June 28, 2019

Many folks come to work with Arcadia because they had impactful, meaningful experiences studying, living, or working overseas which they would like to share with students. These international experiences shaped their careers and lives far beyond college. 

To begin our Staff Voices series, Mary Rogers, Program Manager for England and Wales, shares her experience studying abroad and her wisdom to first-abroad students joining us on Arcadia programs.

When my maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland and Northern Ireland to the United States, I suspect that the furthest thing from their minds was that their oldest granddaughter would, a half-century later, not only be enrolled in her third year of university but that she would decide to do so abroad. My grandfather, who has since passed, never questioned why I wanted to study overseas, but only that I hadn't decided to go to Ireland.

It was a decade ago that I planned that journey. My family had many questions about what I was doing and why I had decided to spend a year in southern Europe. I had more guidance as a student than my grandparents had, each prompted to leave their ancestral homeland for better opportunities elsewhere, but in many ways I felt connected to them in making that trek across the Atlantic—and, I still do, which is why I share some advice for my fellow first-timers with study abroad.

Be prepared to articulate why this is important to you. Admit to yourself, and to your family, that you are looking for a cross-cultural experience that you think has value, and what you are prepared to do to facilitate that. If you are hesitant, use the resources on your campus or with a study abroad provider to get the information that you need. Family members may be confused about your motivations and perceive it as an unnecessary luxury. Demonstrate that you are committed to doing the work to make it happen. Hold yourself accountable for the program details—ask questions! I attended campus info sessions as early as my first year and stopped in the study abroad office every semester to keep updated on information about how to apply for a program and to get the most updated brochures on the available programs.

Talk about your finances early, and often. You may need to take a leave of absence from a job that provides you with a paycheck for your daily expenses—visa regulations in many countries prohibit visiting students from working. It can be hard to justify this to yourself, so the most important thing that you can give yourself is time to make a plan. I received financial assistance from my university, federal student loans, and completed work-study hours each semester. Going abroad was the first (and only) time during college that I did not work. I researched scholarship opportunities on my home campus, even if they were not specifically earmarked for study abroad. The two that I received contributed to my ability to cover my expenses abroad, in addition to having generous family members step up to close the gap in my finances. Visit your study abroad office and financial aid office on campus to discuss how to manage your time away—ask questions!

Have a plan, and own it. No one cares more about the outcome of your education than you, so take responsibility for it. I researched my major path, the classes that I needed to take, and when those classes were on offer. Attend every scheduled advising appointment to map out your classes not just for the next semester, but for the next few years. Play out different scenarios: what if this class doesn't run; what if I decide to switch into this department; does this higher-level class have pre-requisites that I need to schedule sequentially? I ensured that I had a semester's worth of credits that I could take abroad that would not be dependent on specific major requirements and were instead subjects I had personal interest in: history, art history, languages—being a lifelong reader, these were things that brought my favorite literature to life and continue to inspire my writing a decade later.

Safe travels!