Talia is a nonprofit professional working on human rights issues with various NGOs. She holds a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics in Gender, Development, and Globalization. Through her love of traveling she has lived in many places including Brazil, Spain, Namibia, and the UK. She loves to learn new languages, and also has her own travel blog.
Hello there! I would like to provide some tips for those of you wondering if studying abroad is right for them by covering some basics. I will be basing this on my time as a student when I studied abroad in Barcelona. I’ll discuss the benefits of studying abroad, selecting the right program, and finally what to expect when you arrive for the semester.
First of all, I can not emphasize enough how beneficial it is to study abroad. If I could relive my study abroad experience as a student over and over again, I would! Seriously, studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Some of my best memories come from when I was studying abroad, along with some of my best friends are people I met while there. You are only a student once, and the ability to learn while living somewhere else and learning about a new culture is an unbelievable experience.
I chose to study abroad in Barcelona when I was a sophomore. I know that seems a little unusual, because it is most common to study your junior year, but if you are thinking of doing it a bit earlier or if you have the opportunity to do so your final year, you should go for it.
The benefits of studying abroad are truly invaluable. You are able to take your classroom to a new location. You are exposed to a different way of learning through new teaching styles in a foreign context, giving you greater understanding about how things work in different countries. Also taking your study location to the places you are learning allows you to get first hand knowledge instead of just reading about it in a textbook. If you’re studying Art History, why not study in Italy or France, and have your classroom be the museums with the artwork right in front of you.
Also, if you are studying a foreign language, going to a location where the language is spoken is the best way to actually be able to learn how to speak that language. Exposure to using that language on a day to day basis is the best way for full acquisition. You will be learning at the same time as experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, and traveling! Once you graduate, these opportunities will be rare to come by, so take advantage now!
Selecting the Right Program:
To speak a little bit about how to select the right program first you should think about a location where you want to go or where makes sense based on what you are studying. First, I would suggest looking into where your university offers programs. If they have a location you want, great! Find out more about the application process and talk to your advisor to see how to go about signing up.
That being said, you should definitely think outside the box if your school does not offer a program in a place that you really want to study. This is the situation I faced. For me, I knew I wanted to study in Spain, and more specifically Barcelona. I had visited when I was younger, and absolutely loved it there. But my university did not have a program there. So, I began to search for programs offered in Barcelona. I found a bunch. There are lots of organizations out there offering study abroad programs. Once I decided on which one I was going to apply to, I had to get it approved. To get this approved by my academic department, I had to go to the dean of students with my proposed courses and a description of each course. I then got an official approval and continued with my application process.
A word of advice in selecting programs offered outside of your school, I lucked out with the program I selected, but I would suggest going for a smaller program. There are lots of programs offered that have hundreds of students going, in my opinion the smaller the program the better. You have the opportunity to become really close with others studying with you. My program had a total of thirty students, I knew everyone. Also because of the small size, the program was able to take us on trips as a whole group and plan group activities. Another suggestion when selecting a program, I would advise choosing a program that gives you the opportunity to study directly at a university in the location. Often times, programs will have their own separate school, which might have its benefits, but I think to get the full experience of studying abroad going to a university with students from the country is best. It gives you the opportunity to fully engage in academic culture but also meet local students while you are abroad!
What to Expect When Studying in a New Country:
Now that you’ve gone through the process, picked a program, and applied. The expectation of arriving to your new home for the next couple of months can be nerve wracking! It is definitely understandable. To put your mind at ease, usually study abroad programs have a great orientation for the first couple of weeks, where you can get the support you need to get settled.
But in the first few weeks, the most important thing is to give your time to adjust and get acclimated! It is totally normal to be freaked out slightly when you first get there, it will take a little bit of getting used to and figuring out how things work. Also, give yourself some time to adjust to your new school. It is pretty likely that it will have different expectations then you are used to. The best advice for your arrival is to allow yourself to be unaccustomed to certain things, they will more likely be the things you appreciate most about your new home by the end of your experience! Take every opportunity to get involved in the new culture, by going to theatre, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, hikes, and whatever else there might be. And finally, keep in touch with your loved ones at home. Before you know it your experience studying abroad will be over, and you will be wishing you were back there!