Julia Scanlon grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She is in her final year at Saint Michael College finishing up a Bachelors Degree in English and Theatre. After graduation Julia hopes to pursue a Masters Degree in Screenwriting.
Studying Abroad can be the greatest and most terrifying experience you’ll ever have, but before you go you have to under go tasks that can be just as daunting as actually leaving the country. You have to decide if you want to go, where to go, which program to go through, when to go, how you’ll pay for it, and how it will fit into your schedule. All these questions can seem overwhelming, but it helps if you take it one step at a time.
The first step is deciding, if you want to go. Sometimes you do not have a choice in the matter, because your major requires to study abroad. However, if your major does not require you to study abroad, and you would like to here is how you can decide. The first question you have to ask yourself is: if you are ready. Going to a country where you don’t know anyone and possibly don’t know the language can be beyond scary and overwhelming. Also, being away from family and friends for a long period of time can leave you feeling anxious. There is no shame in not being ready to study abroad. If you go, when you know you’re not ready, your chances of being successful are slim. Make sure you can handle it before you decide.
Once you have decided you are ready. The second question you must ask is: will you be able to go abroad and still graduate on time? Let’s say you are like me and you double major. The first thought that crossed my mind was: would I be able to finish both of my majors in time for graduation? You need to remember that classes you take abroad can either count towards your majors or your General Studies requirements. Don’t think that the class you take abroad won’t count for anything, because they may, just be sure you check with the registrar. In my case I chose to focus on my English Major and I am currently on a direct course for graduation.
The next you should ask yourself, when you are deciding, is if you can afford it. Before you answer no to this question, look into all of your options. A lot of programs offer Financial Aid and there are other grants you can apply to. In my case I just had to pay a semester’s tuition, and the school gave me a stipend for food. Again, there is no shame in not being able to afford it, but if you really do want to go make sure you check all of your options. Your study abroad advisor can help you with this, so make sure you ask ALL THE QUESTIONS.
The last question in deciding is: when you should go (fall or spring of junior year or fall of senior year)? You also must decide if you want to go for an entire year or just a semester. Programs vary based on length of stay and when you decide to go. Summer options are also available. All these things are completely dependent upon, when you can fit it into your schedule; like if you have a class you need to take in your third year that is only offered in the spring.
So now that you’ve decided to go abroad the next step is to decide where to go. You can take my approach: pick a region, get a map of that region, close your eyes, put your finger on the map, and pick the city your finger landed close to. Or you can take the more logical approach: pick a region, research all the schools in that region, and figure out which school has the programs you’ll need for your major. Make sure you check with registrar to confirm your home school will accept the classes you plan on taking. If you choose to go to a non-English speaking country, make sure you are fluent in the language or have some familiarity with it. Otherwise, make sure you go with a program that has a beginner level language course in your countries language.
That brings me to my next step: picking a program. You may be lucky enough to have a program connected to your school. For example: if you go to Butler University, then you’ll have Institute for Study Abroad – Butler University. However, even then they may not offer a program in the country you wish to go to.
The only program my school has is an Asian Studies program, and I did not want to go to Asia. I wanted to go to Ireland or the UK. Once I narrowed that down to Ireland and eventually to Galway, my study abroad advisor gave me a few pamphlets for multiple programs, so I could pick the best one for me. In my case I ended up going through IFSA-Butler to an actual Irish University, National University of Ireland Galway. This may not always be the case; especially with non- English speaking countries. Sometimes students choose to go on programs not affiliated with a specific college abroad.
I have one friend who went to Bath, England. There she had multiple classes with other American students, but was not integrated with other English students at an English college. However, her program had her travel throughout England. Two more of my friends went to Italy, again not affiliated with a specific Italian College. With that program they traveled around Italy and took a beginning level Italian course; along side other academic classes. The downside to doing programs like these is you are not integrated with local students. All of your other classes are taken with other Americans. If that appeals to you, then you should find a program like that, if this does not, find a program that will send to you an actual college or University. If you go to a country where you don’t speak the language, you may not have the option of going to a local college or University.
Once you’ve decided where to go and decided your program, do research on climate and culture; so you know what to pack and you can prepare yourself for Culture Shock. While you are undoubtedly going to experience Culture Shock, learning a little bit about the culture before you leave can lessen the blow. And don’t forget to Travel! Travel! Travel! You’ll never know, when you will be out of the country again be sure to get the full experience. The last bit of advice I can give you is use your Study Abroad advisor they will be your biggest asset, when making decisions. Bon voyage!