Most colleges and universities across the country offer their students the option to study abroad. In many cases, schools encourage students to study abroad by making it easy to transfer credits or enabling special tuition rates for students studying abroad.
There is no better time to travel than when you are in college. You have no career tying you down, and so many programs at your finger tips to make your experience abroad easier.
Step 1: Make it happen
Too many students pass up the opportunity to study abroad. Some students may be afraid to miss out on a football season or monumental parties coming up. Some students stay home for their boyfriend or girlfriend. Some students may be concerned about completing the required courses. None of these things should stop you from going abroad. Most likely, you will find everything is just the way you left it when you return. As for classes, start the process early. Talk to your academic advisor early on and schedule studying abroad into your 4-year schedule.
Check out all of your options. Look at the programs your school offers, but also look at national programs or other school’s programs.
Step 2: Decide what you want
There are so many different countries and programs available to students looking to study abroad. If you are studying abroad to learn a language, your search will narrow significantly. Whether you are trying to learn a language or not, choose a study abroad program that allows you to experience another culture. Avoid programs that enable an American college experience in another country.
You also must decide the size of the city where you want to live. For example, in France, you could choose to live in Aix en Provence, a very small town, or in Paris, one of the busiest cities in the world. Each city has unique experience to offer. In a smaller city, perhaps you will find yourself very familiar with the entire city by the end of your stay. The people in your local bakery and café will know you by name, and you will see familiar faces at every bar. In a larger city you will be surrounded by everything exquisite; however, the crowds know this as well, and you may have to fight your way to it. In a city like Paris, you will be surrounded by beautiful architecture, the most famous monuments, hundreds of years of history, the finest food, the best music, and the most exquisite art in the multiple museums.
Step 3: Soak up the culture
Choose an abroad program that will allow you to interact with local students in the community. Whether you are enrolled in a local college or co-habiting with native students, it is imperative that you introduced and exposed to the students of another culture.
Don’t study abroad with too many of your close friends. Take this time to branch out and explore new things and find new friends. Make friends with people from the country. No matter how many travel guides you read, there are some things in a city that only a local will be able to show you.
If you are studying abroad to learn the language, don’t be shy: Have confidence when you speak, even if you mess up, you are improving by making the effort all of the time. If you are not trying to learn the language, still take the time to learn the basics. The fundamental level of communication will allow you to feel much more at home in the foreign country, and as an American, showing the effort to speak another language will put you in good graces with the native speakers.
Go to all of the tourist attractions, but get off the beaten path as well. If you have the time, walk wherever you are going. You may find cafés, museums, boutiques and other hidden treasures that you may have never stumbled upon otherwise. Walking around the city is also a great way to familiarize yourself with the layout of the city.
As for traveling outside of the the country where you are studying, do it, but not excessively. If possible, begin your travels two weeks early or stay two extra weeks to travel around. Pick a few key locations that you want to visit and make it a priority to do so, but don’t travel every weekend. Pick a few weekends to travel, but try to stay in your base country frequently. It will save you money and allow you to feel more grounded in the society and absorb the culture so much more.
Step 4: Become involved
Becoming involved is the step most Americans fail to do when abroad. Don’t choose the abroad program with the most rigorous academic courses. With the extra time you would spend in the library, stay in the city and learn what it means to live in another culture.
Look for activities outside the classroom. Many cities offer extracurricular activities to their inhabitants, not just students, but of all ages. Try going to local dance classes, signing up for a club football (soccer) team, or taking a photography or art class. By doing these things you will meet a whole new group of people and understand a new aspect of the culture.
Another great extracurricular activity is babysitting. Becoming involved with a local family is an invaluable experience. Share your culture with them, and they will be happy to share their culture with you as well. For those trying to learn a language, kids are the best way to do it. Kids are excited to help you learn and are happy to explain lingual concepts in simple terms.
Step 5: Have fun
The most important part of studying abroad is having fun. Skype with your friends from home so you never become homesick (make them wish they were studying abroad too).
Try anything and everything (within reason).
Keep an open mind.
Stay out of your apartment or dorm and wander the streets.
Figure out the night time scene. Go to the big clubs where most tourists will go, but also find a bar or cafe where you can hang out on a regular basis. It’s fun to feel like you are a regular, and as faces become familiar, you will become a familiar face too.
Enjoy every minute.
Studying abroad gives you a learning experience that can not be found in the classroom. Experience and a broader perspective of the world can be invaluable during the job search as well. The ability to achieve in foreign circumstances shows great character, and having a good time while you do it is the only way to go.