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.

Founded
1988

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

Default avatar
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.
Default avatar
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...
Default avatar
Halle
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My experience in this program was incredible. IFSA staff was so supportive and was always available to help me with any problems I had. My housing situation was perfect and I loved where I lived. The IFSA trips they offer are incredible, too- I got to visit the Lake District and meet other IFSA students who have become my best friends. Academically, I grew the most in my semester abroad than I ever had and have decided to return to UCL to pursue my masters. I cannot recommend this program enough!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Take full advantage of all of IFSA's excursions! I went to the Lake District and got to hike in the hills and meet other friends that were living in my city too.
Default avatar
Claire
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I have traveled to Europe before with my family but had never lived in another country for a semester by myself. I was nervous that I would have trouble getting around the city, adapting to a new school, and immersing myself in another culture so quickly. The staff at IFSA and my point of contact, Heather, made me feel safe and supported at all times. She was quick to answer my whatsapp, whether it was a question about transportation or a pub recommendation.
The excursion planned by IFSA was also incredible. Unfortunately I was only able to go on one, because the other one was planned for the week after COVID hit Ireland. We went to Belfast as a study abroad group, and learned about the history of the Troubles, walked over a rope bridge and explored the culture in the city. The accommodations were terrific and the activities were diverse and exciting.
The English classes I took were necessary for my major at home. The classes were pretty difficult and required a lot of reading. However, the teaching was incredible, the classes were small, and the professors made the material very engaging. The professors were very responsive to my constant stream of questions over email and I am so grateful for my classroom experience. Registration day is hectic and stressful but luckily it all worked out.
I chose to study abroad with IFSA because I could only study abroad in either England or Ireland because of my major, and IFSA had well-established programs at both. I very much wanted to be immersed in the culture and attend an Irish institution, rather than travel with a study group from my home university. IFSA has worked with my home school for years and the study abroad director spoke highly of them. Overall, I loved getting to know locals, traveling to small Irish villages, attending pubs, meeting other students on my program and even attending class!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Put yourself out there and talk to locals!! Everyone is so nice and friendly, and happy to engage. You'll be happy you did it!
Default avatar
Lauryn
5/10
Yes, I recommend this program

As a Black Africana Studies major, I was ecstatic to see IFSA at SOAS and immerse myself at a school where non-Western perspectives are the default. In my classes, Language in Africa and Contemporary African literature, we explored African voices and stories that have been severely lacking in my studies even as an Africana Studies major due to a US-centric approach. Connecting with such knowledgeable professors was invaluable and their lessons stick with me still as I casually bring up Africa’s incredible linguistic diversity and find lessons from African literature continue to follow me. I explored my Blackness further outside of the classroom as I traveled around South London after a 20 minute bus ride. It felt amazing to be surrounded by Black communities both long-established and newly formed as they create boisterous communities full of life and joy. I felt so seen walking around and felt so full after eating the amazing food there was to offer. An added bonus was that South London was much cheaper than King’s Cross where I lived. There were also a number of museums that featured work from artists of the African diaspora that left strong impressions both as a member of the Black community and as an artist that focuses greatly on identity. I have brought much of what I learned back to the classroom here and continue to de-center the US in discussions of Blackness because of my time in London.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Particularly for those who are low-income, I would suggest avoiding restaurants and, instead, choosing to cook with groceries that are often much healthier than those in the US, much cheaper, and locally grown. For special nights, traveling to South London to eat will allow you to stretch your money and have far tastier food. While the tube is convenient and quicker, it is also more expensive than the bus. Taking the bus allows you to see more the city and note places you might see from the bus to travel to later! For souvenirs, avoid touristy areas and go to markets, such as the Camden Market, to get great gifts!

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.

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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