I am leaving to study abroad in Seville, Spain in less than a month. I still can’t quite believe it’s really happening. There are so many emotions running through my head. Excited. Scared. Nervous. Thrilled. Stressed. Did I mention excited? Everything is about to change.I am a girl of routine and my world is about to be turned upside down. I am studying abroad with one of my best friends from college and she is keeping me sane. In less than a month, I will be sitting on a plane ready to explore Europe. I have been told that this is going to be an experience of a lifetime and I want to scream for joy and throw-up at the same time. An opportunity to experience history and culture in this unique way is a dream come true. So after that long winded introduction, I will get to the point of this blog post. The process of studying abroad begins way before you board the plane. And, now that I am through the worst of it, I thought I would impart some of my advice for those deciding to study abroad or those in the early stages. Here are 3 things to keep in mind.
1. Do Research.
There are thousands of places to study abroad. Narrow it down to a country or a few countries and key cities and start googling them. Start finding out what makes each city unique and the opportunities and experiences it offers. Where have you always wanted to live? What culture do you want to immerse yourself in? What language do you want to learn? What kind of classes do you want to take? I choose Spain because I knew I wanted to be in Europe and I also wanted to learn Spanish. Seville, Spain in particular because it is a culturally vibrant city that is smaller and more manageable than cities like Madrid. Talk to people who have studied abroad. Ask them about their experience, what they loved and what they would do differently. Go to your international education office and talk with the professionals. Get all the brochures and books and read them. Where you want to study abroad is a big decision and will shape your whole study abroad experience, so spend some time researching and it will only help you make a more informed decision.
2. Pick a Program
I have heard of people picking a university in some city and just flying there and figuring everything out on their own. Frankly, that scares me and I would not recommend it. There are a lot of great programs out there that offer a lot of benefits and protection. They ease a lot of stress and do a lot of the work for you. I am going to Seville through Academic Programs International or API. They have been great so far and even offered a service to obtain my Visa for me. It is a lot less stressful for me to prepare to go live in a foreign country when I know I have a program working alongside me that will answer questions and offer help when needed. API plans a lot of weekend trips to other cities in Spain and one international trip which is all included in tuition. API is also setting me up to live with a host family in Seville. Living with a host family is the best way to immerse yourself in another culture and to truly learn another language. So, all this to say, pick a program and choose wisely.
3. It is Never Too Early to Start Planning
If you know you want to study abroad in college, start planning now! Start mapping out your classes and figure out which ones you can take abroad. The whole process will be a lot less stressful if you have already mapped out your credits and when you need to take them. Even though studying abroad may seem like a chance to travel Europe for 4 months, you still have to go to school. Sad, I know. So figure out what classes you want to take at your home university and which ones you want to take abroad and plan accordingly. Also, be prepared for paperwork. I have never done so much paperwork in my life. From filing out Visa paperwork multiple times (which is a story for another day), to home university paperwork and program paperwork. There is a lot of details and deadlines to keep track of, so the earlier you start, the better.
These are just some tips I wish I would have known before I started this long process of deciding to study abroad and actually making it to the one month point before departure. The best advice I could give and have received is: GO WITH THE FLOW. I am a planner (could you tell?) and I like to know everything. I have not even left to study abroad and I have learned this lesson. You do not receive any information about your host family, classes, breaks, etc. till 2-3 weeks before you leave. And, as anyone who has traveled knows, you can’t predict everything and it’s a lot more fun to just roll with the punches. So, that is my plan, to go with the flow and experience everything I can. Do you have any advice for those considering studying abroad?