It’s around the time where studying abroad applications are in full force for next year. Whether you’re thinking of studying in the Summer, Fall or Spring, there are probably a million things running through your head- good, bad, scary, intimidating, exhilarating. When I submitted my first application to study abroad through my home university, I was beyond excited to start my new journey but when it came time to submitting the final piece of paperwork that committed me to that very journey, I questioned every positive thought that ran through my mind. My fear that I couldn’t handle myself sufficiently in another country quickly took over and it took every ounce of trust in myself I could muster to submit my final application. Once I landed, I haven’t looked back on my decision once.
If you are having any doubts about studying abroad, for whatever reason, there are some things you should know before finalizing your commitment.
If you’re anything like me and have a habit of putting others before yourself, making a personal decision can be daunting. But this is your trip, your experience, your journey, your future, your time. You are going to grow through this experience more than you can ever imagine, but it’s important to be able to understand yourself before you go. Ask yourself- am I a homebody? How long can I handle or want to be away from home or my university? Can I speak another language? Do I like big cities or smaller, livelier towns? How much traveling do I want to do? These are important questions you have to be able to answer when it comes time to picking your program.
If you are a travel junkie and are on a mission to see the world, it might be worth your while to consider a program close to an airport or easily accessible to other destinations by bus. While this should not be a determining factor in your decision, there is definitely a daunting thought every time you have to travel if you live 3 hours from an airport. On the other hand, if you want to explore your home country, research the different areas and what each program truly has to offer. But, if you’re anticipating weekend trips as often as possible, picking a program location that makes travel convenient might save you not only patience but also a good bit of money you can spend on more important things- like indulging in gelato.
By the time you’re at the stage of planning your abroad experience, you have most likely already experienced being away from home. Think of your freshman year and how you felt during welcome week and what exactly has changed- were you at first overwhelmed by the size but quickly realized it was just the perfect fit for you? Do you wish you were somewhere in a city? Have you found your niche in your smaller college town? Think of what you love and what you hate about where you live- and then apply that to the area you want to study. If you do not adapt well in a fast-paced, city environment, picking a program in the heart of a city with a foreign language would not be beneficial to your overall experience. You’re only there for a few weeks or months, pick an environment that you think you can truly adjust into making your temporary home.
When I was trying to decide if I could adjust to being abroad, I considered a shorter program. I was nervous about leaving my university and not having home within a few hundred miles and I started looking into summer programs. While summer programs offer extensive learning opportunities, I would not have been able to fit everything in that I wanted to. I knew I wanted to travel to various cities and countries and squeezing that within only a few weeks only would have left me in distress that I decided on a longer semester program.
While this is probably one of the first thoughts that come up during the study abroad discussion, it truly is the most important. Do your research on scholarships, opportunities and prices of where you are studying. Some abroad programs are extensively cheaper than spending the semester at your home university. Talk to your advisors, talk with financial aid, talk with your parents. Save every single penny you make because you are going to spend a whole lot more than you’ll ever expect. It’s also important to consider how much you’re spending from the very first day you land overseas. While finances do play a role in everyone’s studies, there is truly no price that can be put on the experiences you will gain spending a semester learning about yourself in a new country.
Even if you are leaving home for the longest time you ever have, your few months abroad are going to fly by quicker than you can imagine. Between traveling, exploring, laughing, meeting new people and trying new things, you are going to go from saying your goodbyes in the airport to dreading the upcoming departure from your new found home. With this being said, it’s so important to make the most out of every single day. Every single day living in a new country is the opportunity to learn something new, indulge in a new culture.
One of the hardest parts about taking a semester away from your home university is leaving everyone and everything you know behind while they continue living everyday without you there. They are doing the things together everyday that you love, without you. It’s a scary thought. The truth is, though, your friends are the ones jealous of you being abroad. They are going to support you and they are going to be living vicariously through you. They will still be your best friends when you return. And it’s such a small world you might even meet up with old friends across the world. Or you just might happen to make the best friends of a lifetime.
As I mentioned earlier, I struggled immensely when it came to making my decision. I juggled many different options and thoughts and doubts until I woke up one morning and decided that even if going abroad was the worst I could imagine, I would not regret it but I would regret not trying it. After that revelation and mindset, I changed my attitude and rid myself of any doubts or nerves. I have not met a single person who has regretted their time abroad. With my time coming quickly to an end, the only regret I have is not being able to stay longer. This is your experience of a lifetime that you will never forget, I promise.