Those Who Wander Lost is a blog-site dedicated to the Class of 2013 but with enough room for guest contributors to share their pearls of wisdom, advice, rants, worries, and stories about college life and beyond. Posted here with permission by the author, the ever lovely mythology expert, Sam, who spent an amazing year abroad in Dublin. (I’m really jealous. And I love this kid a lot so you should all listen up!)
Hey all! Guest blogger Sam here! While Angeli catches some rays, waves, and maybe a surfing cutie (or five), I’d like to discuss the impact of travel upon your undergraduate career. YES–this is the quintessential study abroad blog post! Do or don’t? Europe, Asia, Africa, or elsewhere? Semester or year? More after the cut!
The First Step
A lot of study abroad posts will talk about (read: rave) how these kinds of programs have a lot of personal growth to offer. And rightly so–any kind of venture abroad posts a lot of personal challenges that you literally have no choice but to surmount, otherwise you go home. This kind of offering is important to acknowledge, but I also suggest you consider whether a program will benefit your academic/career path.
Since a lot of us here are in the humanities, applicability is so incredibly important. We can’t let those STEM majors make cracks about us, can we? As well, study abroad can be expensive, so make sure you get a little more bang for your buck than just “priceless memories.”
Maybe this approach seems mercenary, and you know, I’d say that’s a fair assessment. But if you can develop a skill set or network in addition to having the time of your life, why wouldn’t you? Bear in mind that if you do study abroad, you’ll most likely be doing so during your junior year. Junior year is when most start searching for internships, research opportunities, or even bottom-rung jobs in career-fields-of-choice. When you graduate and suddenly find yourself competing with people who, in lieu of studying abroad, beefed up their resumes, you’re going to have to make your experiences count. Not everyone studies abroad, but don’t expect that alone to distinguish you. You’ve got to make yourself truly stand out, which leads me to my next topic.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Location is so crucial. This is said over and over again, but it really helps to research potential locations. Ask previous exchange students how they found the culture, the housing situation, the price of groceries and essentials. What’s the weather like? Is public transportation efficient? Existent? Will you be in a stable situation, and if not, are you truly equipped–mentally and emotionally–to deal with it?
The above questions pertain to general living conditions. While important, I suggest you also consider the academic merit of where you go. Again, this advice may seem persnickety, even fun-sucking, but trust me, you do want to study abroad at a well-reputed institution. Check international rankings, like the Times Higher Education. The rule of thumb is to avoid “downgrading.” That is, try not to attend host institutions lower-ranking than your own. The more prestigious the institution, the better the networking, and thus, career opportunities. Future employers are more likely to be impressed by a well-known institution than otherwise.
This isn’t to say lesser-known universities have less to offer, or that you can’t have an amazing time there. Ranking certainly doesn’t preclude career and academic growth. This is where your research comes in. Make sure the institution is really worth it–make sure a program is really worth it–make it work for you, because you certainly will be working for it. And just how long should you work at it, anyway?
Time After Time
The length of your program is one of the most critical aspects of studying abroad. Most programs are either a semester (fall/spring) or a year. I’ve broken the pros and cons of each option below:
- you start the year with everyone else, so it’s easier to make friends and join clubs
- if you’re prone to getting homesick, this is the shortest duration
- usually least cost effective–highest $/day
- depending on where you are, the cold months can be a shocker
- out of the two semester options, this is the more cost effective
- weather and food availability stand to be much friendlier during the spring
- you start halfway through the regular school year, making it more challenging to make friends and join clubs
- the most cost effective option in terms of cost per day
- plenty of time to travel around and ready get a feel for your host country
- be aware going home for the holidays will be costly
- your home institution may cap the number of transferable credit, so watch out
I know it seems like a lot to handle, but that’s sort of what study abroad is–a bunch of stuff just thrown at you. It’s up to you to sort out out and make something of it. And the more you stress at home beforehand, the less you’ll stress abroad. It pays to land on your feet; it pays to hit the ground running. You’ll enjoy yourself so much more.
So remember, when considering study abroad:
- Think career! Think applicability!
- Scrutinize potential locations, and scrutinize yourself.
- Make sure you’ve picked the program duration right for you.
- Avoid downgrading, unless the benefits are truly worth it!
And of course, the ever-ubiquitous:
(And send me postcards, dangit.) (AN: I believe this was directed towards me, but based on my own study-abroad experience, sending out postcards are a MUST and are more cost effective than buying everyone a gift ;D Also saves on space!)