Deciding to Study Abroad

by megan lee /
megan lee's picture
Oct 05, 2011 / 0 comments

It’s easy to have big dreams about studying abroad when you’re still in high school, looking at the globe in your classroom and dreaming of the brand new world beyond your hometown. Once you’ve gotten to college, set up your dorm room, and watched your parents drive away, however, everything about your world seems brand new anyway- whether you are 30 or 3,000 miles away from home.





If you find yourself filing “studying abroad” away with other forgotten dreams like being a famous soccer star, or landing on the moon, STOP!  You’re getting ready to make one of the biggest mistakes of your life.

Let’s look at our contenders: study abroad vs. another semester at your university.

In the blue corner: another semester spent at your university.
Its familiar, safe, and relatively easy to manage another semester at your home university. No transferring credits, managing train time tables, visa hoo-ha, or getting “lost in translation.” Avoid worries about missing the big party of the semester, maintaining other on-campus commitments, or about how your new group of friends will function in your absence.

In the red corner: study abroad.
The unknown. Painting in Paris, snorkeling in Australia, shopping in Milan, horse back riding in Argentinean countryside, insert-awesome-activity-in-exciting-place. Learn new skills, gain new insights, study a new language. New new new. Exciting. Different. A little risky! A break from the ordinary.





For me, the choice was obvious. But making my study abroad dreams into a reality? That was going to take a little bit more planning, and a little bit more work. The good news is - you don’t have to do it alone! Here’s a list of people I’d recommend including in your study abroad plans.

yourself: I’d always thought in the back of my mind that I would like to study abroad sometime before I graduate, but it was growing less and less likely the more immersed in college life I became.  When my school had a Study Abroad fair the fall of my sophomore year, I stopped by just to kill time between classes.  I immediately gravitated toward the information on Africa, where I’ve dreamed about going for as long as I can remember.  I opened a pamphlet to a photo of a group of students mere feet away from an elephant, and that’s when I thought, That could be me.  Listen to that inner voice.

your parents: That very night, I called my parents and told them that no matter what it took, I wanted to study abroad. Though they were a little less than thrilled to think of their daughter traipsing around a foreign country, I recommend including them in your plans - they only mean the best. It took a bit of research on my part to convince my parents not only that I would be careful, but also that the program was safe before they said “yes” to study abroad. Parents also serve as wonderful support while preparing to go abroad - and somehow handling the flurry of booking flights, getting immunizations, and shopping for new gear. 

study abroad advisor: I set up meetings with my study abroad advisor to get information on all of the different programs available where I wanted to study abroad (Africa! Must. Get. Elephant. Picture.).  There were lots of different options - short term, long term, third-party provider, my university-provided, this country, that country. Researching all of these avenues was an exciting time, albeit overwhelming at times, but my study abroad advisor provided a wealth of information in helping me make my decision. Eventually, I chose to go with a program that wasn’t through my school. The program seemed perfect for me, and my advisor was supportive.

major-related advisors: If you opt to study abroad with a program that is not through your university, its probably a good idea to establish the credit you will receive for your time studying abroad. I talked to both my major advisor and my Honors College advisor to ensure all of the credits would transfer back, and that I’d still be on track to graduate on time.  We sat down with my four- year plan and the curriculum for my semester in Africa, and we were able to find classes that could count for some of the ones I needed to take.  Once I had gone through my schedule a few times, finalizing every little detail, all that was left to do was actually apply.

program advisors: For application help or other program-specific questions, I recommend establishing a good relationship with the people working for your study abroad program. While I was anxiously waiting to hear back if I had been accepted in the program or not, my program advisors were great resources for both information and comfort.

past participants: Social media and study abroad are no longer two separate entities. As I was choosing between which programs to study abroad with, I would find the program on Facebook, look it up on Twitter, and engage with the students who had gone on the program in years past. After checking out the study abroad reviews on Go! Overseas, I was able to get a clearer, more honest picture of what I was getting myself into. I’d recommend getting advice from people who’ve seen and done what you are so excited to see and do.

your friends: Who else is going to tape your favorite tv shows, Skype you in the middle of the night to accommodate the time difference, or be the solid ground to land on in those first few weeks adjusting back to university life? Friends are key in this journey - and a true friend wouldn’t hold you back from your dreams.





Yes, it can be said that studying abroad doesn’t come easy. The added work load, meetings, and research is enough to scare away even the most interested student. But I will let you in on a little secret - it only took me one day in Tanzania to realize that I’d just embarked on the most amazing and life-changing journey. All that extra work, time spent in meetings, countless visits to the Go! Overseas website not only payed off, but seemed like a small price for my great adventure. And once I was actually here, I could see more clearly that my life at college would still be there right where I left it, and I could pick up where I left off with no problem.





By Katharine Fielding, Go! Overseas Intern

Edited By Megan Lee, Go! Overseas Content Editor  and Go! Overseas Co-Editor for Wandering Educators



All photos courtesy and copyright Katharine Fielding