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
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.
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.
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.
So you’re leaving on a jet plane. Do you know when you’ll be back again?
Written by Hilary Weissman, sophomore, journalism, University of Maryland
This spring, registering for classes and approaching application deadlines beckons the inevitable question:
Can I fit studying abroad into my four-year plan without turning it into my five-year plan?
The University Studies Abroad Consortium boasts life-changing individual growth, adventure, expanding academic resources, and satisfying curiosity as some of the top reasons to study abroad.
A full year abroad can be a life-changing experience, whether or not it was the original plan. Mackenzie Edgemon, a junior psychology major at UC Davis, spent a year at Brighton University in England after extending her initial semester stay. Edgemon only regretted taking the amount of time she had for granted, saying that a year went by so much faster than she could have anticipated.
“My first semester just felt like an extended vacation; it was a total whirlwind of excitement and confusion, but not nearly enough time to get acclimated to the English way of life,” she said. Edgemon felt her abroad experience led her to a more independent style of learning without being “spoon-fed” material, and forced her to leave her comfort zone. After overcoming her overwhelming desire to return home early in her first semester, she was ready to appreciate all that England had to offer her.
Others recognize that sometimes the objective of a study abroad program is getting as much out of it as you can in the short time you are given. Nicki Alpern, a senior psychology major at Tulane University, spent a semester in Greece, though she considered staying longer to travel and work.
“As much as I wanted to stay forever, I feel like if I stayed a whole year or extended my trip, I would have taken time for granted,” she said.
One of the most important lessons she took home with her was time management.
“It’s hard to make yourself do work when Europe is your playground and it’s Greece outside your window,” she said. Alpern also noted that she saved mostly electives to take in Greece and had finished the majority of her credits for her major.
For Kristin Valva, a junior marketing major and Spanish minor at the University of Delaware, the choice of semester or not came down to her initial major. The program of International Business would have required her to spend the full semester abroad, but once she changed majors, she still felt it was in her best interests.
As she prepared to come home from Granada, Spain, at the end of the fall semester, Valva said, “I think that this was the perfect amount of time to study abroad; although I tell my parents I might not be getting on the plane to come home! The time here went by so fast, but I feel as though I have learned more in these past three and a half months that I have in all my college years.”
Still, many choose to take just a summer or winter session abroad, whether it is accommodating a rigorous class schedule, athletic season or nerves over spending too much time from home.
Though she felt that classes and an internship were a lot of work to cram into the two months, Emily McNaughton, who graduated from Boston University last May, felt satisfied by her summer in Madrid in 2008. “I do think the two-month summer program is a great option for those who don’t have enough time during the semester. I also think that if the summer program was any longer, I would have been dead by the time it was over—I made sure to get in as much as I could during every waking hour … sleeping was my last priority,” she said.
McNaughton recommended just focusing on either an internship or a class schedule during a summer session to better absorb the material you learn and appreciate the culture and sites around you.
Ultimately, the choice will come down to what fits into your family’s budget, how much time you can spend away with the rest of the requirements you have left and what other commitments you would have to leave behind.
Talk to your advisor about how credits will transfer towards your major or minor. Also talk to your parents about the cost of a summer program in addition to your regular tuition or the substitution of an abroad semester’s tuition for what your university normally costs.
Valva said, “Whether it may be for five weeks, a semester or even a year, you will learn such life experiences and grow as a person. I believe that the opportunity to study abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
Want More Studying Abroad Info?
*Updated May 11, 2016 by Hilary Weissman to include “Leaving on a Jet Plane, Do You Know When You’ll be Back Again?”