You’re just starting college and there’s a lot going on. There are a lot of uncertainties: what to major in, what clubs to join, what’s the best study spot on campus and so much more. But one things is for sure – you know you want to study abroad. How do you get started? ISEP Coordinator Sue Jackson from Whitworth University shares some words of wisdom for freshmen who are eager to get out into the world by studying abroad.
What advice would you give to an incoming freshman interested in studying abroad?
If you don’t want to study abroad, don’t come anywhere near me! But seriously, I would advise an incoming freshman to be sure to have a passport. I also advise freshmen to think broadly about their options. Sometimes students are fixated on a place because they went there once on holiday, and can’t imagine going anywhere else.
Are there any common misconceptions about studying abroad you hear from freshmen? How do you address them?
I hear it all – here are some common issues students and parents approach me with:
“I can’t afford it." I will agree that some university and third-party programs are expensive, and not all students can afford them. But other programs, especially ISEP, are completely affordable for the vast majority of students. When advising for ISEP programs, I say something like: “Your financial arrangements stay here, and you go somewhere else. The only extra costs you will accrue are an air ticket, maybe a visa, an application fee and your spending money.” Often students don’t realize that, except for the extra costs I just mentioned, they pay exactly the same as they would to be on campus when they are abroad.
"It won’t fit in my schedule.” I ask for details about the schedule, and often have to agree that certain majors have a dense and sequential set of requirements that could make accommodating a semester abroad difficult. But there are ways to make it work. Another group of students who potentially have scheduling difficulties are athletes. For these students, I usually suggest summer programs. Often though, after a discussion about scheduling, a student concludes that it’s perfectly possible to fit in a semester abroad. The ISEP Major Advising Guides can also help with that.
“I can’t get school credit." What the student is probably really asking is: “Will the credits count towards my requirements?” I then explain how to go about seeing if a course abroad will meet the university’s general education or major requirements. Most of the time it’s very feasible to make it work.
"I don’t speak another language." I show students all the places where they can study abroad in English – which is quite an extensive list. I do suggest, though, that if a student is going to study in English in a country whose native language isn’t English, it is a good idea to take a basic class in the language of that country. In fact, it’s rude not to!
What is the most important thing students can do as freshmen to prepare for studying abroad?
Think big. Meet with your academic advisor and the study abroad office, and make a four year academic plan that accommodates at least one study abroad experience (or more!).
Is it necessary to start planning for study abroad as a freshman? If not, how far in advance should a student start planning?
No. It’s a good idea, but definitely not essential. Basically, as soon as a student wakes up and smells the "study abroad coffee (or croissant)” that’s the time to start planning. Basically, the earlier you make plans, the more options you have.
In a nutshell: Just do it!
Are you ready to study abroad? Tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll work to match you with a program.
An earlier version of this post was originally shared April 5, 2013.
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