Ever thought of studying abroad?

Arts and Media April 2022 PREMIUM
If you are hesitant about studying abroad, the following tips may help you make up your mind.

Most students who have had international working or studying experiences agree that it is a life-changing experience, one that confronts us with a different way of life and belief system, leading us to fundamentally reassess our views about others and our understanding of ourselves. Study abroad produces not only a holistic personal transformation, but it also opens doors to the world in concrete professional terms, through networking, learning new languages, and developing essential skills for the 21st century, such as adaptability and cross-cultural competence.

At the same time, there is no denying that it is a challenging journey, and that there are both visible and invisible barriers – ranging from personal anxiety to financial costs - that are very hard to break. Have you felt that there may be too many barriers, if you are a first-generation student, belong to a minority or a lower-income community, are studying while working, or are otherwise facing an upward climb in your university journey as it is?

If you are hesitant about studying abroad, the following tips may help you make up your mind.

Main fears students face and how to cope with them

•  I don’t speak the language

Now more than ever, technology is on our side. Translation apps and online dictionaries offer you exactly what you need faster than a finger snap. Communication apps can also become very handy in everyday interactions. If you do not reach the required language level when choosing your courses, you may opt among those in English. This will not prevent you from meeting nationals who will also take these courses to practice their English.

What if I get sick or have an accident?

Now more than ever, we are all aware of health risks. So, now more than ever, you need to count on health insurance abroad and be perfectly aware of its coverage.

I won’t be able to cope with the course load and life abroad

Choose your course or courses carefully with an advisor’s help. Be aware of how much time you will spend in class and studying for each course you would like to take. Always keep in mind that you will also be learning about life itself.

•  This is not for me

If you feel that your personality traits do not fit a program abroad -too shy, too passive, etc.-, think of it as an opportunity to work on your character development. In general, locals tend to be extra patient and empathetic with foreigners.

•  I feel anxious, tense, frustrated

You might feel uncomfortable in the new setting, physically and emotionally. Know the stages of culture shock you are going through -honeymoon, crisis, adjustment, and adaptation, and you will be able to profit from them. The process can be painful, however also useful to redefine your priorities in life. Assimilating different perspectives will bolster your self-awareness.

  I can’t be away from my friends and family

With a good internet connection and the experience from the pandemic, a video chat with your loved ones will be as easy as it is at home. If you want to go a step further, just make sure you unlock your phone before departure and buy a SIM card upon arrival to get cheaper local communication.

•  I don’t have the money

Of course, you may need to start saving some time before. However, you may get extra help by visiting your study abroad center or director at your university to learn about study abroad scholarships, loans, discounts, volunteer work, and any other financial support to minimize costs. And plan in time to determine the cost difference for living, transport, and food, which you would be paying anyway if you were staying in the U.S.

Some extra piece of advice

• Have your paperwork in order.

•  Take orientation sessions. Sometimes, they can be tedious, but you can learn from what others will ask and you never thought about.

•  Check your housing facilities abroad.

•  Talk to former students if you have the chance.

•  Research not only customs, food, socialization etiquette, etc., commonly called objective culture, but also how people think, their attitude toward life and beliefs, the intangible aspects known as subjective culture.

•   If you feel that taking a course is not for you, explore other options—for instance, research or blend education and experience with internships in local companies and NGOs. Options include becoming part of voluntary community engagement and project-oriented programs such as education, agriculture, health, water, housing, etc.

•  Take a look at the useful resources presented by the Institute for International Education (IIE) on their Generation Study Abroad page:  The page includes a comprehensive online directory of study abroad programs (, lists of government-funded scholarships (such as the Gilman Scholarship for lower-income students and grants for language study such as the Boren Awards or the Critical Language Scholarships), a Student Guide to Study Abroad and a Parent Guide to Study Abroad (also available in Spanish).

An experience overseas is about experimenting, making mistakes, and learning from them, but above all, it is about questioning things taken for granted at home, reflecting on how to cope with a different way of life and eventually, personal realization. 

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