How to Start the Study Abroad Process

London Telephone BoxCredit: Victoria DeLone

Are you interested in studying abroad in college and simply don't know where to start? Studying abroad is an exciting prospect but it can be difficult to know where to begin. If you go to a study abroad fair, there is a lot of information to sift through. It can be overwhelming. Study abroad companies are there to promote their companies. They aren't there to help you through the difficult process of choosing a country or a program. Filling out paperwork and transfer forms can be time consuming and stressful, nevermind figuring out how to pay for everything. Don't get overwhelmed. Take everything one step at a time.

The first step is asking yourself a few questions. I suggest you ask these questions in order to know where to start:

Do I want to study abroad in a county that speaks my native language or do I want to learn a new language?

This is a very important question as it will determine the nature of your experience. If you want to go to a country that does not speak your native language, you will have to learn that language EVEN IF IT'S ENGLISH. I don't know why so many Americans believe that everyone abroad (especially in Europe) speaks English, but they don't. That's simply not true. Natives might know a few words, but the majority of people abroad will not be fluent. Learning a new language takes time, hard work, patience, and passion, but once a new language clicks it's amazingly fulfilling. It's a wonderful feeling knowing you can ask for directions in a second language and an even better feeling knowing you can give them. 

If you do not want to learn a new language, there's nothing wrong with that. If you're an American and interested in studying in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and other English-speaking nations, that's great. Just remember that you're still going to a different country. There will be cultural differences and stereotypes to overcome on both sides. Just remember to be sensitive to that and everything will turn out fine.

Paris MetroCredit: Victoria DeLone

What kind of things do I want out of my study abroad experience? What am I interested in?

Do you love Roman history? Maybe think about going to Rome, Spain, or France. Do you love to volunteer and get involved in humanitarian projects? Find a program in a developing country that focuses on volunteerism. Are you a Whovian and/or Potterhead? Somewhere in the UK might be the best fit for you. You get what I mean. It may even be as simple as "I want to learn Italian." Go to Italy. Go somewhere you will get the most out of your experience. 

*tip* You may have opportunities to travel while you're abroad. Find a central location (country or city) in order to have easy access to modes of transportation which will take you to other countries or cities you'd like to visit. 

How different should my host country be from my native country? Do I want to study in a developed or developing country? 

Studying abroad will open your eyes to new experiences, peoples, and cultures. But if you are not willing to completely uproot yourself from creature comforts, a developing country might not be the best choice for you. If you're a woman who wants to do some solo traveling, keep that in mind when you decide where to live for 4-9 months. As a rule of thumb, Western countries are going to be more similar to each other.  The US is more similar to Italy than it is South Korea, for instance. Not that South Korea would be a poor choice, there may just be more cultural adjusting than someone who came to study from China. 

Once you've answered these questions, the next step would be to visit your college's study abroad office. They will help you with the paperwork and there are a lot of different scholarships for studying abroad. This process can be a bit grueling. There's not denying that. But after this process ends, you'll have an amazing life-changing experience that you'll remember forever.

Alps From a PlaneCredit: Victoria DeLone