There is nothing quite like studying in a foreign country and learning about a different culture. While many students make lifelong friendships and experience memorable adventures studying abroad, it’s important to choose wisely before making this decision. For many students, traveling far away from friends and family can be a scary concept, but there are ways to choose which places are a better match than others.
Choose your likes and dislikes
The first thing you should do is start asking yourself questions about your likes and dislikes. This is the best way to begin the process of choosing a host country. Many people might enjoy an ultra-rural setting, whereas some people would prefer the modern-day conveniences of a city. There are people who’d prefer to be centrally located so they can use their free time to travel more extensively, while others might want to fully explore their host location. You should also ask yourself whether you’d be content in a place where you don’t speak the native language, whether you’ll be comfortable being away from home for an extended period of time, how much you can afford to spend on essentials and luxuries, and what your main goals are (academic vs social). The more honest you are with yourself, the happier you will be with the choice you make.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of countries, it’s time to begin your research. Fortunately, there are tons of resources available online, as well as the study abroad office within your university. Another option is to read independent blog posts by current and former students living at various locations around the globe, and official sites like GoOverseas.com or GoAbroad.com, which have reviews from actual study abroad students discussing the positives and negatives of various programs. You could also reach out directly to study abroad alumni and ask questions about their experiences.
Timing is also an important factor when deciding on a host country. It’s advised to start researching countries nine months to a year in advance because most programs require about six months for the whole application process. You can also use that time to save money for costs involved with preparation for, and the duration of, your experience. Depending on your climate preferences and your program duration, you should also check the average historical temperatures for the length of your stay.
Program lengths range from summer classes to semester- or year-long programs. You should intensely explore all factors of each program duration before deciding which one suits your financial, academic, professional, and personal needs. Make sure you meet with your academic advisor to establish how many total credits you will be earning, as well as what classes you need to take before, during, and after in order to graduate. If you plan on choosing a program that is outside your university’s scope, enquire about a study abroad “status” and whether you’ll be able to transfer your credits upon your return.
Talk to program directors
Start reaching out to program coordinators, then evaluate their response time and their overall willingness to help you. Ask thorough questions about the culture, emergency care and the daily costs of living. Keep in mind this is the first indication of how your entire experience will go, so you want to work with people who will be readily available to answer your questions, be supportive and informative, and above all, be enthusiastic about your journey.