Your Master Guide to Studying Abroad

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When Lizzie McGuire hopped onto the back of Paolo’s motorcycle in Rome, we all thought: Man, Paolo looks way too old to be 16, and how can I get on the back of a hot babe’s motorcycle in Rome? You grew antsy envisioning yourself posing in front of the Great Wall of China or sinking your teeth into that first bite of legit Thai food. Imagine spending a semester living in the heart of Barcelona, learning about Spanish history or sitting on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, sketching the sunset’s reflection on the river. From writers and artists to history-buffs and mathematicians, experiencing another culture feels as exhilarating as a motorcycle ride through an exotic city—hot babe or not. Study abroad programs themselves, though, can often feel as foreign as the places they advocate. Fear not, students—your time abroad can come easier than you thought.

Study Abroad 101

The Place

Yeah, the world is pretty big. So how do you pick your location? First—the obvious. What locations does your chosen program offer? Once you narrow down the list, ask yourself what culture interests you. Some schools offer programs tailored to specific majors so make sure to check out your options. Study abroad programs exist in Italy, France, Spain, South Africa, Israel, Thailand, Japan, New Zealand and across the world.

The Cost

As your wallet gets lighter and your heart heavier, you start to wonder how you’ll afford your dreams of traveling. The experience won’t come cheap, but luckily each study abroad program’s cost varies. Estimates include:

  • One semester abroad: $10,000-$19,000
  • One summer abroad: $5,000-$16,000 (depending on length)
  • One year abroad: $20,000-$30,000

Prices vary between programs, but most include registration and tuition fees, some sort of housing, an optional or limited meal plan and planned excursions during the trip. That’s right—most study abroad programs don’t include the cost of your flight.

Overwhelmed yet? Luckily, study abroad scholarships exist. Some schools offer scholarships within their program, or you can look to outside organizations that advocate students gaining real-world travel experience to receive funding. Pro Tip: Booking sites like Student Universe help students find discounted hotels and flights so you can focus on spending your money while abroad.

The Suitcase

Pack light. You’ll scoff at the study abroad veterans who tell you not to bring eight pairs of shoes, but you’ll probably do it anyway. Remember: Airlines place a strict weight limit on your luggage. After all the souvenirs you buy for your family and friends, it’ll weigh significantly more on the trip home. Whether traveling to Thailand or England, consider bringing the following items:

  • Comfortable walking shoes. Girls, bring one pair of heels if you must, but you’ll soon realize you won’t need them.
  • Two weeks of outfits. For trips that span six weeks, bring 10 comfortable tops and bottoms and call it a day.
  • Travel-sized toiletries. Buy more toiletries and hygiene products when you arrive.
  • Adapters and converters. Find out what kind of adapter or converter you’ll need for your chosen location. An adapter will work on small electronics like a Kindle, iPhone or a laptop, but high-powered items like hair dryers will need a converter to function properly.
  • Your passport. Make sure the passport remains valid six months beyond your trip dates; otherwise airlines might not let you board your flight.

My School Doesn’t Offer a Study Abroad Program: What Do I Do?

If your school doesn’t offer a study abroad program, your dreams aren’t over. Many schools accept students not affiliated with their university into their study abroad programs, meaning you apply online and participate in their program without enrollment at that university. Plus, many study abroad organizations send students to locations around the globe without affiliation to specific schools. Programs like the Institute for Study Abroad and International Studies Abroad offer similar opportunities. These programs utilize accredited institutions at the chosen locations, so they require you to meet with your advisor beforehand to see if your credits will successfully transfer to your home institution.

How Can I Stay Safe While Studying Abroad?

The horror stories speak for themselves, but why let that stop you from seeing the world? Sure, it’s scary traveling across the world, but luckily many tools ease your (and your parents’) fears.

  • Sign up for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The program gives consistent updates on the safety conditions of your destination and makes it easier for family members to contact you in case of an emergency.
  • Watch out for pickpockets. Keep your bag close and too close for comfort and in eyesight—pickpockets roam the streets, nightclubs and public transportation.
  • If you get in a taxi, make sure it’s licensed.
  • Get a cell phone. Buy the cheapest plan offered; they’re available for purchase once you arrive in your chosen country. You may not be able to call your best friend for a chat, but you’ll be able to contact the authorities in case of an emergency.
  • Research, research, research. Don’t go to your country of choice blind. Know the general layout of your area and make an effort to learn simple phrases that could alert others in dangerous situations.

How Do I Communicate While Abroad?

You just snapped a picture of the Taj Mahal. You like the picture, but you’ve seen it in person and want to share it with family and friends. Besides, you haven’t spoken to your mom in a week, and you’re know she’s imagining the worst. A few options allow you to communicate back home.

  • Get a go-phone. As mentioned before, most countries sell cheap phones with a cheap data plan. You “pay as you go,” only paying for the calls you make rather than buying and wasting a data plan. You won’t get the bells and whistles an iPhone provides, but it’ll do the job.
  • If searching for a phone store in the middle of an unknown country freaks you out, don’t worry—bring your own. Talk to your service provider and let them know about your travel plans. Usually, overseas plans cost around $50 extra a month, but they allow you to snapchat next to the Great Wall of China.
  • Use Facebook to call your family and friends. With Wi-Fi, you can log on and call your Facebook friends through the messenger app.

How Much Money Should I Bring?

With any trip, it depends on how long you’ll stay. Make sure you figure out the exchange rate and familiarize yourself with the new currency. Most home banks allow you to exchange your cash without additional charges. For a safe bet, carry an equivalent of $100 on your trip to the airport. As for your actual trip abroad, your program will probably fund a few excursions in the area, but keep in mind that you’ll want to travel to other places on the weekends. If you’re traveling in Europe, flights come as low as 30 euros. Research flights and hostels and set your budget early so you know how much money to bring. Don’t forget to budget in souvenirs (and shopping) for your family and friends, or you’ll never hear the end of it.

How Many Classes Should I Take?

The number of credits you take depend on the type of program you choose and how long you plan to stay abroad. If you intend on fulfilling your major requirements abroad and staying on a strict path to graduation, take a standard load of classes, especially if you’re studying abroad for a full fall or spring semester. For most six-week summer programs, however, programs only allow students to take up to three classes, but many students opt to take two in order to fully immerse themselves in a new culture. Remember, your experiences in a foreign environment will teach you more than a textbook, so don’t overwork yourself.

Top 3 Study Abroad Destinations

1. International Studies Abroad, Sevilla, Spain

  • Universidad de Sevilla sits at one of the least expensive universities to study abroad at around a $10,000-$11,000 program fee.
  • Sevilla’s safe environment makes going to its abundant bars and clubs an easy-going and unforgettable experience.

2. European Study Center, Heidelberg, Germany

  • The European Study Center provides over 40 undergraduate programs for students.
  • Students live in one of the safest neighborhoods in Heidelburg.
  • The city of Heidelburg provides nightlife galore, including special events nearly every weekend.

3. CEA Aix En Provence, France

  • L’Institut d’Etudes Franais Pour Etudiants Etrangers (IEFEE), one of the best French-language teaching centers in the world, teaches students in this program.
  • College students from all over the world fill this town, making it a relatable and easy place to make lifelong friends.

Top 3 Twitter Accounts for Studying Abroad

1. Studyabroad.com – @StudyingAbroad

Here you’ll find opportunities from multiple study abroad programs around the world, as well as study abroad trip and packing tips. They even provide moral support, giving links to how to discuss study abroad with your parents and how to find cheap flights.

2. CEA Study Abroad – @CEAstudyabroad

Based out of Phoenix, Arizona, CEA provides opportunities for students to visit 14 countries. They provide updates on their application process, links to travel blogs and even pictures of current CEA travelers to amp up the study abroad hype.

3. Abroad 101 – @StudyAbroad101

Not sure which study abroad program to choose? This twitter functions as an online review system for study abroad programs. They pride themselves on being “for students by students,” and tweet and retweet feedback from students across the globe participating in study abroad programs. They also share insight from students on the best places to visit in each country and tweet information about the programs themselves. 

Want More Studying Abroad Info?

Five Unique Places to Study Abroad

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Making the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience

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Study Abroad Mishaps and How to Avoid Them

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Ariella is a senior Editing, Writing, and Media major at Florida State University. She is passionate about music, Girl Scout thin mint cookies, and traveling the world.

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