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Study Abroad: A 10-Step Preparation

Step #1: Catalog Shopping. You are sitting in front of a heaping pile of travel books and brochures and you have no idea where you want to go. You pick up a catalog of the Univ. of Galway— endless rolling hills and tons of sheep; then a picturebook of Italy—fountains, art, well-dressed Europeans; then a brochure on Africa—a beautiful woman in red jewelry welcomes students in her village. You do not even know what continent you would like to be on, let alone what country. All you know is that you want to go abroad.

Step #2: Customer Service. If your school has a study abroad office, it will also most likely have a handful of individuals to talk to you about their abroad and your opportunities. If your school does not have an abroad office, plenty of national organizations are ready to facilitate your exchange. Before you contact them, think about what you want to get out of your time abroad. Do you want to be in a place where you can easily travel in your free time? Is your trip based on academic goals? Do you have any foreign language skills you wish to exercise? Are the size and location of the university as important as its reputation or course offerings? Do you want to live in a dorm or be part of a homestay? These are just some of the questions you’ll want to ask yourself and discuss with a study abroad adviser.

Step #3: Making the Decision. Once you have talked with someone about your possible choices, two or three schools may still seem equally attractive. The next thing to do is research. Besides your study abroad office, the Internet is a fabulous place for information. Take online tours of the places where you wish to go. Look at the cultural life, geography, and demographics of your intended place of study. Ask your study abroad office if anyone at your college has participated in the programs you’re interested in. Ask the program organizer for names of past participants from your area. Most anyone who has been abroad for any length of time would love to discuss their adventures with you. By this part of the search, you should be able to narrow your choices down to one school.

Step #4: Applying. Once you’ve settled on a particular program, don’t let the paperwork get you down. Programs abroad want to know who you are and why you want to study there. After all the thinking about it you’ve already done, you are completely prepared to answer these questions.

Step #5: The Letter of Acceptance. A month ago you didn’t know what continent you wanted to visit, and now you are ordering your passport. The best part has just begun. Now it’s time to go back to the library to read up on the customs, traditions, and cultures of your destination. Since everything is going to be new to you when you arrive, you will feel a lot better if you at least have a handle on the basics.

Step #6: Prepack Mentally. Do you know the average temperature of the country in the months you’ll be there? Are any vaccinations required? Will your hairdryer work there? These are things that you’ll want to know before you leave.

This is also a good time to purchase a student-written paperback guide to your country. Although you may have dreams of spontaneous weekend trips to foreign destinations, it never hurts to read about what others have done. Get a feeling for what will be in your surrounding area. If nothing else, student guides can direct you to inexpensive restaurants and hotels and even point out some of the less-touristy treasures of your chosen destination.

Step #7: Packing. Don’t bring more than you need.

Step #8: Welcome. The fact that you are going on an extended stay in a foreign place and leaving everyone you know and love behind may not fully sink in until you pass through customs and are sitting in the airport. Don’t panic! You are about to embark on an adventure that will change the way you view yourself and America.

Step #9: Instructions Not Included. Now you’re on your own. Talk to the natives! The only way to get to know a country is through the people who live there. You may be surprised to find how many people would love to tell you where to buy the best cheese, or how to get to the nearest theater. Asking questions will help you make friends and keep you busy.

Step #10: Duty Free. The best thing about study abroad memories is that they don’t cost anything. Although you are the only person who will ever really know what it was like, your friends will notice that you’ve changed since the last time they saw you. You’re suddenly more open, spontaneous, mature, confident, and cultured. After all, you’ve seen another part of the world.

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