Institute for Study Abroad

Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA)

About

The Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1988. Our primary goal is to provide quality study abroad opportunities, plus academic and personal support services, for qualified North American undergraduates seeking to earn academic credit through study abroad.

IFSA is organized to assist our students from the time they apply until after they return. Our staff in the U.S. prepare students for the academic and cultural changes that await them, and our offices around the world provide on-site support to help students make the most of their study abroad experiences.

IFSA currently operates programs in Argentina, Australia, Czech Republic, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, England, India, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Peru, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Wales.

Scholarships

IFSA Scholarships

IFSA Scholarships and Financial Aid

We believe that study abroad should be within reach of every student, so we offer a wide range of scholarships and funding opportunities for all our participants.

Value
$500 - $2,500

Reviews

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Bridget
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I studied abroad at Trinity College Dublin with IFSA in the spring of 2015 and had an extremely transformative experience. From the beginning, IFSA provided outstanding support. I remember being so sick that I had lost my voice during our orientation-- yet the IFSA staff was sure I was cared for and included in those initial days when community building with my cohort was so important. 

Throughout the process, IFSA taught us the value of being independent in a foreign country while always ensuring that we had staff to rely upon. Notably, the IFSA Ireland Community and Culture Seminar provided me with the resources to understand culture shock, identify my own learning curve, and process the new cultural information I encountered on a daily basis. The experience enabled me to feel confident and empowered as I went about my daily life in Dublin.

Of course, IFSA-sponsored excursions were also a highlight. From our trip to Belfast to our outdoor adventures in Killary, we were able to experience different regions of Ireland and make lasting friendships in our cohort. I have many memories of exploring streets in Belfast, running obstacle courses in bogs, and frolicking in Ireland's renowned landscape. One tip for anyone considering this program: jump right into that bog and immerse yourself!

What would you improve about this program?
Living and studying in a cohort of other American students on the IFSA program had many benefits, such as being able to connect and support each other through our shared experiences. However, it was sometimes challenging to make similar connections with Irish students, who knew our time in Ireland was temporary. I found that joining clubs and societies at the university was crucial, and IFSA encouraged us to do so. I always wondered if additional opportunities like homestays would have rounded out the experience. 

In all, I would not trade my study abroad journey for the world!
Colin Murchison Bio Picture
Colin
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

As a young adult who had little experience with travel and zero experience with international solo travel, I sought out a program provider that offered on-the-ground support and guidance through all the logistics of living and studying abroad for a semester. IFSA was the perfect option for what I needed. From finding student accommodation to working through jetlag -- the staff was friendly, supportive, and clearly had our best interest at heart. I had the opportunity to witness how they helped friends through adversity, and we all knew that if we needed someone, they were just a phone call away. The program size was small enough to be intimate yet forced us to make connections outside our fellow program participants. While a seasoned solo traveler likely wouldn't need the level of support IFSA provided, I would highly recommend this program to nearly all prospective study abroad students. The knowledge and assistance they provided throughout the program allowed me to avoid many of the stresses of traveling and quickly adjust to being abroad, improving my immersion and helping to create a meaningful and impactful experience I will cherish forever.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
One of the excursions that IFSA provided through the program was spending a night on a boat. During this, we kayaked, fished, and went scuba diving. We caught urchins and were shown how to eat them raw.
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Emily
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The IFSA staff was amazing! No matter what, the resident director was always available to help; whether it was a restaurant recommendation for lunch to accompanying me to the clinic when I got sick to organizing excursions to the rest of the island, Rose Ana always knew what to do. It made me feel much more comfortable, especially at the beginning of the semester, knowing that someone was there for me. Also, I spent my birthday there, and the IFSA staff and my homestay family organized a birthday party for me with a cake, croquetas, and ensalada fria. My birthday fell on one of the first days we got there and I couldn’t believe how much they did for me even though I was a virtual stranger.
Something else I liked about the IFSA program was the academics. We were the only program in Cuba for US students that let us take only classes at the University of Havana with Cuban students. Other programs made their students take courses that were specifically for their group and thus didn’t get to meet and befriend Cuban students to the extent that we did. Speaking of which, make sure you go to the FEU parties that the student government runs! They are really fun and the entrance fee is only 10 pesos cubanos (which is like 40 cents).
I agree with one of the other reviews below saying that they wish they could do it all over again. I'm getting nostalgic just thinking about it! Also, random side tip: make sure to check out the cafeterias that line the University of Havana for a quick lunch. One of our personal favorites was La Colina.

What would you improve about this program?
I would add more excursions to the rest of the island! I understand that it can be difficult to travel to other provinces in Cuba because of US regulations, but I would have loved to see more of the island with the IFSA group. We went to Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Las Terrazas, and a farm in Sancti Spitirus, but I would have loved to see the eastern part of Cuba (El Oriente) or Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón).
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Quinn
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

In February 2020, I was packing my bags, excited to embark on my semester abroad in Shanghai. Days before my flight, it became clear that I would not be able to travel to China as planned due COVID-19. I was crushed and panicked, not knowing what to do. Luckily, IFSA staff reached out and allowed me to switch to another one of their amazing abroad programs. Within days, I was on a flight to Rome. I was amazed at how well IFSA organized an amazing experience in which I lived blocks away from the Vatican, took interesting classes with Italian professors, and even got to travel.

A highlight of my time abroad was IFSA's planned trip to a small Italian city called Orvieto and Florence. We had a guided tour of the caves in Orvieto and a personal cooking class in Florence (in which we made the most amazing homemade bruschetta, bucatini all'Amatriciana, and tiramisu). We stayed in an authentic, quaint hotel and had plenty of time to explore Florence on our own. I couldn't believe this was all organized and included by IFSA! Another weekend I had the chance to visit my cousin in Milan with a few friends from my program.

While my time in Rome did get cut short due to the pandemic, I have countless memories from my time there that I will cherish forever, like getting a private tour of the Colosseum or making new relationships with an Italian family that IFSA connected me with. While no one could've totally prepared for an unexpected global pandemic, IFSA did an amazing job rolling with the punches and providing me with an unforgettable time in Rome. I created what I believe will be lifelong friendships with other American students as well as Italian peers and professors.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Don't worry about where your friends and fellow peers are studying abroad. I was nervous going into a program in which I didn't know any other students, but it turned out to be an amazing opportunity to make friendships with people across the country and the world. I still keep in touch with my friends in Rome and American students (with many post-pandemic plans to visit each other). Getting out of my comfort zone facilitated a lot of personal growth in getting me out of my shell more and building confidence in my social as well as academic abilities.
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Megan
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

In the Fall of 2019, I spent a magical 4 months just a mile from Edinburgh's famous royal mile. Before stepping on the plane from JFK to Edinburgh airport, I had no idea that this study abroad experience would completely change my life. The whole entire way I was supported by IFSA's incredible staff in both the states and while in Scotland. IFSA helped me find the perfect housing just minutes from the University of Edinburgh, as well as to the heart of Edinburgh. The staff of IFSA in Scotland scheduled several meetings throughout my time to make sure that I was keeping up with my studies and enjoying my time abroad. I would absolutely recommend this program to ANY student. The academics at the UoE are rigorous and one can find almost any course to fit within their home school course requirements. OR if you have the time you can always take a course in the bagpipes!

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Of course I HAD to try the haggis! To my surprise this was actually quite a delicious sausage like food! Maybe just don't ask for the ingredients list before you try it...

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because I loved the idea of attending a university that focused solely on teacher training. In the United States, and at my school specifically, there is a core curriculum, so it is not possible to take classes that are solely focused on your major. All of my courses in Northern Ireland were about taking the skills learned, and bringing them into the classroom as an educator. I also think that teaching in a country outside of your own and experiencing a different culture makes you a more well-rounded individual and teacher.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My school held information sessions to give an overview of the program options for education majors, as well as rundown of the programs themselves. Once we applied for, and were approved for our chosen program, the education department and study abroad office hosted a more in-depth info session where we were able to talk to and ask questions of the previous year's participants.

Prior to my arrival, IFSA had a pre-departure webinar series that we received via email to prepare us for our trip. We were also given an orientation by IFSA staff in Belfast, over the course of our first few days in Northern Ireland.

We were in charge of booking our own flights and filling out documentation for our visas. It is super important to start both of these tasks as soon as possible, because for booking flights you definitely want to research for the best deal (student travel organizations are not always cheapest). Depending on the type of visa required, you may have a lot of questions as I did, and visas take a long time to process once submitted, so it is important to get started as soon as you receive instructions so that your provider is able to assist you in this process.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Research, research, research! Most people do not know much of the history of the country/city that they are about to enter. In my case, many people I spoke to did not know that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are separate countries. I myself did not know the implications of the separation between the two countries, and how the effects of conflict in Northern Ireland trickled down into their current government, education systems, and culture. While I learned so much while I was abroad, I wish I had done my own background research before my arrival, as it would have made me feel more comfortable engaging in discussion with the people I would meet.

To anyone that is thinking of going overseas, I would say definitely do it, because it is such an incredible opportunity that you may never get again after leaving college. Even if you do not do a lot of traveling to other countries outside of your host country, take the opportunity to explore and immerse yourself in the area you are in. Talk to people who have gone to your chosen location before, in order to get tips and tricks on residing in your host country, what to bring, the best ways to travel within the country, etc. Other students are your best resource, so use them!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Classes are scheduled a little bit differently than they are in the US, you may have a class two days in a row, and it is normal to have a class that is 2 or 3 hours, whereas in the US these would be considered "marathon" classes that you would be unlikely to have more than one of in a semester. Classes may also change times or rooms depending on the needs of the school, another thing that does not usually happen in the US without advance notice, so it's something to keep in mind when heading to class each day.

There is usually an hour in the middle of the day where no classes are scheduled so that everyone has time to grab lunch. Outside of reading, there will not be as many physical assignments to hand in throughout the semester, so take this time to go to the events Stranmillis puts on, or get involved in one of their clubs (keep in mind that the end of term papers do sneak up on you, so get started as soon as you can).

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear going abroad was the length of time that I would be away. I had traveled for extended periods of time before, and I live at school when it is in session, but I had never been gone for an entire three months without seeing my family.

I was nervous that it would be really difficult for me. I would say that I overcame this by spending lots of time with the other students in my flat. We spent a lot of time exploring Belfast, which allowed us to feel much more comfortable where we were, and confident in our ability to navigate the city. If anything, I now wish I had spent more time exploring alone, as I am pretty independent and like to take time to decompress away from others.

What was the most rewarding part of your experience?

The most rewarding part of my experience was getting to teach at Dundonald Primary School every Wednesday. I had a wonderful class of eager students who had so many questions for me about the US, and answered so many of my questions about their country and customs. My cooperating teacher was happy to have me help out, and allowed me to jump in leading small groups and working with individual students right away.

This was my first time teaching solo, and for a full day, and my confidence in my ability to be a good teacher was boosted. I learned so much about the differences in their education system, and have so much respect for the teachers in Northern Ireland. Many schools do not have separate teachers for all of the specials; this was true for my school and my teacher was responsible for leading art, music and gym, even when those may not have been her favorite things to do.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Sian Munro

Job Title
Resident Director, New Zealand Programmes
Sian began her international education career 17 years ago at the University of Otago, welcoming new students while undertaking Masters’ research into the impact of international students on domestic students. A move to the UK for 2.5 years working for AIFS in London on gap year programmes, travel in the UK, Europe and a summer camp in the US followed, Sian returned to Otago in International Student Support before joining IFSA 7 years ago.
Sian Munro

What is your favorite travel memory?

My time abroad was spent working and traveling with my closest friends. We learned so much about the world, ourselves and each other. I cherish the experiences we had even the not so great ones. Next year we are reuniting in Bali for another adventure!

One memorable trip was staying in Dubrovnik, renting a room in someone’s home. Our host recounted the siege of the centuries-old city from December 1991. Her family hid in a cupboard for days, which must have been terrifying. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, made all the more stunning because of the tenacity of the people to rebuild, attract visitors back and be warm and welcoming hosts.

When I returned to New Zealand after 2.5 years overseas, the Immigration Officer gave me back my passport and said, “welcome home”. It was lovely to be home with a newfound desire to explore my own backyard.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

In my role, I have become more aware of the unique place Aotearoa New Zealand has in the world, particularly when compared to a country as globally influential as the USA. I get to see my country through the eyes of students who are brand new to it and eager to dive into our culture and explore as many opportunities as possible.

While our organization has a vast geographical footprint, IFSA is an extremely collaborative workplace. IFSA colleagues share their knowledge of our field relating to best practice, research, and media reports. More significantly, opportunities and challenges facing our students and how we can most effectively connect with and support our students. As a result, I am constantly learning and growing as an international education professional committed to enriching the lives of our students while they are onsite, knowing it will have an enduring impact on them.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

We had a student who developed an interest in cycling after riding a few trails during their semester in New Zealand. When the student returned to the US, this interest became a passion and she joined a not-for-profit organization fundraising and cycling across the US to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. We were fortunate enough that she became an IFSA student ambassador once she returned to her home campus until she graduated.

A couple of years later, she returned to New Zealand and worked for us as a Student Services Coordinator for a year on a working holiday visa. We see and hear lots of great stories from alumni by being connected on social media, but this was a great example of a study abroad experience going full circle!

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Having the privilege of knowing the amazing impact all our wonderful Resident Directors and onsite staff have on our students in Latin America, the UK, and Europe, Asia and Australasia, it’s a very difficult choice!

I would definitely select somewhere I have never been before and a location completely different from the small city of Dunedin I live in, where a quarter of the 130,000 population are students and the climate is temperate. This would mean going to a country like India or China with a large population and a completely different climate, language, culture and cuisine.

The IFSA programmes in Pune and Shanghai explore these locations in a contemporary context which would be of significant interest to me as a social anthropology graduate.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

There is a beautiful Māori proverb which says,

"He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata."

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

I have a fantastic team who enrich our programmes by fostering a strong sense of community and take an individual approach to our student’s learning abroad both inside and outside the classroom.

Our staff all have different topics we present on at orientation which we break up by enjoying outdoor activities in a beautiful open-air eco-sanctuary. I was at the hospital with a student and was not going to make it back in time for one of the briefings I am responsible for. Our team divvied up the briefing and familiarised themselves with their sections. I returned in time to see them do a fantastic job of presenting it!

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

From my perspective IFSA’s success comes from having a clear Mission, Vision and Commitments to underpin all the work staff worldwide undertake; from advising students about our programme offerings, working with our academic partners and operators in the US and our 19 programme countries, assisting students through the application and pre-arrival process, orientation, onsite support and programme delivery in both the academic setting as well as extra-curricular activities. While the Mission, Vision and Commitments might not be explicit to every student, as an organisation we have infused them into our programmes in a deliberate and meaningful way.

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