This fall I am lucky enough to be traveling to Dublin, Ireland to spend four months studying at Trinity College. I spent months trying to figure out where I wanted to apply to for my study abroad experience. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding where to go!
What Type of Program Do You Want?
Some schools offer a variety of programs, not just the standard one semester away to Europe type of programs. Think about how long you want to be away and what you want to get out of the experience. I know my school offers short (1 month) programs that usually involve some traveling around. For example, I went to Southern Europe for a month and traveled to 12 cities (in three countries). These don’t give you a ton of time to experience cultures, but you get to see and learn a lot in a short amount of time. There are also summer study programs for around 6 weeks in the summer. These are similar to semester programs but usually require a smaller workload. As mentioned before there are the standard one-semester programs. These are more like the average semester at college, just in a different country. Lastly, there are year-long programs, which I have been told is similar to being a transfer student for a year. It’s important to think about how long you want to be away and what the program costs in comparison to your normal tuition.
What Do You Want Out of Your Studying?
It may seem like a “duh” questions that you want to experience cultures, try new things or get a different perspective on certain subjects. But this should be a more complicated question than that. What are you trying to learn about academically? Are you trying to create career connections through internships? Will it advance you in your major or minors? Are you trying to study less and travel more? Are you trying to learn about a specific culture? Are you trying to learn a new language?
Where Do You Want to Study?
I don’t mean specifically what city or town do you want to study in. What region of the world do you want to study in? Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe or South America? There are also programs within the U.S. like studying in Los Angeles, New York or Hawaii! You could also sign up for a Semester at Sea program that travels all around (usually a continent or region). There are pros and cons to every region and it’s important to write down what you want to get out of the experience before researching places. If you want to travel, I don’t suggest Australia. But if you’re looking for once in a lifetime adventures like cage-diving with Great White Sharks, that may be the place for you.
How Much Time are You Willing to Put In to Prepare?
Some countries require a lot more steps to study abroad than others. For example, I am going to Ireland for four months and all I have to do at Customs is provide documents proving my status as a study abroad student, my ability to stay in the country (financially) and my passport. Then I have an interview with immigration services in the first month I am there. It is a super simple process for Ireland, however, programs in countries like Italy or Spain take months and months of effort to get visas and passports approved and require many steps to be able to study abroad in those countries. Know yourself and your limits; how much time can you dedicate to study abroad prep? This also helps you decide when to go. If you are abroad in the fall, you have all of summer to prepare. If you are abroad in the Spring or Summer, you will be preparing while taking classes.
What Environment Do You Want to Live in?
Just like choosing a college, choosing a program requires some thought about weather, location and culture. Do you want to study in a small or large city, or in the country? Do you mind it being very hot or very cold? Do you mind rain or snow? Do you think you will enjoy the culture and people there? These are all important questions to ask because you will be living there and you want to make the transition as simple as possible. Culture shock on top of a distaste for where you are is never a place you want to be in.
Who Will You Study With?
Choose a program that is best for you. Not a program that is best for your closest group of friends. But, that does not mean you can’t happen to be in a program with a friend or two. Although I do not recommend choosing a program because your friends are doing it, the process is less stressful when you get to know people on your trip beforehand. On the other hand, if you choose to go on a program alone, mentally preparing for that is very different than preparing to go with people you know. Once you have been accepted into a program, it’s usually very easy to find other people who are in it. Go grab coffee or food and talk to them about the program. Even if you are only acquaintances with one person, it makes the transition so much easier. It’s also helpful if you have to request roommates for abroad to know them before you leave.
Creating goals before you choose a program might make it easier to find the best fit. Not all programs, even within the same country or city, offer the same experience. I know Dublin offers three different universities, but each school has very different programs. Think about what you want first, then see if a program you are interested in matches your goals.
Separate Traveling Dreams from This Decision?
Do not pick a program JUST because you want to travel there. More likely than not, you will be able to travel to cities or countries you would like to without having to live there for months. For example, I would love to travel to Santorini but I am not going to study abroad there. Maybe while I am in Europe I will decide to spend a weekend or break there. Obviously, consider travel plans for the region you want to be in, but not the college you want to study at.
I hope this was helpful and you can start researching for programs your school offers. This is one of the best experiences college has to offer! Take advantage of it and prepare for it wisely! Really think about you as a person and your goals for school and studying abroad, then make your decision carefully! Comment below with some of your dream places to travel!
Until Next Time,