Making the decision to study abroad, like any big life decision, takes a lot of self-reflection and thought. While there are certainly those among us who have no problem spinning a globe and allowing fate to decide where in the world we might go next, the majority of us consider a broad range of factors that will influence our decision about not just which country to choose, but which program to choose as well.
Below are some considerations we believe will help you in determining how to make the best choice for yourself. Any additions we left out? Let us know in the comments!
Part I: Choosing a Country
When I talk to students, I often ask them where in the world they’d like to go. Typically, one of two things happens: In scenario A, students know EXACTLY which country they’d study abroad in. In scenario B, students give me the ever-so non-specific “ANYWHERE”.
If you happen to be in scenario A, feel free to jump down to Part II. Otherwise, if you’re a student in scenario B and just excited to explore any country in the world, I strongly encourage you to consider choosing a country first. Once you’ve determined where you want to go, it’s far easier to then select a program within that country. Here are some factors for you to consider. along with questions you should ask yourself:
Be aware of cultural differences that would impact your overall experience. Some countries have more advanced technologies and services than parts of the U.S., while others are far less catering to a Western palate. Truthfully answer the following to yourself:
- Do you need to live somewhere with “Western” accommodations? Think toilets, drinkable tap water, free Wi-Fi, etc.
- Are you willing to open yourself up to trying different foods? Is there a dietary restriction or allergy that you can’t compromise? Or are you just a picky eater that won’t eat something that “looks” or “smells” foreign?
- Does changing lifestyle patterns sound like an exciting new challenge or something that would require a lot of your energy and determination?
Be honest about your language skills.
- Can you speak another language fluently?
- If so, would you want to live somewhere where you can perfect those skills?
- Or perhaps you want to consider picking up a different language and would move to a country where you can practice that language instead?
- If you’re worried about communicating on a daily basis, are you alright with letting that narrow down your choices?
- Or are you willing to challenge yourself to try living somewhere to sharpen your language skills?
Be mindful of the cost of living. Let’s imagine you’ve scored enough financial support through your financial-aid package and/or any number of scholarships you are probably eligible to receive. Now that you’re left to budget for daily expenses such as food and transportation,
- How far will $1 USD take you in the local currency?
- Do you intend to spend everything you have, or save up?
- Are you willing to pay more to travel further, or perhaps compromise by going to a more expensive country for a shorter period?
No one ever said choosing a country was easy. In some cases, you may even need to take a step back and consider which CONTINENT you want to visit, too! Definitely take the time to make a careful decision based on the above criteria, so you know you’ll be spending time in a country you really want to go to.
Part II: Choosing a Program
Now that you've finally chosen the country where you will study abroad, it's time to take on the even more challenging decision of choosing a PROGRAM that will facilitate this experience. There are so many factors that go into this decision, and so many programs that exist! So again -- it’s best to be honest with yourself about not just what you want out of the experience, but also how much time and effort you’re willing to put into the planning and preparation of your chosen program.
Be honest about what you want out of your global experience. Some students want a break from their personal and academic life in the U.S. Others are planning towards a future career goal. If you’re truthful about what you want to gain by going abroad -- personal independence, career development, language skills, etc. it can really help to narrow the search. So ask yourself:
- Why do you want to go abroad?
- Are you going to experience a country you’ve always wanted to visit, or do you want the courses offered to determine where you go due to their relation to your intended career goals?
- Is your decision to go abroad solely because an international experience looks good on your resume?
- Do you have future plans to do globally or internationally focused work?
2. Do your homework. There are so many programs you can choose from, and you’re only limiting yourself if you fail to do thorough research. Explore the following questions below and ask yourself if you want a program that:
- is language intensive?
- is the most cost-effective?
- is comprised of your fellow campus peers or a mix of students from a variety of schools?
- allows you to exchange places with one student?
- can earn you a specific number of credits?
- allows you to have your own apartment? or a homestay? or a student dorm?
- is short and sweet, like a summer program, or a year-long experience?
3. Be honest about the amount of prep/follow-through expected of you. When I was an undergrad, I chose a summer faculty-led program that my school offered. The credits directly transferred, as did much of my financial-aid. While it was the “easiest” choice to make, I also failed to follow the step above, and did no additional research whatsoever. In hindsight, my time abroad could have been more beneficial to my professional growth or language skills had I taken the time to conduct research seriously. So ask yourself:
- Do I have time this semester to dedicate thorough research and choose the right program?
- Will my decision be based on one key factor: cost, destination, academic credits earned, etc.? And if so, am I willing to compromise in the other factors?
- If need be, am I responsible enough to facilitate between campuses in order to make sure all paperwork is submitted on time?
Hopefully we’ve helped you weigh some of the decisions you should be making when choosing a program. Although the decision-making process can seem a bit daunting, know that in a few months time, you’ll be in another part of the world, soaking up one of the most life-changing opportunities you facilitated yourself! And although the choice is ultimately yours, there are countless faculty and advisors at your school’s study abroad office or financial aid office to help you through the thought process. And at Diversity Abroad, we have endless resources you can access at anytime.