I’m writing this post mostly because I’m procrastinating packing for trip in two days but also because this is probably one of the most important topics for me because it has changed my life. If you’ve been friends with me for the past 3 years or sat through one of my Ramapo College Global Roadrunners presentations, you’ve already heard my millions of stories so I won’t hold it against you if you don’t read this.
I wanted to write this for any college students (or even high school students) who have thought about studying abroad and haven’t decided yet. Or maybe you haven’t thought about it, and in that case you really really REALLY should.
To start with my personal story, the idea of studying abroad came to fruition my freshman year of college. My parents have always valued experiences over things and showed me as much of the world as they could afford. So going into college, traveling was already something I knew I enjoyed and I knew I wanted to have an experience abroad, because if not now, when? I chatted with a mentor at school and knew that three things were important to me, affordability, safety, and experience.
I did serious research through my school’s international education department as well as on my own. It’s really important to speak with a school counselor so that you make sure the classes available to you are ones that will count toward your graduation. I ended up deciding on an ISA program at the University of Economics in Prague, Czech Republic for three main reasons.
Why I chose my program:
It was the most affordable program available in Europe and living there was inexpensive
This isn’t a post to convince you that Prague is the place you should go, but please please please take affordability into account. There is no reason that you should have to take out a $30K loan just for one semester- that’s insane! Research your options, such as exchange programs, outside scholarships, as well as how much it costs to live where you are going.
No one I knew was going
Most people I know think this is a weird reason to pick a place but for me it has always been a driving factor in my decisions. Not knowing anyone in my program forced me to reach out of my comfort zone and open up to other people that were having a similar experience. If I had a friend there, I no doubt would have spent every moment with them and never made the truly amazing relationships I was able to build by going at it alone (seriously I made the best friends). If you’re lucky you’ll make the most wonderful friends like I did and continue to keep in touch with them!
Proximity to other destinations
It was important to me to see EVERYTHING I possibly could in my time I was there and Prague was in the center of Europe. Let’s face it, life doesn’t get much easier than being in college with limited responsibilities and traipsing around Europe at your leisure. While I was in Prague I had the opportunity to travel to 10 cities: Budapest, Hungary; Dresden, Germany; Krakow, Poland; Berlin, Germany; London, England; Vienna, Austria; Rome, Italy; Corfu, Greece; Split, Croatia; Paris, France. Being able to visit all of these places relatively easily was very important to me because it helped me understand even more cultures, make even more memories, and see so much more than just the city I was living in!
Myths about Study Abroad
It’s too Expensive
All of this sounds super expensive right? My whole study abroad experience cost me about $17k (and I didn’t even try to save money). The program was about $12.5k and I saved the rest for use while I was there. Since Prague was so cheap to live there, I ate out for just about every meal, traveled all over Europe, and did pretty much everything I pleased with this budget. If you’re not working with this kind of budget, look into your school’s exchange programs. My school offered one to Hawaii that allowed us to use our scholarships to go and I could have gone for almost free (in retrospect, I should have done another semester away!) So no, it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg and there are plenty of ways to save while you’re actually abroad but I’ll have to save that for another post.
It’s too dangerous
Of course traveling comes with a certain degree of danger but what isn’t dangerous nowadays? Make sure you check out security in the country you are going to before choosing, but if it’s safe there shouldn’t be reason to worry any more than you do at home. Study abroad pushes you to be accountable and responsible for yourself, and you’ll absolutely make mistakes but I promise you will learn a lot. For example, I lost my passport about 2 minutes after stepping off the plane in Prague. Thank god it was turned in but it did help me learn my lesson very quick, my mom wasn’t there to pick up after me so I had to grow up and make sure I was in charge of my own safety. Another huge tip is to make friends that will have your back. When you go into a program everyone is super new, take this time to get to know people and build relationships. Traveling together is a great way to build friendships and make sure you find people that you can trust to have your back and always make sure you have your friend’s backs too!
Foreigners hate Americans
I ALWAYS hear people say that foreigners hate Americans yet I’ve never met anyone in all of my travels who was rude or even said anything mean about me being an American. I think it comes down to you being respectful and then you will receive that back. There were a few times that my friends and I would be super loud on a tram and get some side eyes but putting myself in their position, I would do the same thing. So, make sure you’re always respectful, take some time to learn about the country you are going to also so that you can engage in conversation with locals. All of my interactions while studying abroad were so positive and gave me a chance to chat about how the world views Americans and dispel some of the crazy rumors they might have heard.
Classes are harder
I’ll be the first one to tell you I barely learned anything in my classes while I was abroad. Not every program is like that but mine was super easy and we basically just had a few papers, a midterm and a final for each class at most. I was always a great student at home but I was too busy having fun to study, so I didn’t retain that much information. So I didn’t learn that much about economics? That’s okay, I can tell you I learned a whole hell of a lot more about myself in those three and a half months than I ever thought possible. I learned what was important to me, that I could pretty much do anything that I put my mind to and so much more about what interests me, what kind of learner I am, and where I wanted to go in the future.
It also is a huge resume booster, so although you won’t necessarily be leaving with lots of book knowledge, you’ll leave with a great story for an interview. When I graduated every single interview I went on asked about my study abroad experience. When I started interviewing my own interns in my first real job, I looked for study abroad students a lot because it showed me that they were responsible, open to new experiences, and had a sense of adventure I definitely could appreciate.
So what’s holding you back?
- You “don’t want to miss what’s happening at school” – Guess what? It’s all still gonna be there when you get back. If your friends replace you and aren’t there for you when you get back, were they really friends you wanted anyway? The parties will all be the same next semester and nothing will pick up and move while you’re out experiencing the world. College is fun, but I can promise you that study abroad is most certainly worth it and all of your good friends will be waiting for you!
- You have a significant other you don’t want to leave – I’ll admit, this is probably the shittiest part about study abroad if you have a significant other. It can be really rough on relationships especially if your S/O is at home doing the same old same old. But this is a real test for your relationship that will show you how you really feel and if your relationship is worth fighting for. My boyfriend (now fiancé) was at home the whole time I studied abroad and I told him up front when we began dating that Prague was in my future and he had to understand that. He was very supportive and I’ll admit that it totally sucks being away from them but you need to think of you’re entire life story and make decisions for yourself first when you are at this age. Also, if you have a WONDERFUL significant other like I did, maybe they’ll come visit you and you can make memories together 🙂
- You don’t think you can be away from your family for that long – You can do it, trust me. Thanks to modern technology, you can speak to them as often as you want and they will understand that this will be the experience of a lifetime. Make sure you have Skype and Viber downloaded on everyone’s phones before you leave so that you can video chat, text, and even call them. No matter how long your study abroad experience is, it will fly by and your family should be super proud of you for pushing through your comfort zone and taking on this adventure.
I feel like I could go on and on and on about study abroad till I’m blue in the face but everyone has different experiences and questions. If you happen to read this and want to know more or want to know specifics like what I used for my cell phone, what other travel companies I came across, or anything else please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly and I would love to help.