4 Things to Consider When Deciding Where to Study Abroad

There are several ways to see the world, but short of joining the military the cost of international travel adds up fast. Besides escalating airfares due to rising fuel costs, you’re at the mercy of the global economy’s fickle monetary exchange rates.

So what’s a starving student to do? The answer lies in the fact that you’re a student. With so many study abroad programs offered by both colleges and independent companies, you’re sure to find one that’s right for you. As long as the purpose of your travel is to continue your formal education or to provide humanitarian assistance to a foreign culture, you’ll have your pick of countries to explore at a much more affordable cost than if you went on your own.

But how do you know where to go? Even though there may be foreign shores you’ve dreamt of visiting your whole life, you need to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Therefore, before you impulsively hop on a plane destined for the far corners of the earth, give some serious thought to these four considerations first.

  1. Your Cultural Experience
  2. What is it that you hope to experience when you travel abroad? Do you want to feel the romance of a city like Paris, Venice, or Madrid? Or are you more inclined to take in the historic architecture of some place like Greece or Rome? Maybe you’d rather go to Asia or India to study with Zen masters or to Africa or the Middle East to help rebuild fallen cities. Really think about what it is that you want to get out of your travels before you commit your time to a foreign country. If you’re not sure ask yourself this: How best do I want to build my own character; by learning new things or teaching others what I already know. Granted, no matter which you’ll choose you’ll get a little of both, but it’s nice to have a primary goal before you go. Once you decide that, then your choices of countries narrow to match your objective.

  3. Language
  4. If you don’t plan on speaking anything but English when you travel, then stick with English-speaking countries. While it’s true that English is spoken in most of the world now, you can’t always depend on that. If, however, you know another language, or plan to learn one before you go, then immersing yourself in a foreign culture that speaks your second language is a great way to get better at it (and experience the culture on a more local level). Whatever you do don’t visit a non-English speaking country expecting everyone to learn how to communicate with you. The most diplomatic thing you can do while you’re abroad is dispel the “Ugly American” stereotype.

  5. Best Value
  6. While money shouldn’t be your primary motivation in where to go, it is something to consider. Some countries have better exchange rates to the dollar than others. Chances are you won’t be working for pay while you’re gone, because that involves all types of work visa issues that go beyond the realm of your visit. So your money has to last while you’re there. Check out the current exchange rates to the countries you want to visit and read economist reports on monetary futures. Even though you don’t have a crystal ball, you can at least make calculated decisions about your finances before you go.

  7. Political Climate
  8. With all that’s going on in the world today you have to be careful when traveling abroad in terms of what’s happening politically. Although it may seem exciting to experience the rise of a new democracy in Egypt, for example, consider that you could end up in a political crossfire that may go beyond the experience you’d hoped for. And even though your final destination may be politically tranquil keep in mind that your route could take you through less friendly territory. Always get the right visas before you go, and carry with you the addresses and contact info of all the American Embassies in the region in which you’ll travel. If you go to an American university abroad your chances of political problems will be less, but the bottom line is if extreme politic turmoil hits you’ve got to have a Plan B.

Regardless of where you choose to study abroad, it’s important you pick a place in which you’ll be happy for an extended period of time. You’ll undoubtedly be gone anywhere from two weeks to a year, so it’s important you do your research BEFORE you go. Nothing worse than getting stuck somewhere far from home wishing you were anywhere else. That is the kind of education we could all do without.

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