Students have numerous reasons for wanting to study abroad. Among them are the desire to travel, to learn a new language, or to prepare for future career opportunities. But no matter what the reason, students almost always report enjoying the experience.
But, for as many students who travel abroad there are just as many who miss the opportunity because they are unsure of how to fulfill their dream of living and studying in a new country. This is a particular problem for American students, who feel that, without exchange programs like Europe’s Erasmus and with rising costs of higher education, studying abroad is impossible.
However, the Open Doors data, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, reports that over 325,000 American students studied abroad at some point during the 2015/16 academic school year.
So, the good news is that it's possible. Like applying to programs in the United States, studying abroad just requires research and preparation to ensure you have the best experience possible.
However, many Americans have never traveled, let alone studied abroad, so the first question a prospective student may have is in which countries to look for schools. To get you ready and thinking about studying abroad, we have compiled a brief list of what you need to know in advance to take your education overseas.
If you are unsure of where to start, perhaps you should consider countries in which other Americans frequently study and report having a great experience.
According to the abovementioned Open Doors data, the most popular destinations for Americans to study abroad in the 2015/16 academic year were as follows:
Of course, there are plenty of other countries to consider, but the list above is a great place to start. A huge factor in enjoying your experience abroad is being able to appreciate the host country’s culture. Think about what you already know about a country and try and imagine yourself living there. Additionally, it’s important to do your research. Things to consider include the weather, the food, the size of the city you will live in, and what activities you can fill your time with outside of class.
Another aspect that may influence your decision is the native language of the host country. Outside of the United States, it is common for people to speak at least two, if not three or four, languages. Luckily, English is a universal language that can be used around the world.
However, remember that this is not always the case. Even in countries where the level of English fluency is quite high, there may be language barriers that get in the way of you fully assimilating into the culture.
One great solution is to begin learning the local language. Although you can always get a head-start before your trip, oftentimes universities will offer their international students free classes in the local language to help students interact with citizens of the country in their daily lives. Learning the language is also a great way to show respect for the culture you are being accepted into as an international student.
Cost and Funding
Much to the surprise of many American students, federal student aid via the FAFSA is not accepted everywhere. Although there are international universities that do participate in American student loan programs, it’s important to check in advance if you will be able to receive financial support to study abroad. For more information on how to apply for the FAFSA to study abroad, check out our article. Or, view our list of international schools that participate in the student loan program.
Whether or not you need the support, it’s also important to consider the cost of living in your new city, as well as the exchange rate from the U.S. dollar to the local currency. For example, historically when you exchange dollars into Euros, your money loses some of its value, so a hundred dollars may only be worth eighty Euros.
Furthermore, some cities, like Berlin, for example, are much more affordable than cities such as Paris. That's why it’s important to research what the average cost of living for a student is in any given city or country, taking into consideration the costs for accommodation, food, and transportation.
To live abroad for an extended period will require a visa in most countries. The process to apply for a visa is dependent on the specific country. Most visas, however, generally require that the student has a valid passport, money to support them during their stay abroad, and proof that they have been accepted to a university.
It may also require a trip to that country’s nearest embassy. So, in order to guarantee you have permission to live abroad before your program begins, make sure you apply well in advance, as it can take several months to process a visa application.
Do you have any other questions? We have compiled many resources all geared towards helping students research how to make their study abroad dreams a reality.