Thinking Critically About Study Abroad

IMG_2604On this final major bus trip from Kapadokya to Rize,  it’s sad to think that our wonderful trip through Turkey is coming to an end in just five days. Before we reach our goodbyes, I’ll let you in on an ongoing conversation in the group:

Thinking Critically About Study Abroad

As an admissions session leader at my university, I can tell you that most students on college tours are concerned about study abroad opportunities. Sometimes, the availability of programs is the deciding factor for potential students! Most universities offer hundreds of programs, ranging from university-specific to university-approved. The approved label means that the program is probably not run by the university itself, but meets the requirements for credit transfer. Our background as a group is diverse in the spectrum of study abroad. Sofia just finished a Duke-in-Turkey program, Galen and I opted to attend the Field School instead of a semester-long program, and Andrew is going into his sophomore year, when most students decide if they are going to go abroad. Given our conversations, here are some tips to consider if you want to go abroad!

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Question 1: Should I go abroad? When should I go abroad?

YES. Without question, the number one regret of most college graduates that I have spoken to is that they did not go abroad. Once you graduate from college, chances are the ability to go to another country (or countries) is limited to work opportunities. Most often, financial aid transfers to abroad programs- so you would be paying about the same as a semester’s tuition. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, JUST GO! I can guarantee that you will not regret it.

Most American college students tend to go abroad during their junior year. I’m not really sure why this has become the norm. If you’re a freshman student struggling to find an internship after your first year, spend your summer abroad! There’s no rule that states that you must be a junior and that you must go abroad during the regular semester. Summers offer a great time to leave the country without missing out the four years you have at your college or university. Do what is best for you, not what everyone else is doing! If you plan it out, you can potentially study abroad in more than one country during your college years.

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Question 2: Is there more than one type of program?

YES. Study abroad is a hugely ambiguous term for many types of programs and options. Do you want to go to one country, or multiple? Are you looking for language practice or to learn a new language all together? How many hours will you be in the class room? One thing I never thought of while searching through programs is the ratio of time actually spent in the classroom and time actually spent out and exploring the country. Be sure to ask your study abroad counselor or the program director to figure out if the program is right for you. One of the biggest reasons I chose to do the Field School was because Lisa explained the entire program in full the first time we met!

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Question 3: Who are the students that attend this program?

If you’re looking for an escape from your current campus, perhaps a university-specific program is not the best option. Many programs bring together students from a wide variety of backgrounds, whether from colleges and universities in the US, internationally,  or from different majors. Be sure to ask where students are from, and how many students are in the program. Having a variety of backgrounds and disciplines is key to taking in the abroad experience for more than what you may be experiencing.

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Question 4: Who can I talk to about choosing a program?

Reach out to prior students of the program to get the most honest opinions about the program. It’s a great idea to ask about major pros and cons. Yes, many students who go abroad will rave about how wonderful their time was! Even so, chances are the student is not representative of the entire program and whatever advertising mechanisms they use.

Finally, Study abroad is a huge part of the undergraduate experience. Be sure to make the most of your time in college and go abroad! Whether that means during the semester or during the summer, sophomore or junior year, GO ABROAD. And most importantly, research programs and ask questions before signing on to a program.

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