Do you want to study abroad, but the thought (or cost!) of it is a little intimidating? Are you a busy college athlete or STEM major who doesn't think they have time? Or are you just a well-seasoned traveler who needs a fix? Whatever the case, studying abroad during spring break could be just what you need.
One of the biggest advantages of this type of international experience is the low cost. Flights are a little cheaper in the spring, you won’t pay as much for accommodation and food, and you’ll spend less on in-country travel and program fees just by virtue of the fact that spring break programs are shorter as well.
The main drawback is the limited amount of time, but just because you’re only physically abroad for 7-10 days doesn’t mean the experience can’t have a major impact on your life.
During summer and winter semesters, it’s possible to earn full credit for a course or two. It’s not usually possible to fit an entire semester’s course work into a 7-10 day abroad experience -- though you may get 1 credit or get a little extra boost on your language skills.
If you know you want to study abroad on your spring break but there aren’t any current faculty-led trips at your university, you can encourage your favorite professors to organize one. You can also look into studying abroad with a third party provider but during spring break, third party providers are more likely to offer volunteer or language immersion programs.
Many professors will design a course based around a short-term study abroad experience. This allows students to get international experience and full course credit without spending nearly as much as they would on a full semester or even a summer study abroad.
Faculty-led are the most common spring break study abroad trips because the professor can customize the experience to meet goals for the course and the interests of his or her students. Of course, it also helps that all the students don’t have other classes to attend and the professors don’t have other classes to teach.
Professors with a great amount of travel experience will sometimes make all the arrangements without help, although many go to outside companies for assistance. These short-term faculty-led study abroad experiences are ideal for first-time travelers. With everything planned for you, you won’t have to worry about the details and can focus on getting the most out of your short time there.
If you want more responsibility, ask your professor if you can assist the director of the trip with travel planning or administrative duties. Perhaps you could lead an excursion or manage a social media group dedicated to the trip.
Individual students can also look into using a third party provider on their own. The benefit of using a third party provider is that just about everything is taken care of for you. All hotels, several restaurants, flights, and excursions will be pre-booked and you’ll travel as a group. For a week-long stint, this option has pros and cons depending on your goals.
If you’ve been abroad several times, know your way around a map, and feel comfortable exploring on your own, using the services of a third party provider might seem restricting. If this is the case, but it still seems like a good opportunity to travel, see if you can take on more responsibility.
Where to Go
Deciding where you want to go can be a challenge. Though which country you ultimately choose will largely depend on your interests, major, and program availability, here are a few tips specific to choosing your spring break study abroad destination:
- Try not to spend the entire spring break on an airplane -- choose a destination that's less than an 8-hour flight away -- 10 max. This way, you'll have more time on the ground.
- Choose a destination based on a language you’re learning. One week is a good amount of time to practice beginning conversation skills. Order food, talk about the weather and where you’re from, learn train station lingo, and pick up local phrases. It’s surprising how motivated you can become just from ordering a crêpe au chocolat in French while in Paris.
- Find a research project in your field of study. You might not get a full classes worth of credits, but could fulfill that research credit you need to graduate or get some unique, hands-on research for your senior thesis done!
Planning Your Trip
One of the nice things about spring break study abroad experiences is that you can go at any time during your college career without having to worry about messing up any other classes or plans. It’s a great option for your first time abroad or as a final excursion before you graduate and enter the real world.
Once you are there, don’t be afraid to veer off the schedule. If a little shop calls your name from across the street, go to it. If an extra scoop of gelato wasn’t in your carefully planned budget, eat it. If you find yourself wishing you could stay a little longer just sitting in a park instead of rushing to another museum, then relax and people watch.
The point is to get the most out of every moment. Take these tips into consideration:
- If you’re staying with a host family, make conversation. They wouldn’t have signed up to host you if they didn’t have some interest in who you are and where you’re from.
- Wake up early every morning even if it hurts, but don’t push yourself to exhaustion. It’s a fine line, but you can find it.
- Budget before you go, but don’t be afraid to splurge a little. Because it’s such a short trip it’s less likely that you will break the bank.
- If you’re with a big group, try not to spend time with the negative nancies. People will complain about the weather, the food, the hotel, and there’s just not enough time for that. Find positivity and stick to it.
- Explore on your own if you can. It will give you a self-confidence you didn’t know was possible.
- Journal every day.
- Taste the food. All of it.
- Take enough photos that you have the memories, but try to remember the views through your own eyes rather than a lens.
The few weeks after you return can be just as important as being there. Make sure you:
- Share your story and photos with family and friends
- Thank your host family if you had one
- Keep in touch with new friends and contacts. Offer them a tour of your hometown if they’re ever in the area. You never know when it will pay off to have international friends.
Because the cost of studying abroad during spring break is comparatively low, many students are able to raise funds for the entire trip. There are traditional fundraising methods such as bake sales and car washes, but don’t be afraid to get creative.
You can talk to local restaurants to see if they’ll donate a portion of the day’s proceeds to your group. You can use a crowdsourcing website to create a profile and ask friends and family to donate. There are many ways to bring the cost down to nearly nothing.
The actual cost of things will depend on the area you are planning to study in. Some countries have a significantly lower cost of living than others, so make sure you learn about this before your trip.