Want to Study Abroad? How to Choose the Right Study Abroad Program for You
There are many reasons to study abroad.
Perhaps you want to take on an academic endeavor in an unfamiliar location.
Maybe you’re just looking for an excuse to travel (and you want your parents or a student loan to pay for it).
No-matter what your reasoning is, finding the right study abroad program for you can be difficult and overwhelming, as there are hundreds of different programs operating all over the world.
On this page I’ll show you how to decide where to study abroad, how to decide what kind of study abroad program to do and what you should look for in regards to living arrangements.
Deciding Where to Study Abroad
Choosing a country to study abroad in can often be influenced by the kind of program you want to do (and what you want to learn).
For example, if you’ve always wanted to learn Italian, taking a course in Italy seems like the natural choice, as you’ll be able to totally immerse yourself in the culture and the language.
Alternatively, if you’re studying art history, you’ll need to travel to an area that actually has some history to study (such as Greece, Italy or the United Kingdom).
Once you’ve chosen the country you want to go to, you need to decide on a city. Obviously you may be limited to certain choices (depending on where the study program is operating), but as a general rule it’s often best to avoid a country’s main (capital) city and study in a second or third-tier city instead.
For example, in Italy, avoid Rome and Milan and instead head for Turin, Genoa, Florence, Verona, Padua, etc.
Avoiding these major cities will give you a much more authentic experience, and you’ll avoid the hordes of tourists at the same time.
When choosing a place to study in, you’ll also want to consider the cost of living there (and the size of your budget). Studying in Europe is great, but it’s a lot more expensive than South-East Asia or Latin America.
Also, if you’re only studying abroad for a term/semester (as opposed to a whole year), consider the time of year you’ll be abroad during and the kind of weather you’d like. Europe will be nice during May, but most likely freezing cold in November. South America, on the other hand, will be hot during November and colder during the ‘Western’ summer.
If you plan on doing some traveling while you’re studying abroad (i.e. on the weekends and when you’re given time off), it’s best to study somewhere that has other places of interest nearby (and good transport links to them), as opposed to somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.
Choosing What Kind of Study Abroad Program to do
Studying abroad is the perfect time to take a course/class you’ve always dreamed of. It’s one thing to study architecture at your university and to see slide after slide of your professor’s presentations, but it’s another thing altogether to talk a walk around the Palma Cathedral in Majorca, Spain and to witness the architecture first-hand.
As well as deciding upon the subject you want to study abroad, you’ll also have to decide what type of course.
For example, you might participate in a university exchange program, whereby you travel to a foreign university and enroll with them for the year/semester.
Alternatively, you might choose to study abroad by signing up to a private study program (such as CIEE, CEA or API). The organizers of these programs setup the classes themselves and hire professors directly.
It is often said that university exchange programs give you a more authentic experience when studying abroad, as you’re going straight into an established institution.
If you’re currently at university/college, visit your university’s ‘studying abroad office’ (most universities will have one) to see what kinds of courses/programs they have on offer.
If you is at least fairly well-known, chances are it’ll have links to various other universities around the world, making it easy for you to get a transfer.
This is by far the easiest way of finding a study abroad program, as most of the admin type things (such as making sure your credits will transfer across) will already be sorted out for you by the university.
The downside of doing things this way is you’ll be limited to going to the universities linked with yours and the courses they have on offer.
In addition to this, finding study abroad programs via independent organizations will often be cheaper than going through a university (although they can be more hassle as you’ll have to take a more active role sorting things out).
If you are still at university/college, and you want your time studying abroad to count towards your final degree, it’s vitally important that you ensure your classes (i.e. the ones you’ll be studying abroad) are pre-approved by your home university, and that your credits will transfer across.
I hear stories every year about people who have signed up to a privately run program, only to find out that it wasn’t approved by their university. As a result, upon returning home they realize that the semester they’ve just spent studying abroad won’t count towards their degree, and they’ll have to spend an extra semester at school!
Choosing Your Living Arrangements
When you choose to study abroad, there will often be a wide range of options regarding your potential living arrangements.
Unfortunately, the organizers of most university exchange programs aren’t very helpful when it comes to helping you find a place to live abroad while studying (although thankfully the same can’t be said for the organizers of most private study programs).
Here are the most popular living arrangements chosen by people studying abroad:
Staying in an apartment is the choice of many when studying abroad. Living in an apartment with other local people is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture, and having your own room and a kitchen and living room nearby will give you privacy when you need it and flexibility to do what you want, as well as the option of entertaining friends/guests from time to time.
The one potential downside of living in an apartment is that you might not get on with your flatmates, and you might have a problem if they’re constantly up late blaring music from their room.
Staying in a dorm room won’t always be an option (depending on where you’re studying), but if it is then it’s worth considering, as staying in a dormitory is usually pretty cheap and a great, easy way to meet people.
Also, most dormitories will be located right on (or next to) campus, meaning you’re right in the heart of things.
The downsides of staying in a dorm room are that they can be loud and difficult to sleep in at times, you’ll have little privacy, you’ll have to share a bathroom with lots of other people and you may have to follow strict dorm rules (e.g. “lights out before 11pm”).
What is a homestay? A homestay involves you renting a room from a local family and staying in their home with them. Homestays are more popular in Latin America, where you’ll essentially become a part of the family during your time there.
If you want to get a genuine taste of the local lifestyle and learn the local language, homestays are second to none in this regard.
In most homestays, you’ll get home-cooked meals made for you each day, and you may find yourself living in a house with young children who will suddenly view you as their older brother/sister. This can be a blessing or a curse (depending on your view of it and how the children behave).
The main problem with homestays is that you won’t have the same level freedom you’d have if you were staying in an apartment. Each family will be different, but some may not like you being out after a certain time (for example), and you may feel like you’re living at home with your parents again when you should be out experiencing the freedoms of the world.
Hopefully by now you’ve got some kind of an idea of what to look for (and what to avoid) when choosing study abroad programs.
In addition to this, here are a few links to help you take the next step in finding a program:
- StudyAbroad.com – A great site that contains virtually every study abroad program out there. The site offers you the ability to search through their programs and narrow them down use certain criteria.
- GoAbroad.com – A site dedicated to helping you find study abroad programs (including high school study abroad programs and college study abroad programs) as well as scholarships and jobs abroad.
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