Statistics show that each passing year the number of American students leaving their home universities to spend time studying in another country significantly increases. More and more people are recognizing the amazing opportunity that study abroad is. It’s financially more accessible than that kind of travel will be later in life, and it comes at a much more convenient time than going abroad will likely be ever again. The facts of study abroad scrreeaaaaam get on a plane and go, but many students still have understandable hesitance when deciding if the program is right for them. It’s a scary thing to think of leaving your life for that long to go live among strangers with different customs. But it’s still very much worth considering before the opportunity passes you by. Use these tips to help you figure out how to decide if study abroad is right for you.
1. Find somewhere for you
Is there somewhere that makes you excited when you think about living there? If the answer is no, you probably haven’t done the proper research of cities and countries opening their arms to study abroad students every year. There are so many amazing and beautiful places to go check out before our short little lives end, and so many you’ve never even heard of. Eating pastries by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Visiting Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Hiking in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa. Your options are so endless, and there are a variety of environments to cater toward who you are. Love museums? Go to a city. Want to be active and outside? Check out some place more natural. Sit down and look through the possibilities to see what strikes your fancy. There’s an amazing world out there.
2. Read about others’ experiences
The best way to know what you’re getting into when figuring out how to decide if study abroad is right for you is to read and hear about other people’s experiences in other countries. Lots of students blog their lives while abroad. Sometimes universities or study abroad programs even compile many blogs together for potential travelers to look through on an online database. It’s first hand knowledge from someone in a similar situation to yours that you won’t be able to get anywhere else. Read about where people went, what they loved and what they struggled with. You can even reach out to people after you’ve read their stories to ask them more specific questions you may have on your mind about how to decide if study abroad is right for you.
People are always happy to talk endlessly about their time abroad and to help someone else figure out if it’s right for them. Hearing about how someone else tackled their anxieties in order to have an amazing experience may be just what you need to do the same.
3. Figure out your classes
The big logistical component to figuring out whether you can study abroad is looking over the classes you need in order to fulfill your degree on time and graduate. Some majors have too demanding of class schedules with requirements that can’t be fulfilled overseas. These students typically have to go with a shorter abroad program during the summer or over a break if they still want to graduate on time, but most can manage with some planning. A lot of people enter college ahead of schedule on their credits, which means they won’t have full class loads every semester until the end. This is a great scenario for studying abroad. You might can still fulfill some class requirements while traveling, but if not you’ll still have extra space to make everything up back home.
Some majors, like hospitality, have credit requirements that are easily fulfilled in certain destinations with universities also focused on tourism. It’s different for every person, but doable in most cases. Map out your future classes and talk to your advisor to see what works best for you.
4. Weigh your anxiety against your excitement
Everyone has anxiety going abroad. It’s inevitable. You’re going alone to a foreign place and maybe going to suffer months of FOMO back home. What helps you get over that anxiety is recognizing all of the excitement that can outweigh it when you travel. Instead of thinking about what you’ll be missing out on, think about all you’ll be experiencing. Even if you take a semester away from your home university, you’ll have opportunities to enjoy the other seven semesters you’ll be there. While everyone has anxiety, most people in the end decide that it’s worth having a little anxiety to experience something great. Most great opportunities come with a little risk and a lot of reward. Plus, four months isn’t that long! The time flies by before you’re home again wondering where it all went. By that time, you’re happy to be back, but you’re also so grateful you decided to take the trip.
(4a. Self improvement)
Side note: I found as an extra bonus that studying abroad actually helped me learn how to better manage my anxieties. When things got rough I didn’t flip out and shut down. I couldn’t. Instead I learned lessons about how to venture out alone, try new things, speak to strangers, and enjoy life as it came to me, rather than try to control it. I learned my anxieties were only holding me back from having a good time and I learned how to live past them. Solving how to decide if study abroad is right for you is just the first step. This can solve so many more issues in your life.
5. Try something small
If after all this thinking, you’re still not sure you want to go for an entire semester abroad, there are plenty of programs that offer trips limited to one or two months. They happen over the summer or during a break usually so you won’t be missing out on any classes or events during the school year, and they’ll be over so quickly you won’t even have time to get anxious. They’re a great compromise if you’re interested in traveling abroad, but going for a long time is still too much out of your comfort zone. Often, universities offer programs where local professors take groups of students to travel abroad together. Look into these possibilities to find something that will still allow you to get out of the country and experience new places without totally freaking you out.
6. Figure it out for yourself
These tips should help you with how to decide if study abroad is right for you, but in the end it’s a personal choice only you can make for yourself. The main things to remember are that everybody is scared and life is about taking risks. You’ll miss out on lots of amazing things in the world if you let your anxieties control you. Take whatever steps you can toward stepping out of your comfort zone, even if that means taking a month-long group trip somewhere or simply looking into possibilities. Those are already steps in the right direction, and the farther you go, the more comfortable you’ll become.
7. Know that you’ll be safe
We all need exercise in challenging ourselves. Study abroad is great practice doing that. You’re in a safe environment with universities and trained professionals to help you, but you can still experience traveling and a life abroad. This experience could provide the courage you need to travel for the rest of your years. In honor of Anthony Bourdain, one of the greatest travelers to date who tragically died this week, seek out the world. When you’re weighing on how to decide if study abroad is right for you, there’s no one better to ask. He said, “If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel–as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them–wherever you go.” You don’t have to start by sleeping on floors, but the idea is get out there.