Looking to spend a semester abroad? What you need to know…

Spending a college semester abroad can be one of the most exciting and rewarding times of your life. Since traveling to a foreign country may not be for everyone, there are many things to consider before packing your bags.
Start by considering the costs and benefits of a semester abroad. Many colleges and universities have formal study abroad programs, but these often come with fairly hefty fees. Others have “exchange” programs with foreign universities, but these can sometimes interfere with obtaining or keeping financial aid. Before making any decisions, ask for a listing of the costs and fees associated with spending a semester abroad.
Next, look at the available course offerings at the foreign university or college. Most study abroad programs will only transfer these classes as elective liberal arts credit; it is very rare to find a school that will give credit for specific classes, especially if those classes are prerequisites for other classes. Speak with your school counselor to see how studying abroad would fit into your academic plan, and at what classes you will need in order to graduate; studying abroad might mean needing to complete an extra semester once you get back. Of course, the opportunity to complete coursework in another country might be worth needing an extra semester to complete your degree. Many future employers look at time spent in a foreign country as similar to completing an internship. Being able to say that you can converse with native speakers of a language, and the contacts and friends you make in a foreign country will stay with you for the rest of your life.
You should also look at the type of support offered by both schools for their exchange students. Is housing provided, or will you be expected to find your own place to live? Does the host school offer a meal plan, or will you be expected to cook your own food? While some students like the security of living with other students, being able to live on your own in a foreign country can be an invaluable experience. Living on your own means learning to cook with local ingredients and will broaden the range of people you meet while traveling. Living on your own also means interacting with the local culture in a way that you cannot do with any other type of study.
The experiences of studying in a foreign country will stay with you forever. A number of professionals in the workforce are still in contact with the friends they made while studying abroad. One professor in her 50s still regularly exchanges e-mails and gifts with the friends she made while traveling as part of a class while earning her Bachelor’s degree. When talking about her experience she has said; “My friend also teaches at a local university in her country, and since we’re in similar fields, we often exchange ideas for papers. We’ve even worked together on a few of them over the years.” Other students use their foreign travel experience to get interviews with multi-national companies after they graduate.  Whatever you choose to do with the experience, your time spent abroad is something that will stay with you for a lifetime.

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