Is Studying Abroad Right For You?
Deciding to study abroad is both a scary and exciting choice. One has the opportunity to expand his or her cultural knowledge and immerse themselves in a new environment. However, it can take a lot of preparation to comfortably take the plunge and adapt to an unfamiliar place. There are factors that may not cross the minds of some, whereas they may be critical issues for others. As someone who has always looked forward to studying abroad and will spend this fall semester in Prague, I still had to go through a process of self-reflection to decide whether or not this was the right decision. As a result, I feel confident in sharing some helpful tips I think will help make the choice easier!
Are you someone who enjoys being independent? Do you feel comfortable managing to navigate your way in unknown places? Studying abroad could still be in the cards for you if you answered no, but it is important to make sure you have the right mindset to leave home. I have a friend who immediately decided she was not interested in extended study away because she felt she needed to be around people she knew. If you are feeling nervous, that is understandable, but make sure that your homesickness will not outweigh the experience. I am fortunate in that my two close friends from school will also be going to my study abroad site, which may be a good idea if you and a friend are both hesitant to go away alone. Additionally, there are usually short term opportunities at schools for week long or winter break excursions.
Once you are feeling sure that you want to go abroad, money is another crucial consideration. Most countries do not let you work as a visiting student, and even if you can, it may be difficult due to the language barrier. Make sure to have a frank discussion with your parents as well as with yourself. Do some research to find out if your school’s financial aid packages carry over on study abroad terms. No one should be prevented from expanding their global perspective because of financial constraints. Discuss options with your school if it seems like your aid is not going to cover enough, or apply for private scholarships. If you start planning for it early, you can pick out a semester where you have saved enough money to go. I already knew that I wanted to study abroad early on in my time at college, so I picked up three jobs this summer to raise the money. Do not be discouraged if a full term seems out of reach, as some prefer to save up and take a shorter, private trip over breaks.
My school has several international sites that offer a portion of the same classes as our home campus. This means that your dream site may not have the classes you need. Take time to plan out a rough draft of your years at school. Is there a required course not offered at the site you want? Or maybe a stubborn prerequisite is necessary before a course you want to take internationally? The sooner you sit down and plot out which time is best to go away, the better it will be for your academics. For STEM majors, this is key because often international sites have sparse selections of necessary courses. My close friend took this into consideration and plans to focus on her other concentration during her time abroad, while still staying on track. Nobody wants the nasty shock of finding out they are behind when they return from abroad.
Another question that is important to ask yourself is: am I willing to take the gap in my resume? I am fortunate that my school offers an internship program abroad, but many schools do not. For employers, studying abroad presents positive characteristics such as independence, responsibility, and curiosity. But if you would prefer to spend that time cultivating your professional experience, studying abroad may not offer the same network you are looking to build. As someone who values career opportunities as well as foreign study, I can sympathize. If you still decide to take the plunge, research and see if you can attend local lectures or if your international site hosts any clubs focused on professional development. Ultimately, this is a chance to see the world before graduation and all the work pressure that may keep you from doing so after.
5. Culture Shock
Lastly, it is critical to think about where you would like to go. Some people feel more comfortable going to a country where English is still the most commonly spoken language, while others look forward to the difficulty of learning a new language. Additionally, you should consider where the international site is. For example, NYU Florence is situated in the countryside, whereas NYU London can be found in the heart of the city. Think about your home campus and if you would like an environment that is similar or different.
In the end, the decision is yours, but hopefully these factors may help in clarifying when or where you would like to study abroad. Be daring, but know yourself and your boundaries. Studying abroad is a great chance to explore both your internal motivations and your external aspirations, so have fun with it! I personally look forward to sharing more advice during my time in Europe and being a guide for your own journeys around the globe!