My main source of inspiration was my older brother who studied abroad while he was in college in Denmark, and two of my best friends that went a year before I did.
Also, one of my majors is international business, so international experience was a must!
My program was International Business and Chinese Language, at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China; the program was through ISA, which also offered an apartment just outside of the university where I lived with another two roommates. I took five business classes in English along with other students from the program, including Financial Markets and Doing Business in China, for example; and an introductory Chinese Language course.
We had two major trips with the program, for one they took us to Beijing where we went to the Forbidden City and to the Great Wall, and the other was to Hang'Zhou a nearby city.
Mainly I was able to use Financial Aid for the semester, from which I used the loans available to me for the year as well. I received a scholarship from my university's study abroad office, and was awarded the Gilman scholarship as well. On top of all of this, my family did help me fund part of my experience as well.
I wish I had known that it wasn't a lot of time after all, when you get there you take a couple of weeks to adapt to almost everything, and by the time that is done, you feel as if you still have plenty of time to get to know the city, or to travel, so you keep putting it off and to some extent not taking advantage of the opportunity, and by the time you only have a couple of weeks left, you can't do much anymore.
My advice is to really take advantage since day one for the opportunity of living abroad, whether that being going out to take a walk at a nearby park, getting into the metro and just losing yourself in the city or traveling to nearby places, it goes fast, very fast! Everyone that I know that has studied abroad returns wishing they'd had more time.
Since my experience abroad I really decided what I want to do with my life, and it only happened while I was over there, I was pretty much undecided between a couple of majors and what I wanted as a career, and now I know exactly what I want to do.
I think the exact moment when I was leaving for the whole thing, it felt real, and I felt like I was invincible and just very glad that I had set out to make this dream come true, and I was finally on my way to live it.
It was totally the opposite of what I expected, there were of course extreme differences as in any city of that size, considering the area where you went, different prices, events and so on.
Another thing that was surprising for me was the number of international people throughout the city, and especially in the most touristic, expensive areas of the city, and the restaurants, clubs and bars of the area.