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Stephanie Santos is a full-time student at UMass Lowell and Content Manager at Boston Tutoring Services, which offers in-home academic tutoring to students in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.
Explore historical monuments, master a foreign language, create lifelong friendships, have a Spanish Gap Year. If you are a college student and any of these sound appealing to you, you may want to think about enrolling in a study abroad program.
There are many benefits to participating in a study abroad program, so I would encourage looking into this opportunity if it is feasible for you (note: many schools and programs offer financial aid specifically for studying abroad, and you can learn more here).
Resources are abundant, in person and on the Internet, so start using them: Read other students’ blogs about their experiences abroad, talk to students at your university who have done it, message a Facebook friend who has posted pictures of her and her classmates in Florence. Don’t forget that your university’s study abroad office as well as program leaders and advisors are there to answer all your questions, and if you’re like me, you probably have a lot of them.
To help get you started, here are some tips:
- Figure out where you want to go, and look into program options. You can participate in provider-led programs, department-led programs, student-exchange programs, and more. Read about the courses they offer, their prices, if they accept scholarship/financial aid, and decide which is the best fit for you. This site is a great place to start.
- Once you have this resolved, get in contact with your study abroad office and the program you chose. It’s best to start early, as this process requires you to retrieve lots of documents and signatures. From here, you will be directed to speak with your financial aid office, department-heads, dean’s office, and other school officials, depending upon which program you picked.
- The next step is documentation, and be forewarned, this process can be a lengthy one. You need a student visa, a passport, health insurance forms, traveler’s insurance, and copies of your IDs. Again, you may not need all of these or you may need more depending upon your program.
- This blog offers a much more in-depth list than I have created; I highly recommend that you check it out. They don’t mention it on the blog, but if you have a smartphone, I advise downloading some helpful apps before you head overseas.
As someone who is going abroad this fall, I wish I had known some of these tips earlier on, as I jumped into this relatively blindly without doing much research. Nevertheless, I am going to study in Paris, France, and I could not be more excited for it. I have several goals mapped out for my time abroad: I hope to broaden my social, cultural, and academic knowledge; to successfully and independently navigate through a foreign land with diverse languages, cultures, and customs; and to deepen my understanding of what it means to be human.
I believe the aforementioned skills and insights will serve me well in my career. This is another reason why I chose to do this, as employers want someone who can be flexible, adapt quickly to new demands, acquire various skills, and communicate effectively with diverse people.
If you are a parent, you may question your child’s motivation for studying abroad and wonder if this choice is really worth it. To this, I would advise that you hear them out, put your concerns of their safety to the side for a moment, and listen to why they want to do this. It’s important to note that they will have access to resources and experiences they most likely can’t receive in the United States. For example, the classes I plan to take while abroad offer a nuanced spin on subjects offered at my home institution, such as European Business Ethics and French Art History. Taking these classes, while being immersed in the culture, is an opportunity for me to explore subjects I never would have the chance to learn about here. I will gain a strong sense of ‘worldliness’ from first-hand, international experience. Ultimately, studying abroad is an investment for your child’s future.
Finally, if you are a student who has decided to study abroad, I would advise that you go into the experience with realistic expectations. By this I mean you should expect to have some difficulties adjusting to a new (and possibly foreign) cultural and social environment. Be prepared to miss the comfort of your home, your friends, family, and pets. But also be prepared to experience life with a fresh set of eyes, to try new foods and live at a different pace and energy, and to learn a lot about yourself and grow in ways you never expected. You may not want to come home when it’s over.