So you’ve decided it’s time to leave the nest and apply for a semester abroad – good for you! Studying abroad provides the opportunity to grow in new ways, to immerse yourself in a different culture, and to discover all sorts of things about the world (and about yourself).
There’s never been a better time to study abroad than now when the number of potential host institutions available to you continues to grow and spread across the globe.
But with all this choice comes the problem of, well, choosing.
Below is a list of ten things to consider when choosing your study abroad location. These questions will help you narrow down your options and ensure that you choose a study destination where you can make the most of your time abroad – wherever it may be.
1. Am I ready to learn or practice a new language?
Learning a new language is a valuable skill (not to mention a valuable addition to your resume). And there’s no better way to truly grasp a language than to dive right into it.
However, you need to ask yourself if you’re honestly ready to take the plunge into full language immersion. Will you really be able to get by for an entire semester speaking a different language? Will there be opportunities to communicate in your first language if you needed to? If your classes are also going to be in taught in a different language, will your grades be severely impacted? These are all things you’ll need to seriously think about before you sign up for that Italian-only economics program in Florence.
2. Can I handle the culture shock?
Living in a new culture is a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience that opens the door to all kinds of discovery. It can be healthy for us to step outside of our comfort zones, but it’s also important that we don’t step too far outside to make ourselves feel out of place and alone.
Do your research ahead of time on the cultural practices and etiquette of your potential study abroad locations. Compare them with your own culture to see just how different those cultural practices are from your own. Then ask yourself if you’d be able to adapt to those differences for an entire semester.
3. Will I have people close enough to me in the case of emergency?
Nobody wants to think about an emergency derailing their time abroad, but it’s important to be prepared. An emergency situation can happen when you least expect it – even to the most diligent. That’s why it’s crucial to think about who you might go to for help and how quickly they might be able to travel to you in the event of a crisis.
4. How much will it cost?
There are many factors that need to be considered when it comes to budgeting your semester abroad. You should start by taking a look at cost of travel to get there and back, as well as the average cost of housing, transportation, food, clothing, and other essential items. Then add in a reasonable budget for dining out, entertainment, souvenirs, tourist experiences, and other travel excursions.
If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet for any of your potential study locations, you should probably take them off the list. Nobody wants to spend their semester abroad stressing about money problems. Choose a location that will allow you to live comfortably for the duration of your stay.
5. How much will my money be worth there?
Currency conversion can make or break your budget. Let’s say your dollar is worth only half its value when studying abroad. That means you need to double the amount you initially had budgeted for your stay there. Make sure to use an up-to-date currency converter to determine if the host destination you have your heart set on is still financially feasible for you.
6. Are the courses relevant to my program?
As exciting as the opportunity to travel and see the world is, you have to remind yourself that the purpose of a study abroad is technically to study.
Most schools will post a list of courses available to visiting students on their website. If not, you can try contacting their registrar to learn more about what courses you could take if you were to attend your semester abroad there.
You should look for courses that are in-line with your program and degree requirements but are unique from those offered at your own school to make the most of your study abroad term.
7. How easy will it be to travel around?
Many students use their study abroad semester as an opportunity to travel and visit other new places on weekends or holidays. If travelling is something you’re hoping to get out of your semester abroad, you should consider study abroad destinations that offer the infrastructure and location to travel easily and cost-effectively around. This is one of the reasons why European schools are a popular study abroad choice for North-American visiting students.
8. Besides studying, what can I do while I’m there?
Let’s be real, you’re not going to be studying all the time. But you also want to make the most of your semester abroad and avoid spending too much time sitting in your room exploring the foreign Netflix titles. Do some research on nearby attractions, day trips and local entertainment offerings around your potential host institutions to get an idea of how you may be able to occupy your free time. Make sure to keep your budget in mind while drafting your shortlist of the places you think you’d be the most engaged.
9. Will I easily be able to connect with my friends and loved ones back home?
Homesickness is a real thing. Despite all the new friends you’ll make and the exciting adventures you’ll have during your semester abroad, you’ll still eventually find yourself missing your squad back home. Look into the time difference and internet availability of the study abroad destinations you’re considering. You’ll likely want to check in with the group chat and video call your parents from time to time, so it’s important to know that you’ll be able to do this when you need to.
10. How will this enhance my learning and personal development?
At the end of the day, a semester abroad is all about learning and growth. You should be considering study abroad locations that will provide you with the opportunity to truly enhance your education. For example, if you’re a French major you may want to consider looking into schools located in French-speaking countries. If you’re a Chemistry major you may want to research institutions that are renowned for innovation in your field. The possibilities for enhanced learning inside and outside of the classroom during a semester abroad are endless.
We hope these ten questions will help you narrow down your shortlist of study abroad destinations. Remember to do your research, to be honest with yourself and your limitations, and to get ready for the experience of a lifetime.