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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Studying Abroad

March 28, 2016

ISEP student Emily S. is a part of ISEP Voices Spring 2016. She is an international studies and French major from the University of Southern Indiana, and is studying French while abroad at Université de Caen in France.

Studying abroad is a huge, life-changing decision. So how do you start? How do you know you’re actually ready for this big step? Being ready for something isn’t restricted to ‘being old enough,’ being ready is strictly in your own personal mentality and position in life. You could be ready to study abroad when you’re a freshman at 18 or when you’re a fifth year at 22. It’s all up to you and where you find yourself in life. These questions should help give you some guidance on whether or not you’re ready for the big step of leaving your country for four to five months.

Do you have the finances?

Studying abroad is expensive. ISEP makes studying abroad affordable, easy and smooth, but there are still high costs to consider. The summer before studying abroad I worked three jobs, and the semester before going abroad I worked two jobs plus I babysat. I also applied for any scholarships available. And I still wish I worked more and saved more.

Additional costs that I incurred included:

  • Visa fee – $50 (not including the cost of trekking five hours to Chicago and staying there a night)
  • Health insurance – $375 plus an additional $175
  • Housing deposit when we first got here – $175
  • All of the little things I had to buy when I first got here – pillows, toiletries, a hair straightener and more

All of these were in my budget and anticipated for, so the biggest set back for me personally was spending while traveling on our breaks. For our first break, my friends and I took a cheap trip to Rome and Athens. While our total cost of the plane tickets and hostels was an awesome $250, the eating and shopping we did was not nearly as cheap. I quickly found myself throwing my card around thinking I had enough money to do that, and I definitely did not. If I was smart I would’ve (in all honesty) set aside $800 per city I planned to visit during my stay, that way I really would be able to throw my card around without a care in the world. I also would be going back to the U.S. with a nice sum of money. But now I’m halfway through my stay here and already contacting family to toss some money this way, and a few of my friends here in Caen are in the same boat. I also strongly suggest getting a credit card before coming here. The kiosks here will not take debit cards, so if you want a phone plan, need to buy an emergency train or bus ticket, or want to purchase basically anything that involves using a kiosk, you’ll need a credit card.

Are you adaptable to change?

You can do all the research in the world on a country and still not know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s much easier to go into something knowing you’re not going to have any idea what’s going on than it is going into something thinking you’re going to know exactly what’s going on. You’ll only beat yourself up for being wrong. Just go with the flow and follow the masses until you’re fully comfortable in your host country. Another example of adapting to change is not having a complete melt down when you come across small differences between your home and host country. If the stores in your host country don’t sell Herbal Essence shampoo and conditioner, don’t freak out, but instead take a deep breath while grabbing the L’Oreal off the shelf.

Are you in the right mindset?

Be open and accepting to whatever comes your way and make connections with everyone you meet! When you’re thousands of miles from home, your new friends become your family. So it is vital to put yourself out there during your study abroad and connect with anyone and everyone you can. I promise that you will meet some amazing people and you will be thanking yourself for it when things get tough. My grandfather passed away during my first few weeks here in France and my new friends helped me get through his loss.

What do you want from your study abroad experience?

This is incredibly important to ask yourself. Do you want to simply absorb your host country by learning the language and culture? Do you wish to use your study abroad experience to make contacts and connections? Do you wish to use it as the ultimate gateway to travel? Or perhaps all of the above? Get your priorities straight before going to your host country and make the appropriate arrangements. For example, if you wish to do more traveling while in your host country, you should definitely save up more money than you would if you planned to stay stationary in your host country.

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