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.