Studying Abroad Series (Part 1)
Words & Photography by Stephanie Chew
Congratulations! You have discovered one of the greatest loopholes that exists in the education system, the ability to live, explore, travel and adventure abroad, all under the pretense of “studying”. Welcome to the wonderful world of studying abroad. Now comes the challenging part, deciding where in this vast world you would like to
call your home for a few months. Ask yourself, what are your reasons for studying abroad. Are you attempting to escape the mundane of university classes in English? Are you looking to take a semester off? Are you attempting to better your language skills? This is one method on how to prepare for such an adventure...
Make a list of what interests you most
What type of Exploress are you? Are you the kind whose heart leaps at the sight of European architecture? Do you find fulfillment while wandering through a mountain range? Are you one to enjoy being lost in the midst of a colorful market? Do you have a knack for foreign languages? I recommend writing down a list of things that you would like to experience on your study abroad trip. Choose three that are particularly important to you. These will facilitate the elimination process when you are trying choose your destination.
My top three:
- Adventures outside
- Experience Art and Architecture
- Spanish (I had taken 3 years of it in High School)
Do some research
If you would like your classes to transfer back to your home university, your best bet for research would be to go down to your university’s study abroad office or web page. Many US universities either have programs of their own or work with a third party program to provide study abroad experiences. You do not always have to take classes to study abroad. Some third party providers offer opportunities for internships and volunteering. If studying is not what you would like to do this semester, you can still do something just as worthwhile. Nevertheless, whatever you choose to do with this time will be an adventure at the very least.
When choosing a country and program make sure to be specific on what you want. Would you like a small town experience? Or do you prefer an urban city? Would you like to be forced to use your foreign language skills, or would you prefer to skate by on English? Would you prefer to live with a host family or on your own? How much help would you like available to you at all times? I chose to live in Bilbao, a small city on the northern coast of Spain. Bilbao is indeed a city, but it is smaller than Madrid or Barcelona, thus there were less people that spoke English, forcing me to practice my seemingly forgotten Spanish. The program I chose to study abroad with is called ISA (International Studies Abroad), they have a wide variety of programs all around the world and they are extremely helpful. When selecting a third party program be sure to read all of the fine print. Some programs include housing, health insurance, and excursions. Some only include the tuition and housing in the cost.
Find the equilibrium
There are so many options. Yes. The options can be overwhelming, but you can do this. You have made it this far, only the strong of heart study abroad. Si se puede! Find the balance of what you would like to do and what is in your best interest. If you want to adventure around mountains, do it. If your heart longs to be in the Louvre, do it. If you want to do community projects in the jungle, do it. Choose where you feel like you will be challenged because it is when we are challenged, that builds perseverance and character. This is a time for growth and adventure, so I highly recommend you to push your comfort zone away.