A Study Abroad Experience: Where to Start?

Megan Griesel is a student at the University of Minnesota, Duluth and a current ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Lima, Peru. 

For anyone who has the travel bug that comes around every so often or that never seems to go away, study abroad may be just what you need.  Many of us are juggling jobs, extra circulars, and homework, all while trying to have a little bit of fun during our young adult years. As I’m sure you’ve heard before or better yet have experienced yourself, this is time when we are at our prime. With so many opportunities and things we want to accomplish,  many of us don’t have the finances to provide for all of these great plans we have for ourselves. I know for me, my number one priority is to travel the world and explore, which takes money and time that many may not want to spare. Why not take advantage of studying abroad and have the best of both worlds!  With deadlines approaching, now is the time to apply for the the ultimate experience abroad. With ISA programs you are able to take courses, complete an internshipexperience a Service-Learning opportunity like no other, or combine programs. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?  Only one question: Where the heck do I even start?


Choosing the Perfect Program for You

To start, I worked with my University to see what my options were.

Obviously you want to pick a country that you’ve always wanted to travel to, but you also want to choose a program that will benefit you in a number of ways, not only academically.  So when picking your program, here are a few things to think about:

 1. Am I Looking to Take Courses Towards my Major??

First, you should decide if you’re looking to take courses that will go towards your major. For me, one of my majors is Spanish, so naturally, I chose a Spanish speaking country.  If taking major courses abroad is a goal of yours, be sure to check the classes available to see if they work in your academic plan.  Many students also plan to take general education courses abroad, and some don’t take any academic classes at all! Decide what is right for you.

2. What Do I Want to See and Experience?

I had it narrowed down to two countries, Spain and Peru. These two places are quite different, so I made a list of pros and cons for each. I also looked into the excursions offered because of course, one of the main points of going abroad is to see and explore. I saw Machu Picchu on the list of excursions and that sealed the deal; I was going to Lima. I also knew I wanted to experience the culture and become immersed in my community abroad.  The program in Lima with ISA offered Service-Learning  combination program that I could do alongside my academics. This gave me the opportunity to keep on track academically but also have a chance to become involved in a local organization during my time abroad.  So in the end, think what you want to gain from your experience abroad and choose the best program that encompasses those goals.

3. Take Into Account the Requirements for Each Program.

Now with any study abroad program you have the joys of filling out copious amounts of paperwork and forms and that is not going to change.  Some program require more than the standard forms, so before I decided on the Study Abroad + Service-Learning program in Peru, I checked out what materials were required. As you can imagine, the forms and paperwork are something you cannot escape; it is necessary and worth it in the end.  The Service-Learning portion of my program required a resume and cover letter in Spanish and English as well as a phone interview.

Besides the usual paperwork, some programs require that students meet a certain GPA.  This is often a requirement of the host university abroad and is in place to ensure that you will have a successful academic experience during your time abroad.  At first glance this requirement was extremely overwhelming, especially because when I was first looking into studying abroad, I did not quite meet the GPA requirement. However, do not become discouraged. If you put in the time and effort it will pay off. For the next semester, I worked hard in my classes and eventually met my goal. So do not give up on the program you want even if the requirements seem out of reach.  But as always, be realistic and have a backup plan if necessary.


4. Use Your Resources

Of course, it’s important to work with your university, especially when it comes to things like pre-approval of course credits.  I’m sure like at my University, there will be a study abroad office with advisors at yours as well. The big thing for me was to make sure that the courses I planned to take abroad would transfer back.  To ensure this, I met with my advisor for Hispanic studies and we talked everything out. We selected courses that would be best for me to take abroad and he compared the course descriptions. Remember if you need syllabi for a specific course, you can always reach out to the ISA Site Specialist. Note: I recommend not trying to figure out all of this alone. There would be nothing worse than taking the classes abroad only to not have them count back at your home University.

Also, the people on the ISA team are AMAZING to work with and are there to help you every step of the way. If you have any questions or concerns don’t be afraid to reach out.  They have a whole team of Student Services Advisors who are ready to help you find the program for you. In fact, it was one of the staff members who helped me decide on the right program.  After I decided on the combo program in Lima, I communicated with the ISA staff numerous times before my departure and I highly recommend that you do the same.


And there you have it. These are the main steps I took when selecting my program. If you’re looking for more preliminary information, check out the Students Page. It clearly mentions all of the things to keep in mind when planning to study abroad.   It may seem overwhelming, but I promise you, there is no better feeling than having put in all of the time and effort to make your dream a reality.


The world awaits…discover it.

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