Amanda Arroyo is a student at California Lutheran University and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures blogger corresponding with the Study Abroad Center at Cal Lutheran. Amanda is currently studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica on a Fall 4 program.
- What country?
- What program?
- How much will it cost?
- Do I want to volunteer while I’m abroad?
- What classes are offered that will transfer back to school?
- Which city within a given country do I want to be in?
- Will I like it?
- Do I want to learn the language?
Well here’s where I come in. I am here to give you advice on how to pick the right country to study abroad in. I am offering sound advice that I received while going through the motions of my own study abroad experience. Advice that I now realize helped me out immensely. I can only hope that this will help you as well.
Let me start by saying that this is a huge deal. Studying abroad will not only look good on a resume but it will also give you life lessons to take with you for the rest of your life. If you are like me, you may be going into this blindly. That is, without any reference point or guidance besides what you receive from your study abroad office.
It is important to follow some steps to choosing your study abroad location. So many times I have heard that people choose their country based off of what they have heard from other people. Sometimes, this works and students are happy- but MANY times, students are not satisfied and have to go through the inconvenience of not having the experience they wanted. Rest assured, these tips will help you determine what it is you are looking for.
1. Make lists. You need to do the right amount of research to make sure you are fully aware of what you are signing up for. First, make a list of your must-haves. All the things that you NEED in your study abroad experience should be on this list. Don’t be afraid to be selfish- this is YOUR experience. Don’t only consider whether or not they have all of the activities you are dying to do- think about your educational experience thus far and really reflect on what works for you and what doesn’t. You need to prioritize what you NEED within your educational experience and whether or not you will be taking classes that will count.
Here’s a small example of a list of some things to consider:
- Tropical or city life?
- Out of your comfort zone completely or some comfort?
- Language you already know or a new language?
- What is the cost?
- What classes are offered?
2. Keep open conversation with family. It is really important to make sure that you take your family along this journey with you. Show them the websites or brochures from the countries you are thinking about and share your list with them. Tell them what YOU NEED- and be firm in those needs. No one knows more about what you need than YOU.
3. Keep Organized. Whatever works for you is up to you- but keep some sort of organization system to make sure you stay on top of the countries you are looking at. For example, as I was thinking about where I wanted to study abroad I created a spreadsheet with some basic important information. I also kept a file folder with all the documents I collected from each program, country and school within that country. It may seem ridiculous- but it will really come in help- TRUST ME.
4. Challenge Yourself. Consider pushing yourself to try something new. Yes, stay within the needs of your educational experience, but maybe look into something that you have never thought of before. Because nothing will help your overall growth more than going outside of your comfort zone.
5. Do Your Own Research. Do whatever you can to go beyond what the study abroad office gives you. You would be really surprised with how much is on a program’s website. You can ALWAYS find better insight if you do some digging. A good example of getting good insight: find something online that will give you a look into what former students thought about the country or countries you’re thinking about. Like this blog!
7. Breathe. I know this seems like a simple one- but really, this process is intense and requires some heavy duty commitment. Don’t be afraid to take a day off and go for a run, read something BESIDES textbooks and/or program pamphlets. Watch a movie or TV show. Make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself. YES- this is a very important decision, not to be taken lightly– but at the same time… It is the ending of your current step in life, and it is the beginning of your next. Enjoy the journey. Be excited that you get this opportunity.
I hope this helps you in your future endeavors of studying abroad. I know it helped me and I couldn’t be more grateful for this advice because it helped me pick an amazing country that I have gotten the best experience out of.