Study Abroad

Every year, around 300,000 students from the United States pack up their bags and head overseas to study abroad. For most of these study abroad students, the decision to study abroad is one of the biggest steps and hence, one of the most important decisions that they will have made up to this point. Obviously, there are plenty of questions to ask and details to grasp about this amazing opportunity. If you are like the vast majority of students that has decided to go abroad for a semester or two, you will most likely agree that this is one of the most exhilarating and beneficial experiences of your scholastic years and probably beyond. First, some quick statistics on studying abroad.

  • A whopping 97% of study abroad students found employment within a year of graduation compared to only 49% of those who didn't attend a study abroad program.
  • Study abroad participants tend to start their careers with a higher salary. On average, about $7,000 per year more than those who didn't study abroad.
  • 97% of all study abroad students feel that studying abroad has helped increase their maturity and about the same percentage claim that their self-confidence has improved thanks to their years studying abroad.

These are interesting as well as compelling statistics but the great thing about studying abroad is that virtually everyone who has done so reports having had a great time and that they would recommend it to their friends and family.

So what holds people back? Well, lots of things. After all, most every aspect of life that you are accustomed to such as culture, language, food, surroundings will change and your usual support system (mom and dad, for example) will be miles and miles away. In addition, some people make assumptions based on, well, lack of knowledge and/or are looking for an excuse not to go (hopefully that's not your case). The more you know what to expect and the more knowledge you gain, the more comfortable you will feel. Here is some information that hopefully will give you a better understanding of what to expect and how to confront your study abroad trip.

Top myths

I can't afford it.

You got me. You can't afford to rent a townhouse in the middle of London. I've got news for you, you probably can't afford to rent a decent apartment, at least by yourself, back home least not yet. However, since you are reading this, you just learned that study abroad students make a whole lot more money than the stay at home students. But back to the point. What you spend varies on many factors such as the type of program, the time you will stay overseas and, most importantly, the location. In fact, there are plenty of cities and countries where you will get a lot more bang for buck than you do back in the United States – especially if you live in New York City or San Francisco. When you are researching where you want to go, don't just limit your search to the countries but also to the cities. Example, if you want to go to Italy, there are programs in various cities throughout the country. If budget is an issue, you may want to avoid the larger cities, like Rome, where rents are higher than in smaller cities such as Perugia. Or, since room and board are high on the lists of fixed costs, figure out a plan that allows you to take public transportation to school and take residence a little further out of the center of town. Another possibility is to make some money while you are overseas. Many students tutor English. In places like China and Japan, teaching opportunities abound. Still need money? Ask friends and family to sponsor you. Got 100 friends and family members? At just $10 a head, that's $1000 right there which is more than enough to live in some places of the earth. Or, get a summer job and save up for your trip. There are plenty of possibilities and opportunities to find a way to study abroad. The point is, be creative, be smart and you will surely find plenty of great opportunities.

The USA is the greatest country in the world, why go anyplace else?

"My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty" Without any disrespect to the United States (because it truly is a great country in many aspects...not all countries even have a study abroad program for example), it certainly isn't the only great country on the globe. In fact, according to many sources, the United States doesn't even take top 10 (and in many instances, not even the top 20) in the world as one of the best countries to live in. If you find this fact amazing, incredible or impossible, then you really should expand your horizons and a great way is of course to go study abroad.

I won't like the food.

Chances are, you won't like the'll love it. Long gone are the days that in Italy you only get Italian food or in Mexico you only get tacos and burritos. According to CNN, the United States ranks a measly #10 as the country with the best food. In addition, if you know how to cook, you can pretty much find most of what you love most to eat back home in the country where you are studying abroad.

It's dangerous.

Unless you are traveling to Iraq or Syria these days, it is probably a lot less dangerous than a large city near you in the United States. Most "issues" tend to be related to petty theft and yes, American's tend to sometimes be targeted because A) they love their gadgets and B) they tend to be pretty carefree in watching out for their belongings. If I hate it, too bad, I'll be stuck.

Unless you got a one way ticket or your return ticket cannot be changed, you can always come home to your mommy and daddy - provided they want to see you back so quickly. While again, most people don't want to come back, if you are a worrier and need to strike this, "what if?" off of your list, simply make the correct provisions that you can come back earlier than program. Again, chances are you won't want to come back sooner than scheduled.

I won't make any friends.

Many cities in Europe and Latin America are extremely vibrant and social so, while it depends on one's personally, it typically is very easy to make friends while studying abroad. Most cultures are extremely curious about all things American and most people want to practice their English skills.

I don't speak the language.

Well, there's an app for that. Google Translate has a very good app for translating the spoken word from one language to another. Besides that, many younger people speak English. Another suggestion is, try speaking their language. Might be a good experience for you to learn a new language.

My girlfriend/boyfriend is going to leave me if I am away for a semester.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Clinical studies show this is actually the case. Plan B is to use Facetime, Skype or just make phone calls or send emails. Besides, if a semester abroad is going to kill a relationship perhaps it wasn't going to last anyway.

I'll lose my scholarship!

Very few scholarships are contingent on having to stay in the United States. Having said that, there are literally tens of thousands of scholarships out there and you may have just picked one of the few every that has some kind of bizarre restriction on travel, so double check!

Studying abroad is only for Arts and Language majors.

It's not. While there are certainly a fair share of programs in those areas you can find study abroad programs somewhere for your major.

Studying abroad is an excuse to party and I really won't learn anything.

One of the great things about study abroad programs is that you can learn by assimilation. You don't necessarily have to look at pictures or read a book in order to learn Roman history if your study abroad program happens to be based in Rome. You will find that some of the academics are outside the class, which many find easier and certainly more interesting than reading about Roman History 10,000 miles away from the source.

I'm African American (or Hispanic or Chinese) and they aren't used to that over there.

This is certainly not your daddy's study abroad program in the sense that while 20-30 years ago there was certainly less diversity than there is now. Having said that, if you want to find a place where, chances are, you are the only Hispanic or White student for miles, that too can possibly be arranged.

The Ultimate Packing List for Studying Abroad

Now the ultimate packing list is going to vary depending on where you travel and of course, your individual needs. For example, if you are traveling to the tropics, chances are it won't include your cashmere scarf. In any case, here is a sampling of stuff that you may want to include in your suitcase. And speaking of suitcase, you may not want to use your Louis Vuitton suitcase for your trip or even a generic one that looks like everyone else's. An expensive suitcase is only asking for someone to break into it. Equally important, if you have one that looks like everyone else's, try to personalize it a bit so that someone doesn't accidentally grab it off the carousel. You may want to avoid personalizing it with anything with bling - like a Ferrari Sticker or a, "I love my Gucci shoes." If you go the sticker route, try using a super hero or anything that may lead someone to believe that the suitcase belongs to a child. This is a good deterrent for any potential thief. OK, enough of is the list.

  • Cell phone or SIM card (with your favorite travel apps already loaded)
  • Copies of your passport
  • Back pack (for short trips)
  • Walking shoes
  • Some nice, dark jeans
  • Blazer or dark jacket
  • Wrinkle free t-shirts (Lululemon makes some good ones)
  • Good travel pants with extra pockets w/ zippers (good for putting passports in)
  • Strong, lightweight suitcase (be sure to individualize it so people don't walk away with it by mistake)
  • Medicines or vitamins (you may or may not find your brand of choice overseas)
  • Ziploc bags (to store open shampoos, etc. in)
  • Small gifts, especially if you are going to stay with a family)
  • Plug adapters (most devices are variable voltage but you still need an adapter to make it fit in the outlet)
  • Credit card
  • Important contact numbers locally and back home

Tips on making the most of your time

When you are in a new city the based way to figure out the layout of the land is to get to the highest vantage point. In Paris, this could be the Eiffel Tower, in Rome, the Janiculum Hill, elsewhere it may be a building. Next, walk and explore as much as you can. Get lost, literally (but use a map or Google Maps to find your way home). Try to avoid going out in large groups of other Americans. It is hard to make new friends when traveling in a large herd. And of course, try the local delicacies as much as possible. Also, if you have television, try to tune into the local channels and avoid English speaking ones as much as possible. Even if you don't understand 99% of what you watch, you will still get a feel for the local culture. Also, as the saying goes, when in Rome....(hopefully you know the rest). For example, a nice local tradition is Spain is to go to the bars, grab a beer and eat tapas. In Rome, grab a coffee and "cornetto" or "brioche" for breakfast. Even if that is not what you typically would do, it makes sense to try it at least once. The point is, try to immerse yourself with the people, traditions and culture as much as you can. Who knows, this may be the only opportunity you get to try foods and traditions that back home don't exist.

How to Convince your Folks that You Want to Study Abroad

Most parents fear two things; the first is that they cannot afford it and the second is that you will be safe. Of course, there are other potential reasons why they wouldn't want you to travel abroad but these are certainly two of the biggest fears. Therefore, before you even hint to them that you are considering going abroad to study, you should do your due diligence and try to address and have answers to any questions they might have regarding the cost as well as your safety. Let's do some play rolling for a minute. Mother, "but Mary, Rome is a big city and I have heard that it is dirty and safe and you don't speak the language!" Mary, "Mom, statistically, I am more likely to be abducted by aliens than get my purse snatched in Italy. In fact, in 2015, there were only 100 purse snatchings in all of Italy while there were 200 just in New York City!" Get the idea? OK, don't mention the aliens necessarily but if you have concrete, indisputable facts and figures, first, they cannot easily dispute what you are saying and second, they can tell that you are serious about your intentions!

Most Popular Countries for Studying Abroad

When selecting where to go on your study abroad program, there are always many factors to consider. Some chose countries based on their ancestry or based on a fascination for the culture while others chose because they are "safe" either in terms of being easy because of the language (London for example) or save because there is little or virtually no crime (think Tokyo). In addition, economic factors are important to consider. For example, if your budget is restricted, ultra-expensive destinations such as Hong Kong or Oslo may not be an option. In any event, and for whatever reason, here is a list of the most popular countries for studying abroad. It is interesting to note that while the UK is a top destination, not necessarily surprising as it is a top world destination from other countries as well, Australia, Ireland and Costa Rica are all very popular destinations as well. The reason is most likely because, while many students want to travel abroad, they are reluctant to stray too far away from their comfort zone by traveling not only to a foreign destination but a foreign destination that speaks a foreign language.

  • UK (12%)
  • Italy (10%)
  • Spain (9%)
  • France (6%)
  • China (about 5%)
  • Germany, Australia, Costa Rica and Ireland about the same (3%)
  • Japan (2%)

Staying safe - List of DO's and DON'T's for Studying Abroad

Don't be the ugly American. While this is almost a cliché and in fact, can mean many things to different people, remember, you are a guest and act respectfully. For example, don't get drunk, don't be loud, don't go around shirtless, don't be rude, don't criticize the local people or customs. Basically, all the things your mamma taught you growing up. Another thing you don't want to do is to leave your stuff laying around. This seems to be an American pastime when Americans go abroad. Of course, this depends a lot on where you are traveling. For example, in Japan, most people don't even lock their bicycles while in other countries, you shouldn't leave as much as a bag of trash in your car. So, just to be safe, don't chance it and keep your stuff with you at all times. Another thing you should pay attention to is the traffic and the driving habits. For example, while here in the US, in most places at least, if there is a pedestrian crosswalk with stripes on the ground, most drivers will almost slam on their brake if a pedestrian gets anywhere close to a crosswalk (most places, certainly not New York City and other large cities). However, in some countries, painted stripes on the ground is precisely that – painted stripes on the ground and not a "protective shield" like it is in most places in the US. That means that you shouldn't expect a car to slam on their brakes just because you want to get to the other side of the road. So, just pay attention to how the locals are doing it and take it from there. In addition, if you are traveling to say, Australia, Japan or the UK, remember that they drive on the left side of the road and you should use caution particularly at intersections.

Dealing with homesickness and keeping in touch with family/friends

While this was a valid "issue" several years ago now, it is so easy to stay in touch with back home that it can almost be detrimental to your study abroad experience! With such apps such as Facetime, Whatsapp and Skype, you can reach out to your friends and family for free or virtually for free any time you want. If indeed you really think you will feel the urge to be able to see your mom and dad anytime and anywhere, the best approach is to get an unlocked cell phone with a large screen (or better yet, an iPad) and get a local SIM card and data plan. You can purchase this prior to your trip from Cellular Abroad. If you are using an iPad, you should just buy a data SIM card. That way you can use Facetime, Tango or other apps and you get to see the person on the other end in a decent sized screen.

If, for some reason, you really have the need to be around Americans or have some American experiences (ex. Thanksgiving or Fourth of July celebrations), most cities have either consulates, newspapers or cultural institutions where you can either connect with other Americans or participate in American traditions.

More on cellular service while studying abroad

Sure, your current phone probably does work overseas. In fact, all the major US carriers including Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile offer international roaming solutions for both voice and data. That is the good news…sort of. The reason it "sort of" good news is that yes, while they offer it, not only is it either expensive or doesn't work correctly but it is most likely not your best option. Just like with most of the other suggestions in this article, you should try your best to embrace the local culture, foods and products. First, here is why using your current solution is a bad idea.

While there certainly are differences between the carriers in terms of prices, here is a general breakdown. First, the carriers that offer free data often, very often, don't mention and certainly don't emphasize that the free data they are offering is 2G and not 3G of 4G. 2G speeds are OK for emails, messaging with Whatsapp but certainly not good enough for streaming, browsing (unless you are really patient) using Google Maps or Skyping. In order to have faster speeds, the carriers that offer "free" data are more than happy to sell it to you. Regardless of the carrier, faster data speeds are going to be expensive and typically very expensive.

Besides the cost, and let's use Spain for an example, if you are studying abroad in Spain and you have a US based phone number, chances are that the locals will not want to call or text you as it is an international – and costly – phone number. The best solution is to have a local Spanish number. What about people in the US that want to reach you? Won't it be expensive for them to call you on a Spanish number? Quite possibly but what you can do is to get a US number and forward it to the Spanish phone number. This costs literally pennies per minute. This way, your phone will have a Spanish number for the locals and a US number for the people back home wanting to connect with you. You can even forward your usual US number to the new US one that you are forwarding so that anyone and everyone who has your usual number can reach you. In addition, making local calls and using data are significantly less expensive than roaming. So, how does one actually go about doing this? How do you get local service? First, make sure your current cell phone is unlocked. Many are or can be unlocked. If not, you may have to purchase one just for the trip. Then, you can either get a SIM card when you arrive overseas or you can get one online before you go. Getting one before your trip is beneficial because first, you can use it as soon as you arrive and second, you can get a US phone number. If you get a Spanish SIM card when you arrive, you won't be able to easily get a US phone number and, you may not get a very good plan depending on which SIM card you happen to get. Regardless of where you get the SIM card, here are some tips on what kind of SIM card you should get.

Just as you probably mostly use your phone back home for Facebook, Instagram and running apps, you will probably do more of the same overseas. In fact, chances are you will use Google Maps and Google Translate or even Uber more overseas than you do back home. Since all these apps use data, what you should make sure you have is a robust data plan when you get a Spanish SIM card. Unless you get a data only SIM, there will also be a Spanish number associated with it. Although, in theory, one can make and receive phone calls through Google Voice or Skype, and you can still text through Face Time or Whatsapp, it is recommend that you have a Spanish number in case someone needs to text you or call you with the "classic" methods.

A word about Wi Fi

Wi Fi, particularly free Wi Fi is great. We all love it. However, the thing about free Wi Fi is that it can be slow, it may not always be available, and it is prone to being hacked. If you are planning on using online banking, don't do it. 90% of security breaches are through free Wi Fi and particularly in tourist areas. Plus, while it is free, who wants to have to rely on free Wi Fi in order to check an email? Still, if your apartment has Wi Fi and you are home, you might as well use the free Wi Fi as opposed to the data on your SIM card. Many students need reliable data not just for their phones but also for the laptops or tablets. It can certainly be a frustrating experience trying to research information for a paper due the next day when your Wi Fi goes down or the speeds drop to a crawl. One great way around this it to get a wireless hotspot. A wireless hotspot is a small device that works off of the cellular carriers' antennas to create a private Wi Fi. The great thing about it is that you can use any device that has Wi Fi in order to access it – even multiple devices at one time. In addition, it is secure. The flipside is that it is not the most economical way to go. Still, if you are studying abroad for a few months and break down the cost of what it would be to purchase one, it works out to a few dollars a day which theoretically you can even split with other users since a wireless hotspot allows several users to log on at once.

Actions to take after you return home to get the most out of your experience (resume, internships, continue studying and become fluent in the language, etc)

Many study abroad students become "homesick" when they come back home from their study abroad experience. After all, a semester or two abroad usually entails an overwhelming amount of experience and typically a more exhilarating lifestyle than what occurs back home. It makes sense to continue to embrace some of the culture and the language that you learned overseas. You can always find books and movies about where you were, stay connected with the new friends you made abroad, and perhaps share some of the dishes that (hopefully) you learned to make abroad. If you live in a large city like New York, there will most likely be events or possibly even areas of the city (i.e., Little Tokyo, Little Ethiopia, etc.) that celebrate the country and culture where you just came back from. Nowadays, plane tickets can be so affordable, typically during the off season (like November or February) that perhaps you can go back in the near future. If you have been studying the language, continue to do so.

Applications and other Requirements

Each school will have their unique form and protocol in terms of what they are looking for when applying for their study abroad program. Having said that, the vast majority will have a general information form, a health clearance form, ask for letters of recommendation, require you to write an essay and will ask for your possible course selection. Check with the school in order to get all their requirements and paperwork. Remember, you may only have one chance to get the paperwork right so, do not take it for granted or in stride that you will be accept. Put the time and energy into this to get it accurate the first time.

When you First Arrive at Your Destination

When you first arrive in the city where you will be spending the next few months, at the very least, you will undoubtedly find aspects that you didn't expect. For example, the bathroom may be smaller than you might expect, the bed less comfortable, there may be odd fixtures in the bathroom, the light switches will probably look different, and so on. Definitely try to keep an open mind. Some of the things that you thought were odd initially, you may just grow to appreciate and even miss when you come back home. You should do everything that you can to get acquainted with how things work as soon as possible. Don't be shy about learning how to use the subway or going to the local store to buy groceries. The sooner you figure out the basics, the better. Otherwise, you will find yourself limited to walking around your neighborhood or going to one or two local restaurants - which of course is a great idea to do precisely that the first couple of days you are there.

Then, once you are comfortable with your new digs, your new neighborhood, how to buy food and where to buy it and how to use public transportation, you can start venturing out of your comfort zone. The first place you should go is to the highest vantage point of the town or city. This may be a hill, a church or another building. Having and eagle's eye view of the area will help you get an understanding of the layout and perhaps you will see things that you want to explore. While some cities have fantastic subway systems, you may want to try above ground transportation initially so that you can see the surroundings.

In addition, you should try to mingle with the natives so to speak. Most people, depending on where you are, do speak some English - particularly young adults. You should, at the very least, learn some of the basic language as quickly as possible and try to use some words and phrases (ex. Good morning, thank you, my name is______, etc.)

Making the Best of your Time Abroad

During your time abroad, continue to expand on your knowledge of the land, of the culture and of the language. When and if you have time, take a train to nearby cities and towns or even countries depending on where you are. For example, if you are in Switzerland, you are surrounded by other countries and it is a matter of miles to go to Italy or France but if you are in Japan, that means you will have to take a plane (or boat) to travel elsewhere. While at the end of the day, you are there to study, you are also there to learn and have new experiences. You need to find a balance with making sure you are studying and preparing for your exams and at the same time, broadening your intellectual and cultural horizons by seeing new places and doing new things. If you find the need to go see a movie, go out and see one. Maybe find a cinema with subtitles if you need to watch an American movie but try to limit simply staying at home by yourself and watching Netflix. That you can do anywhere in the world.


According to this article in the Washington Post, the Sami people, who live in the northern part of Scandinavia and Russia, have 150 words for "snow" and over 1000 for the word, "reindeer." The point is that if you do not have the word for it and/or have not experienced something, you cannot truly conceptualize it. For example, when you read a headline such as, "Thousands stranded on borders of new European migrant route" (and this is a random headline from today's press) or even less dramatic, "Saint Peter's, largest church in the world" what does this truly mean to you beyond the title? Probably not much. However, if someone told you that Saint Peter's Basilica was the largest church building in the world and you had actually seen it, this would evoke emotions and recollections far beyond just reading a book about it or seeing a picture. In fact, if a picture is a thousand words than seeing it in person is at least a million!

Everything you do, every experience you have, particularly diverse and positive experiences will help shape you as a person. Traveling abroad, including travel abroad through a study abroad program, is one of those experiences that is bound to give you skills and insights for a lifetime.