With the end of the academic semester upon us, many undergraduate and graduate students in the United States are considering study abroad programs for the coming year. Featured on One World 365, I have shared my insights on how to choose a study abroad destination that is right for you.
Studying abroad is one of the most exciting opportunities you have during your academic career. With that excitement comes the challenging decision about where to study abroad, especially for those of us with wanderlust, who want to travel throughout the world.
After studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain for a summer and in Santiago, Chile during an undergraduate spring break, I can now reflect upon the decision process and what made me ultimately decide to travel to these destinations.
As you begin the decision process, the first question to focus on is: what are your goals for the study abroad experience? Once you have a better understanding of your vision for your study abroad program, you will be one step closer to choosing the right destination for you. You may also want to consider the following:
- Language acquisition: Are you hoping to learn or practice a new language? If so, first focus on the countries that speak your language of choice. In my case, I wanted to practice speaking Spanish, so that made me focus my search on Spain and Latin America. In addition to the country, you should also consider the type of city or town and how many tourists are there. Tourism often means the location is attractive, but it also may hold you back from practicing a new language, especially if your native language is spoken there. For those of us who are native English speakers, it is easy to speak English instead of the language we are trying to learn since English is spoken internationally. This was one of the reasons I was attracted to Salamanca, Spain, as it was a mid-size town, well-known as a great place to practice Spanish, since there are fewer tourists than in larger cities in Spain.
- Cultural adaptation: Are you interested in expanding your awareness of cultures? Do you want to study and live in a place with a similar culture, customs, or religious traditions? Think about how much cultural adaptation you would like to experience and this will likely influence where you study. It will also influence the living arrangements you choose. For example, if you are more comfortable studying abroad with your friends or classmates from your university, you may want to live in a dorm environment. If you would like to be immersed in the new culture, you may prefer a homestay option. By going to Spain and South America, my cultural awareness expanded greatly, both because of the cultural differences compared to the United States (my home country) and because I choose to live in a homestay arrangement, which completely immersed me in the Spanish culture. I am forever grateful for this experience and how it expanded my perspective of the world and helped me grow as a person.
- Program options: Are you looking to study at a university or through an internship? Universities will likely provide a collegial environment, catering to social networking. Internships will likely provide exposure to the work environment, catering to career networking. I chose a university environment in Spain and a business environment in Chile, both of which provide me with unique perspectives of the countries. I am fortunate to have experienced both types of programs, as they each provided me with different benefits. I met great friends in Spain and Chile, but had great networking opportunities and learned about career options while in Chile. Depending on the program environment you are looking for and your goals after the program, you may change the type of program and destination you choose.
- Food: Are you ready to try foods that you never knew existed? For those with dietary restrictions, will the destination you go to meet those needs? While studying in South America, I noticed it was particularly challenging for vegetarians. Especially when you are going to experience language barriers, it is important to think about food availability and whether you are comfortable with the options available.
- Proximity to other locations you may want to travel: Do you want to travel to other cities or countries while studying abroad? It is important to consider the transportation options available in your study abroad location and how close it is to other cities or countries of interest. If traveling is one of your main goals, you may want to think twice about going to countries that are more remote or that have limited access to public transportation. I enjoyed studying in Europe because it was easy to travel from one city to the next and from one country to the next. It was a bit more of a challenge in South America, given the large size of many of the countries, which required air travel as opposed to trains or buses.
I hope these insights help you as you plan your study abroad experience. One of the best lessons I learned, though, is that no matter where you study abroad, you will have the opportunity to broaden your perspective of the world, your peers, and even yourself! Good luck in your decision!