Thinking about studying abroad in the spring? Yes? Awesome! No? Well, you should be because study abroad is amazing. Now, that I’ve decided for you that you’ll be studying abroad. Let’s talk about picking a place. I think that can be one of the most challenging aspects. There are so many options; you pretty much can study anywhere you want to. It may not be with a program, but you can directly enroll in a university, which has its own advantages. So, here are some things you should consider.
- Big city or small town person? Now, this seems very obvious, but there’s a lot that goes into this. Studying abroad in a big city puts the emphasis on sightseeing; you’ll definitely have time to get close to your host family and make good friends, but a lot of your free time will probably be spent sightseeing. If you study abroad in a small town, you’ll probably have a lot of down time that you can use to really bond with the locals. Plus, in a small town, people won’t be as rushed and will want to talk to you more. So, basically, this comes down to whether you want to do a lot of sightseeing and going out or focus more on building relationships. That’s not to say you won’t get to do both of those things in a small town and big city; the focus will just be different.
- Are you going to learn a language or take classes for your non-language major like business or engineering? Obviously, your language skills will improve a lot more in a small town because the locals will engage with you more, and there’s a lesser chance they’ll speak English.
- Or are you going for a different reason like to put yourself completely out of your comfort zone? Maybe your motives are not to improve a foreign language or sightsee but to challenge yourself by doing something you never thought you could do, like spend a semester in a remote African town with no running water or electricity. If that’s the case, you’ll probably be ruling out all large European cities.
- How well do you want to fit in? This may sound a little stupid to you, but you’ll really notice this while abroad. I have a friend of German heritage who spent a year in Bolivia, and while she loved it, it was frustrating for her to have people constantly gawk at her pale skin and light green eyes. Fitting in isn’t just about looks either; it’s about customs as well. As you well know, no other countries share our same obsession with the Kardashians, Kate Middleton (even England), attempting to dress way-too-short shorts up and supposedly “healthy” salads that actually have 1,000 calories. But European customs are most similar to those of the U.S., especially in big cities; whereas, the culture of rural India pretty much has nothing in common with the U.S.
- How “on your own” do you want to be? If you want to be completely on your own, you can directly enroll in a university pretty much anywhere in the world. You’ll probably feel much more like a local, which is awesome, but this also means you won’t have a program to help you if you get stuck somewhere or really sick. Another option is studying abroad with an outside program. Typically, these are run by study abroad companies, and there will be students from all over the U.S., possibly North America in your program. For this kind of program, your classes will be at a local university taught by local professors with other international students and some local university students. Or you can study abroad with a UF program. With a UF program, it will pretty much exclusively be UF students, and a lot, if not all, of your classes will be taught by UF professors who traveled with you. And again, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Another option is studying abroad with another American university’s program. For example, I have a friend here at UF who studied in Madrid with a FSU program because it fit her needs best.
I’m sorry if I just overwhelmed you even more, but there’s a lot that goes into this decision. You’ll have a fabulous time wherever you go, but you want to make sure you’re getting everything out of the program that you want, so keep these things in mind as you research programs.