Choosing a Study Abroad Program
If you’re at a large school, you probably have a number of options in terms of the kind of study abroad program you’d like to choose. If you’ve always been sold on including study abroad as part of your college experience, you probably looked at the school’s overseas offerings when considering where you’d like to apply while still in high school. If you’re having a tough time deciding what’s most important to you in terms of picking the right study abroad program, we’ve come up with some ideas on narrowing down that list. It’s always important to first ask yourself what you’d like to get out of the experience, and whether the programs you’re looking into will be rewarding to you before becoming a student of the world. Other than that, choosing the destination where you’ll be spending a few months of your time should be more fun than stressful.
Your Academic and Professional Goals
How does your study abroad program fit in with your academic and professional goals? While you should obviously consider where you’d like to live while studying abroad, a study abroad program is a good opportunity to explore your major on an international level. If you’re an art major, consider programs that would immerse you in the local art scene or offer opportunities to explore historically significant museums or architectural sites. If you’re interested in working abroad some day, consider using a study abroad program as your trial run. Even if you change your mind down the road, spending several months in a program and country that applies to your field of study looks impressive on a resume and present you as more of a globally-minded prospect to employers.
If you’re interested more in the experience than your professional development, make sure the program you choose at least fulfills electives that are a part of your major at your home school, especially if you’re going abroad for a long period of time. You don’t want to return to your home school only to find that the credits you completed don’t count toward your degree.
Your Personal Goals
Some students study abroad for no reason other than improving their skills in the native language they’ll be exposed to while living abroad. They would be seeking a program with an intensive language focus, where classes are taught primarily in the native language. Others may see the program as a way to become more independent and grow into adulthood, or shake up a college experience that they have become bored or too comfortable in. They would be seeking a program that offers students a more independent experience, where the studiers are responsible for taking advantage of the program’s offerings.
You may also be limited by time, or have no desire to be abroad a full semester or even a full academic year. Study abroad advisors will obviously suggest that the longer your stay, the longer the cultural immersion, and the more rewarding the experience. But consider a summer program if you’re unsure whether you’d like to be overseas for that long. You can always apply for another program if you find you wish you had more time abroad. International internships may have set parameters as far as the length of your stay, so you may need to compromise on this point if you’re looking to work or conduct research while abroad.
Location, Location, Location
Most college students still choose the same study abroad destinations in Europe that have been popular for decades – the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Ireland consistently rank in the top 10. If you’re interested in these, that’s great. The programs in these countries will be well-established, and you’ll probably run into few, if any, snags in your program. If you’re interested in looking outside of the traditional study abroad destinations, that’s great too. While you may be considered a trailblazer for participating in a program that may not have been around for quite as long, you could be a part of something important. Developing countries are increasingly becoming bigger players on the international players, with nations like India paving the way in many technological advances. Countries in Africa are doing exciting things in terms of land use and eco-tourism.
The location of the program you choose may also be based more on the goals you’re trying to achieve while abroad. Big cities in China may be eye-opening to business majors looking to learn more about global economies. A land-locked nation may not be the best option if you’re interested in marine biology. If you’re a future ecologist, consider the rainforests of tropical Africa and South America. Think outside of the box if you’re the adventurous type to make the most of your study abroad experience, because while you’re sure to have a rewarding experience wherever you go, certain locations may be more advantageous to you than others.