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5 Things to Do Before Studying Abroad

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

So, you are planning to study abroad. Keep reading for some tips before you set off on your journey! 

I have been planning to study abroad in Santiago, Chile with the Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) since mid-July. I am setting off in mid-January, and I could not be more excited. 

Studying abroad is an exciting decision but it comes along with lots of planning, commitment, and research. 

Research

There are hundreds of study abroad programs that span across the seven continents and hundreds of different universities and countries around the globe. Which is right for you? 

It is hard to know what the best fit will be, especially if you have never been to the country you plan to study in. 

While this might seem obvious, I learned so much about Chile once I started researching Santiago and the surrounding area. The seasons in South America are flipped, which means that my program begins in March instead of January.

My program only offers classes taught in Spanish at three universities throughout Santiago. I am prepared and excited for a full immersion semester, but that doesn’t work for everyone, so make sure to do your research and read the fine print, too! 

Each program will have unique descriptions. I found that going directly to the university website can be a great resource to look at classes, read more about their mission, and see photos of the campus. 

Connecting with your abroad program and team is essential to make sure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. Communication is key.

Another great resource is talking to students from your home university that have gone through the same program. Asking them what they liked and disliked about their experience will give you a better idea of whether it’s a good fit or not. 

With the pandemic affecting global populations differently, it is important to do research about what it looks like where you plan to study. The pandemic, unfortunately, can still shape what your experience will look like.

Government Websites: 

U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs

U.S. Student Abroad Page

This website will give you basics on any country that you are looking at traveling to, not just for an abroad program. It is updated regularly and is a great resource for health and safety, kinds of travel, emergency information, and so much more. 

Trip Planning:

I scoured Pinterest and some of my favorite travel blogs to find different unique things to do in the area I am traveling. Another great spot to look at is Condé Nast Travel, Afar, Travel and Leisure, and other travel magazines that will have articles catered to all kinds of different styles of travelers. 

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Studying Abroad

Set Goals

Maybe you want to become better at speaking and understanding a foreign language, or you want to get outside of your comfort zone. This is something you have been dreaming of for as long as you can remember.

Your friends are going abroad, so you want to join them. You just need a fresh start, off campus in a completely new place. 

All of these are such common, understandable reasons for wanting to study outside of the U.S. for a semester.

When I began looking into different programs, I realized that I wanted to delve more into my Spanish minor and put it to use. I have always loved language and figured that, despite being very nervous, an immersion program would be so beneficial and worthwhile for my Spanish speaking skills now and in the future. 

I also knew that I wanted to continue to get outside and into the mountains, which are just a short drive outside the downtown of Santiago. 

Make sure that when you are looking at programs you are able to see yourself there…picking interesting classes, connecting with students in the program or at the university, and exploring your new space! 

Passports? Visas?

If you are planning to go abroad, you might already have a passport, but if not you are going to need one to enter and exit the U.S. Similar to the visa process, it is important to stay on top of this and start early to ensure you will receive the documentation before your departure date. Lately, there have been more delays and applications than usual, so start as early as possible! 

My biggest piece of advice to students planning to study abroad is to get started researching the visa or temporary residence process as early as possible. It is a legal process with required documents and processes that take TIME. Each country is going to have their own set of guidelines and expectations. 

In my experience, I had to get my fingerprints done and verified with the Apostille, which is an international agency similar to the FBI, which takes 4-8 weeks depending on the demand. 

Communication with your abroad program liaison is the best way to get accurate information because they have helped so many students go through the process before you. They will be able to help you pick the correct options in the language you are applying. 

It is also important to take into account the cost of obtaining a visa. It can be simple, quick, and free, or it can be a time consuming process where there are copious fees involved. It goes back to researching this depending on where you are headed! 

On the topic of visas and passports, make sure to check your passport expiration date too while you are at it, too.

Pursue Internships

Something you might not immediately think of when studying abroad is pursuing an internship. Internships are a great way to expand your work experience and network outside of home.

It can be a unique way to earn some extra cash or earn class credit to go back to your university with. It is also a helpful experience to search and work through the interview process in the professional world. Make sure to ask your program advisors about an opportunity like this!  

I will be paired with a company to pursue an internship through IFSA partners. The internship will count for a class credit, and it is a unique opportunity to work abroad within a specified sector that you are interested in.

It can help build your resume by giving you international work experience and help you network with professionals globally! Networking will be a huge help post-graduation or for any recommendation letters. 

Have fun!

I know this can all be very confusing and overwhelming, but studying abroad is meant to be FUN! 

There are so many possibilities to explore, make new friends, and create endless memories. 

Think about places you might want to travel to on weekends or breaks…

I am planning a backpacking trip through Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia before my program officially begins in March. 

Think about what classes are unique to the place you will be studying in… 

I am planning to take Mapuche Language and Culture, which is an indigenous Chilean language course that I could not take at my home university. I also plan to take Latin American Pop-Culture Through Music, which comes highly recommended by past students! 

How will you make the most of your semester away from your home university? 

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Author: Katherine Beard

An outgoing and adventurous junior at Colorado College majoring in Film and Media Studies with minors in Spanish and Journalism.