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The Study Abroad Guide: What to Know Before You Go

Spending a semester -- or even a whole academic year -- in a study abroad program is one of the most enriching experiences you can have as a college or graduate student. Studying in another country can expose you to new languages, new cultures and traditions, different cuisine, and new perspectives on life, living, politics, and the world. Many students find that the study abroad experience helps them become more independent, cultured, and worldly. But study abroad programs vary greatly, so it's extremely important to know what you are looking for in a study abroad experience, and make sure you research exactly what is offered by the study abroad programs at your school -- or at the colleges or universities you are interested in attending.

Consider Study Abroad Programs That Help You Learn a Foreign Language

Some study abroad programs offer a language immersion, giving you the opportunity to learn to speak the language of the country you are visiting. If you would like to become truly fluent in the language, find out if it will be possible for you to live with a host family or with other young people who speak the language. If you are only surrounded by other American college students, your chances of becoming proficient with the language are slim.

Carefully Evaluate the Costs of Studying Abroad

Study abroad programs need not be overly expensive. In fact, some programs are comparable to the costs of living on campus at your home school, with the only additional expenses being the plane tickets to and from your destination, and the costs of any additional travel you may decide to take while in the program. Still, program expenses vary, so be sure you understand the full costs associated with the program you are considering. Take into account any additional clothes you will need to purchase, airline fees, meals (find out if the program includes a meal plan), entertainment costs, additional health or travel insurance you may need, and any souvenirs and items you may purchase while abroad.

Consider Study Abroad Programs With Cultural Immersion

Some study abroad programs offer students the opportunity to combine formal classroom instruction with more flexible cultural experiences. These types of programs give students even more exposure to the culture and traditions of the country they visit. Check with the programs you are considering to see if they offer any type of cultural immersion.

Make Sure Your Study Abroad Course Credits Will Transfer

One of the most important considerations of your program is whether or not your college credits will transfer. Be sure to understand how the course credit transfer will work between the courses you take abroad and your home institution. If the study abroad program is offered by your college or university, chances are good that the credits will transfer directly, but do verify this. If you choose a study abroad program that is not affiliated with your school, it is even more important to make sure your credits will transfer, and understand what steps you need to take to ensure that happens.

Consider Spring Study Abroad for Summer Travel

If you choose to study abroad for only one semester, consider the climate during the spring or fall in the country where you will live. Many students find it beneficial to study abroad for the spring semester, leaving the summer months free for additional travel. If you choose this option, do verify the student visa requirements for the country you plan to visit, and ensure that you will be able to travel beyond the official timeframe of your study abroad program.

Check All Student Visa Requirements Early

The process of applying for a Student Visa can take some time, depending on the country you plan to visit, so be sure to visit the consulate website or call the office of the consulate of the country you wish to visit early on (at least three months before you plan to travel) to get a list of all required documentation and information. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the date you plan to return to the U.S. If your passport is expired (or you don't have one) start the process of applying or renewing it at least three months in advance of your travel.

Research Study Abroad Programs Carefully Before You Sign Up

In short, be sure to research the study abroad programs you are considering carefully before you sign up. Keep this checklist in mind:

  • Cost of Studying Abroad (airfare, meals, additional travel, clothing, souvenirs, entertainment, travel insurance)
  • Does the program offer language immersion?
  • Does the program offer cultural immersion?
  • Study abroad for one year or one semester?
  • Spring or Fall semester for study abroad?
  • How do the course credits transfer from your study abroad program to your home institution?
  • Verify your passport is valid.
  • Get all Student Visa requirements several months in advance of travel.


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