Studying Abroad Explained

By Chelsea Jackson on May 1, 2017

While you likely know what studying abroad means, you might not know about every detail involved in applying to a study abroad program. Likewise, you may be equally clueless about what happens after you’ve been accepted to your study abroad program of choice.

Once you’ve decided that you want to study abroad, it’s important that you weigh the pros and cons of each study abroad program.

While most universities offer study abroad options in every country, there are also different types of programs. Though study abroad programs might not seem like they differ much between the spring, fall, and summer semesters, some study abroad programs do actually alter their curriculum between semesters. This is why it’s critical that you extensively research a variety of programs for the fall, spring, and summer sessions.

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Types of exchange programs

Exchange programs are often collaborative programs between the university that you are attending and a foreign university. Because this experience is collaborative, it’s usually less expensive than the typical student abroad experience.

Many universities which offer exchange study abroad opportunities, like Iowa State University, will match the tuition of the study abroad program with your semester tuition at your home university. This program can be incredibly cost effective for students who are attending an in-state university, because of the tuition-matching incentive.

Summer programs also offer you the freedom to embark on a shortened study abroad program, which is enough to give you the taste of the travel bug and also allow you enough time to attend other trips and adventures during your university’s summer break. Often, summer study abroad programs will range from two weeks to 16 weeks.

Apply to a program

Finding the perfect study abroad program for you is one feat; however, applying and getting accepted to your desired program is an entirely different battle. Every study abroad program has its own specific list of prerequisites in order to be considered.

Thankfully, the majority of universities have study abroad offices with dedicated study abroad advisors who are happy to assist you with any questions you have before, during, and after the application process.

Often, these study abroad advisors are the same people who review all of the applications for the study abroad programs (if they are hosted by your university) so they can aid you during your application process. They might even be able to find some appropriate study abroad programs that match your GPA, credit hours, and desired career to the perfect program for you.

Plan your class schedule

During your trip abroad, you will have the chance to enroll in courses that you may never have the opportunity to take otherwise. Because many universities require their students to complete a certain amount of credit in humanities, social sciences, and elective courses, you can easily earn these required course credits while you study abroad.

Even if you know what courses you want to take during your trip abroad, you should confirm your course schedule with a representative from your university’s study abroad office and your academic adviser. This way, you can ensure that the courses you will be taking during your study abroad program will successfully transfer to your home university and that they are applicable to your specific degree.

Alternative study abroad programs

Although most study abroad programs require you to take traditional classes during your visit, there are some alternative programs which supplement your education in other ways.

Some universities offer study abroad externships, which allow you to complete an independent study, student teach in another country, or conduct research at a different university.

You may or may not have the time or the energy to also take courses during this particular type of study abroad program. Regardless, these hands-on study abroad options can give you an enriching experience that you can’t gain from a traditional classroom setting.

How to prepare

You’ve finally found the ideal study abroad program for you, and you’ve found the perfect class schedule for your trip, but you have a new dilemma now: you don’t know how to prepare for your trip to a different country.

Even if you’ve traveled outside of your native country before, it’s always hard to know what you should expect when visiting a different country — especially when you’re visiting for an extended period of time.

Often, you can ask your study abroad advisor for a helpful checklist of items to bring to your study abroad destination. While the advisors at your study abroad office might not have the most updated packing list for your study abroad program, you can also ask students who have previously taken part in your specific program.

Beyond packing, you will likely be required to attend several orientation sessions for your study abroad program. These orientation sessions inform you on a variety of local customs, laws and university rules for your travel destination. Likewise, they also help you figure out what vaccinations you need to be safe and healthy during your study abroad program.

I live in Iowa now, but I was born and raised in Florida. When I'm not writing, I'm probably drawing or cooking.

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