Spending an entire semester abroad is one of the most exciting things you can do as an undergrad. It’s also one of the most stressful. There are so many things you need to think about and get done before you are able to travel across the globe without worry that you have forgotten something. Fortunately, there are a series of steps you can follow to avoid forgetting some of the most important things to do before you leave the country.
The first things to think about are your classes and graduation requirements. It is important that you will not be setback by a semester abroad. Although spending a semester abroad is an amazing opportunity, it is more important that you are able to graduate with your degree of choice.
Once you are sure that this will not be a problem, it is time to start looking for universities abroad and choosing a location. If you’re anything like me, you have already had the place you want to go picked out for a long time. However, most universities have entire offices devoted to study abroad with advisors ready to help you find the location that best suits your interests and needs. Speaking with an advisor will allow you to learn which options are available for you both scholastically and financially. You want to be sure that your trip is able to enrich your educational experience without breaking the bank.
If you decide that a semester abroad is definitely the way to go for you, it’s time to apply for the program or university you wish to attend. Once you are accepted into the university, you can start thinking about what to pack, how much money to budget each month, where you are going to live (if housing is not provided), what classes you might take and making sure they count at your regular university, and how to leave your clubs and extracurricular activities for a semester.
Packing is definitely one of the most challenging feats of studying abroad for an extended period of time. Luckily, there are many resources to assist you in bringing a good amount of stuff. First, the university or the study abroad office at your school will generally hand out a list of essential items you should pack and what to have in your suitcase versus your carry-on. Next, asking students who have already studied abroad at the school you are attending is always helpful. These students have insight that others may not have because they lived firsthand what you will be experiencing. Finally, the Internet is a very useful tool for this process. You have access to all kinds of blogs about studying abroad that may point things out to you that you may not have otherwise thought were important to bring with you. For example, a blogger might write that it was helpful to have a picture of her family on her nightstand so that she did not miss them so much.
Budgeting money can also be very tricky. This is very dependent on where you are going, though, so it is crucial that you discuss this with your study abroad advisor or counselor. Some locations may require that you have a certain amount of money in your bank account per month and others may not ever ask you for this type of information. Regardless, this is something to discuss with an advisor, past students, and your parents to make sure that you are able to sustain yourself for the time that you are out of the country.
Choosing classes and finding housing can also be difficult, however these are a little bit more cut and dry. It is almost always possible to find out which classes will be offered for the semester you are going abroad on the university’s website. From there, it is necessary to figure out if any of the courses you take can count for your major or towards your general education requirements, if applicable. Some colleges require you to have these courses pre-approved. Similarly, housing can usually be figured out online. Many schools will either place you in their dorm buildings or help you find apartments because they know you are not familiar with the area. Again, it is important to check in with an advisor to make sure that everything is running smoothly.
Furthermore, it may be necessary for you to temporarily step down from leadership roles or take a semester off from a sports team. Some clubs may require you to find a replacement or someone to take over while you are gone, others may ask you to find someone to work with you, that way when you leave that person can take charge. No matter what the situation, it is important that you give your peers and colleagues notice that you will be gone for a few months so they have time to figure out how to still accomplish everything with one of their valuable team members gone.
Finally, it can be very difficult to say goodbye to friends, family, and significant others for the time you will be abroad. Some may be graduating while you are abroad, making it even more difficult. Although this is never easy, these people are most likely supportive of your decision to go abroad and probably very proud of how courageous you are. Moreover, there is so much technology for you to stay in touch with everyone and keep up with what is going on in their lives while you are off living exciting new adventures everyday. Have fun smart girls, you deserve it!
*Tip* If you are finding that your major is preventing you from studying abroad, you should look into alternate programs that might allow you to spend some time abroad during a winter or summer break. These programs generally last 4-6 weeks and allow you to take one or two classes while learning about a new culture along with your classmates and other students from around the world.