The first step for most students when they decide they might want to study abroad is to stop by their study abroad office and have a sit-down with an advisor. Chances are they’ll ask you the basics -- what are you studying, where would you like to go, how long would you like to go abroad -- and then hand you some brochures to mull over.
Of course this routine may vary -- some schools encourage students to sit down with a study abroad advisor early in their college career to map out the best time to go abroad and the best programs that fit the needs of their major.
Whether you’ve found your study abroad advisor to be very hands-off or very involved, there are still some things -- big and small -- your study abroad advisor won't tell you. But no worries, we will, right here and right now.
1. You can study abroad any time
Some study abroad advisors like to say that your first two years of college are the best time to study abroad, and discourage students from studying abroad at any time during college. Their argument is it’s easier to get your prerequisites and electives fulfilled than more specific classes for your field of study. Sure, this may be true, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are plenty of programs and universities abroad that offer comparable programs and classes to your own university’s, and sometimes it’s just a matter of doing some research and talking to faculty and advisors in your specific school to get approval. There’s also the matter that you don’t HAVE to take all your electives early on… save some for later if you want to go abroad.
2. You can study abroad more than once
Another myth in the same vein is that a semester (or even a year) is probably all you can afford to spend abroad. But there are a lot of times this isn’t true. Like above, you may still be able to get many of required classes fulfilled abroad. Or maybe you came in with a lot of AP credit and actually have more leeway than you realize.
If you want to go abroad again after your first study abroad experience, there are plenty of ways to make it happen. Maybe it’s worth extending your time in school by a semester. Or maybe you can take a summer or semester off to go intern abroad (and perhaps make some money in the process!). You may even consider interning and stuyding abroad at the same time.
Not ready for an internship? Then look into fellowships and shorter-term summer study abroad programs. There are plenty of ways to go abroad again, no matter your circumstances, so don’t let anyone tell you differently!
Suggested programs: CAPA International Education London: Study & Intern Abroad.
3. Studying abroad can be cheaper than studying at home
For one, if your school is trying to get you to pay full tuition on top of your study abroad fees, fight back! This is a ridiculous ploy, and there should be some way around it. Take a leave of absence and then try to transfer your credits back. You should not be paying double tuition.
Even if you don’t have to pay tuition, many of the shiny brochures your study abroad advisor presents to you may come with equally shiny price tags. Often times, advisors try to push programs that are either your university’s own programs or are program providers the school has some kind of partnership with. If budget is a real issue for you, there are tons of much less expensive programs (not to mention grants and fellowships) out there if you just do your research.
4. Direct enrollment is an option
For some reason, direct enrollment tends to be downplayed by study abroad offices. Perhaps advisors worry students can’t handle a bit more of a DIY approach. But if you don’t need to be hand-held through your international experience, then consider direct enrollment. Your study abroad advisor certainly didn't mention all the perks of direct enrollment!
For example, you may receive some more support through a direct exchange -- most universities have at least a few other international universities that they directly exchange students with. You’ll pay your usual tuition this way. But there are a lot of countries where higher education is extremely cheap, sometimes even free, and you DO have the option of enrolling directly into those universities! All it takes is a little research. (Not to mention you will probably have a much more culturally enriching experience this way!)
5. You don’t have to be a typical study abroad student!
Here’s the thing: Study abroad advisors are busy people and they see tons of students every day. In your one-on-ones and orientations, they are going to be giving you the same information as everyone else. But YOU don’t have to be like everyone else. Take some initiative! Don’t go abroad and spend all your time partying and half-assing your classes (or even just traveling).
Get involved in your host community, immerse yourself in the culture, REALLY try to learn the language. Live with a local family. Volunteer. Find yourself an internship. Squeeze every ounce of awesomeness out of your new home, make yourself a part of it, and you will come back a changed person, knowing that you would not have changed a thing!
Just because it isn’t in your orientation packet, doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility.
In the end, your study abroad experience is what YOU make of it, not what your study abroad advisor tells you it should be.
So take things into your own hands. Research, explore, send emails to random people who have done what sound like amazing things. Create your own experience, even if it doesn’t fall into the box of a normal university-approved study abroad experience. And fight for it. Know why it’s a worthwhile experience, and sell it to everyone you need to sell it to at your university -- from professors to faculty advisors to the university president!
If you want to spend a year and a half abroad and then do your senior thesis on your motorcycle trip across two continents, prove to them why you should be able to do this (and receive full credit, scholarships, and graduate on time!) The truth is, universities want stand-out students they can brag about, who will succeed (and ideally donate money to them later). Show them you have the drive, the initiative, and the vision to be that ideal, and you may be surprised to find how much they will work with you.