Last updated on July 12th, 2020
An Introduction to Studying Abroad
I have received many questions from you guys regarding how to study abroad. What is the process like? Is it too complicated? What are the benefits of studying abroad? Is it really worth it? I touched on some of the benefits in my Traveling Is Living and From Tennessee to Taiwan: My Study Abroad Experience posts, so please click on those links to read more on anything not covered in this article. In addition, I wrote extensively about my experiences during my full-year exchange student program in Part 1 & Part 2. I used to be really closed-minded and would get into every social media political debate, and I would argue my points without any real consideration for the other’s point-of-view; I regrettably lost many friends over the years because of this. Removing yourself from the world you know and surrounding yourself with people from all walks of life will change many of your paradigms on life and help you become far more open-minded than you could ever imagine. I believe this is absolutely critical in today’s society. Education abroad will change your life for the better, guaranteed.
While there are many ways to make your way overseas to your desired country of choice, today, I will primarily be focusing on study abroad programs and doing so via: 1.) a short-term study abroad program through your university’s global studies office, 2.) a long-term exchange student program through your university’s global studies office, 3.) a school trip overseas through your high school, and 4.) enrolling directly to a university abroad. Whether you’re a high school student, a prospective college student, a current college student, someone who has already graduated and looking for opportunities abroad for further studies, or a parent, I encourage you to read this article in full.
1.) Short-Term Study Abroad Program
Starting off with by far the most common of ways to study abroad, short-term study abroad programs are absolutely amazing and a fantastic way to slowly introduce someone new to international travel. This is the route I personally took, and I have zero regrets whatsoever about making this leap. In fact, this was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my entire life (no exaggeration).
So, your question to me: how do I actually go about making a study abroad program happen?
Well, it is a lot simpler than you might imagine. Outside of people being oblivious to how eye-opening international travel to foreign lands filled with unique cultures, breath-taking scenery, wondrous architecture, delicious food, and beautiful people (both on the inside and outside) can be, another big hesitation people have with studying abroad is thinking the process is too complicated and cumbersome.
But I am here to tell you the process is really easy to go through; a typical study abroad office is going to make the process as simple and straightforward as possible. They want to introduce international travel to as many people as possible.
Another hesitation that prevents students from seriously considering studying abroad is the stigma regarding study abroad programs not being affordable. While there are many programs I could not afford, chances are, each study abroad office is going to have more affordable programs as well. In addition, there are study abroad scholarships widely available, so be sure to look into those options!
You may have your heart set out on a particular destination, but I promise, if you just open your mind, you will see how many amazing places on this earth exist that you may never have even heard of. If I remained stubborn on destinations early on, I might have never discovered the beauty & serenity of Taiwan, where I feel more at-home than anywhere else on God’s green earth.
So, I implore you; if your finances are somewhat tight, give the lower-cost programs a chance. Some of the cheapest countries in the world are also some of the absolute best. Do not make the mistake of overlooking them.
In order to study abroad, the first step is to find out where your local university keeps all of their information regarding programs they offer. Once you find where the information is housed online, browse through the list based on your budget constraints, and after reading a short description on any that catch your eye, add it to your own personal list to consider.
Once you have done this, it will be easy to compare & contrast the different programs and write down your pros/cons. Some factors include price, length of stay, dates of departure & arrival, quality of program, etc. What I recommend doing is requesting additional information for any programs you feel interested & excited about. Also, feel free to do additional research on your own; Google never takes a day off, after all.
After reviewing all of the information and weighing all of the factors, choose the place you feel is calling out to you the most. For me, that was Taiwan; for you, it could be Italy, Japan, Egypt, Bolivia, New Zealand, or perhaps somewhere else. Regardless of the destination you choose, remember this is not the end of your journey; it is only the beginning.
As it was once encouraged and emphasized to me to be have an open mind when you travel, I encourage and emphasize the same to you. You will see many aspects of life done differently in other parts of the world, some better than here in the States (in Taiwan’s case, a lot!) and some not as great, but it is important to respect and embrace the differences.
Now that you have made your choice, it is as simple as obtaining your passport (simple process), filling out any necessary paperwork in your university’s study abroad office, and paying the dues. Easy!
Now, all that stands between you and your trip is a study abroad orientation where you will have a chance to meet other students going on trips around the world, and you have a chance to get to know the people and professor going on the same trip as you. You will be spending a lot of time with them overseas, so why not make some new friends!
If you are struggling to come up with a decision on where to go or what program to choose, please contact me. I am more than happy to pay forward everything I have learned through the years. I promise I will get back to you as soon as I possibly can.
2.) Long-Term Exchange Student Program
What if you have already gone on a short-term study abroad program and are wanting to branch out and spend a semester or two overseas and be an actual student completely on your own at a university? Or, what if you are wanting to bypass the short-term study abroad program altogether and spend a semester or two abroad?
Offerings differ between universities and who they partner with around the world. With that said, if you show how passionate you are, how much it would mean, and the reasons for wanting to have an extended stay, they are usually willing to work with you to make your wishes come true. They may not be able to fulfill every wish, but most try their best.
Whether you select an exchange student program already available or work with the study abroad office to start a new one, once you have finalized which one you will be participating in, you will need to spend a little bit of extra time in the office to make sure everything goes smoothly in your time abroad.
First, if you don’t have a passport already, make sure to go apply for one, which is relatively straightforward. If you already have a passport, make sure the expiration date is at least greater than 6 months past your return date to the US; the last thing you want is to be held up in Customs (it completely sucks; believe me!).
Next, you will have plenty of paperwork to fill out, so make sure to get that completed, and pay your dues.
If you haven’t already, you will want to make sure to apply for any and all education abroad scholarships you are eligible for. At MTSU, the education abroad scholarship I received was a life-saver! The global studies office led by Dr. Doug Heffington at MTSU is amazing, and everyone I worked with was so awesome and helpful. That is my personal experience from the university I attended in the US, but from what I have heard from countless others, many have had the same type of welcoming experience from their respective offices as well. So, if you have any questions or concerns, they generally can point you in the right direction.
Lastly, the biggest headache for me was attempting to find classes in English at CYCU in Taiwan that would translate to my accounting degree; I was not fluent in traditional Chinese, so I was trying to find enough courses in English for 2 semester-loads. All of the IMBA courses were taught in English, but based on the small number of requirements I had left to obtain my accounting degree, I had a difficult time of making the schedule work. I had a choice to make: either attend Soochow University in Taipei, which was a more international city and more costly, or I could add global studies as a 2nd major. I chose the second option for a variety of reasons, and there’s a chance you might have to make a similar decision. Or maybe not. Everyone’s situation is different, and the office will tell you what is needed.
Once all of the above is finalized, you are ready for your next and quite possibly most exciting adventure in life! Following a study abroad orientation with others leaving around the same time as you, it is time to make final preparations before your flight. As I stated above under the 1st way how to study abroad, please contact me if you need any help whatsoever; I have firsthand experience and will do all I can to help guide you.
3.) High School Trip Overseas
Nowadays, it is becoming much more of a common practice for high school seniors to have some sort of opportunity to go on an educational class trip overseas. Back when I graduated high school way back in 2009, there was a trip to Europe that I unfortunately did not go on. This was 4 years before my first experience abroad.
If you have the opportunity to travel overseas in high school, why wait until you’re studying at your future college or university? I know this is where parents will step in and say it’s too expensive, and I do understand where you’re coming from.
But think about this. I know you all want what’s best for your kids and try your best to set a great example on the home front. However, if your kids only stay in the same type of environment and never venture out into the world, it will be so much more difficult for them to relate to different cultures and people of different nationalities.
Not only will this experience completely change their lives for the better, but they will have a step above the rest; studying abroad provides you insight into different ways of thinking. The paradigms and pre-conceived notions you have about certain destinations are often shattered, and you become much more open-minded. If you want to prepare your kids for success, I highly encourage you to allow your kids to go on these educational trips abroad, even if you make them find a way to pay for it themselves; it is 100% worth it. If I could go back in time, I would absolutely have joined my fellow classmates and teachers.
4.) Enroll Directly at a University Abroad
Lastly, I want to discuss how you can bypass attending a university in the United States altogether, whether it be for your bachelor’s degree, master’s, PhD, or all of the above. Most people do not even consider this to be a realistic option, but you might be surprised at just how doable this really is.
If I woke up tomorrow and were back in my senior year of high school, I would be doing some heavy research into how I could directly enroll at a university abroad. One regret in life for me is not ever (up to this point, but I am hoping to at some point) living in Italy. If I could do things over, I would have spent my undergraduate years living in Rome before getting my master’s in Taiwan. But that’s just me; your path and heart might lead you elsewhere, and I strongly encourage you to follow it.
Because of how much prices vary between countries and even universities within countries for different programs, I highly recommend doing some good old-fashioned research; never forget: Google is your friend.
Say, for example, you would like to get your master’s degree in Vietnam or Germany; your individual budget matters, but my first step would be to search for low-cost options. For many destinations, you can often find discounted programs geared to entice foreign students to enroll. Sometimes, you can even find places that offer FREE tuition!
Once you find a program you like and are committed to, the next steps are to get your passport and uncover what steps are necessary for you to go through before moving abroad. This information is readily available online with a simple search based on your personal circumstances; this will help you determine if a student visa is needed, and how complicated the process is.
Well, guys, I think that about covers it. I would love to hear your own personal stories from previous study abroad experiences. If you already have one planned or have one ounce of interest in participating in one, I would love to hear from you as well!
As always, please feel free to leave comments/questions as I will be reading each & every one of them and responding. If you want to know something, ask away! Do not hesitate to contact us if you need anything at all or would like to chat with us! Please hit those follow, share, & like buttons; just don’t eat the apple. Until next time, stay traveling (safely)!