Program In Your Language of Choice

The very first (and potentially obvious) step is to select a study abroad program centered around the language of your choice. Now, I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that you shouldn’t go to China to study German, or that Mozambique is a bad place for Spanish, but well, you get the idea. Narrow your search to the relevant regions, then programs.

Either way, your first stop should be at your university’s study abroad office. They are your centralized, one-stop-shop for mountains upon mountains of study abroad programs, information, and applications.

When it comes to selecting a spring study abroad program, you will have two main options:

Programs Through Your University

These programs involve the least legwork on your part. Literally operated and offered by the university you already attend (how convenient!) these spring break language programs don’t require you to arrange your own housing, and are guaranteed to give college credit that's approved by your university.

Programs Through a Third-Party Provider or Another University

These programs, offered by third party companies and other, American universities, offer greater levels of customization. You can choose a language program in just about whatever city, country, or region you want, with just about any kind of living arrangement you can imagine (and afford).

The price of this awesome customization, however, if the extra work you have to do to make sure you get college credit. We’ll walk you through this extra work, though.

Try not to let the shiny choices dazzle you. We recommend choosing a program that has a good university partnership. If you have a choice between two Chinese programs in Beijing, and only one offers university instruction (instead of, say, private tutoring), pick that one. It will be easier to convince your home school to give you language credit if a real, Googleable foreign university was doing the teaching.

Why Choose a Non-University Program?

While studying a language abroad through your own university is super easy, you don’t get a lot of choices. You’re stuck with whatever foreign universities your school has partnerships with. Wanted to study Spanish, but not in Madrid? Tough luck. Want to study Japanese but would rather not do a homestay? Take a hike.

With a third-party company, you get options out the wazoo, and you can fine-tune your experience to what you want it to be this spring break. Those two weeks are precious -- make the most out of them!

2. Find an Equivalent Course in Your Course Catalog

Students on a college campus

This is most relevant for students who choose to study abroad with a third party provider or another university.

See, your university wants to make sure you’re learning something, and learning it up to the standard they have established. In the course catalog, each course not only has a crazy alphanumeric designation like “HM2201,” but an actual written description of the objectives and goals of the course, sometimes including a suggested curriculum.

In order to receive the credits for that course, you must satisfy the goals and objectives of the course on your alternative spring break.

At your home university, you would do this by going to the course two to four times and week and taking regular exams. Studying abroad this spring break, you’ll have to prove to your university that you satisfied these objectives and the course was of equal quality as what your university would have offered.

We’ll talk about how to prove it later, but the goal of this step is to make sure your program's objectives match the objectives of a course offered by a university.

3. Talk To Your Advisors

You should've been assigned an advisor your freshman year -- yeah, remember that person? If the language you are seeking to study abroad is your major, minor, or a general requirement, then your major advisor is the person you want.

If you are looking to study a language that is not your major, the person you want is your study abroad advisor. Whichever one is appropriate, schedule a meeting with your advisor.

Your advisor will also tell you what forms you need to formally petition for credit.

This person’s job is quite literally to advise you on how to study abroad -- why in the world would you not use that resource? Sit down with him or her, and discuss your plans.

They will probably mention a few points: but most importantly, how to officially get permission to study your language for credit. This approval is important! It's essentially a binding contract between you and the university that says: yes, when you get back, there will be sweet, juicy credit waiting for you.

They will be invaluable in this service later on.

4. Get the Right Forms

Your advisor will also tell you what forms you need to formally petition for credit (forms, formally -- a little administrative humor.) If you're doing a language program through your university, this part will be easier. If you're going through a third party provider, then these forms are crucial.

You will likely need:
  • An application to the study abroad program
  • Possibly a language proficiency test
  • A request for credit equivalency -- which is the binding contract we mentioned earlier.

The first form -- the program application -- will be available either through your study abroad department or from the professor leading the trip. Because you are studying a language for credit, the difficulty of the study abroad curriculum is expected to slot in nicely somewhere in the course catalog. Just as French 201 might come after French 101 but before French 210, so might this study abroad build upon the lessons of previous courses.

This means that in order to make sure the content of the study is appropriate for you, you may have to take a proficiency test. Your advisor or the professor will provide you how and where to take this test.

That immersion, and all its yummy benefits on your language skills, may help you test up and/or out of your next language requirement.

The request for credit equivalency will also be simple if you are studying with your university. The university is already familiar with the curriculum of the study abroad, how the lessons are administered, and of what difficulty the courses are. In turn, they know how many language credits to award you for your trouble. Your advisor will tell you how many credits to request, and at which level, for your study abroad.

Both of these forms will need to be completed and returned before you leave, and one you have approval on both, you’ll be ready to go!

"BUT JASON, What If My Request Gets Denied?"

Boy, you just can’t catch a break, can you, reader?

Well, this is where your study abroad advisor is going to help a lot, but a few extra tips for you:

Petition for an independent credit

Finding the best hummus joint in all of Jordan won’t get you Arabic credit, but writing an oral history of the tales told by all the elders who frequent it, with a cultural analysis thereof, just might get you an independent studies credit. See where I’m going?

Document everything and petition again when you return

Students on a campus in Scotland

As Denzel Washington tells Ethan Hawke in Traning Day (literally the greatest crooked cop movie ever made), "It's not what you know; it's what you can prove." The same goes for getting language credit.

If your host university is hesitant to give you credit for your work, providing proof of the work (and of its credentials) can make the difference in convincing them.

Sure, you told your school that your intended program includes three hours of classroom learning per day . But what textbooks are used? What are the teaching credentials of the instructors who will be teaching you?

“Oh, yes, we’ve heard of that textbook; we actually use the same one. Oh, wow, your instructors have excellent credentials; they should come teach here.”

This is how you convince your home university of the legitimacy of your studies.

Also, the above-mentioned supplementation is important, but only if you document it. If you are planning on receiving supplementary tutoring after class from a friend, offer a strict log of each day’s lessons, times, and subjects. If you plan to collaborate with a local scholar on the research paper you write, include a letter or recommendation from that mentor.

This full fleshing out of your whole academic experience can be the difference to getting language credit on spring break.

What If I Don’t Get Credit?

That immersion, and all its yummy benefits on your language skills, may help you test up and/or out of your next language requirement, meaning that, while you didn’t technically get credit, it got you credit. Whether you get actual course credits or not, nothing about the benefits of the immersion you experience will be taken away.

You will still return better at the language than you ever thought you could be. You will still find yourself reading, writing, speaking, and thinking the language faster and more confidently than you could ever do without studying abroad. You will still feel like an absolute boss.

That’s big, folks. So please, go study overseas anyway.

Start looking for language schools abroad -- it IS step one, right?

Photo Credits: Sarah Perlmutter, Clara Mattheessen, and Martha Landry.

Jason Rodgers

Jason is a hockey player from Virginia, and his passport is a quilt of stamps and visas. He studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris, worked in International Ed in China, celebrated Thanksgiving in Amsterdam and cheered July 4th in Brazil. Jason can recite Sartre in 3 languages just as fast as he can put a puck past your ear. Follow Jason on Twitter @HeyJayJRogers and on Google+.