Looking back now to when I was applying to study abroad at this time last year, there are some things I wish that I had thought about differently. This is by no means everything, but here are just a few of those things that stick out in my mind.
- Location: For students like me, the location of their experience abroad is the most important priority when picking a program. I picked the place I wanted to go to before I thought about anything else. For certain areas of study this makes some sense: if you’re studying a language, you may want to study abroad in a country that speaks that language. However, there may be several countries that speak that language. It may seem more appealing to choose a more familiar culture, but the danger of being too focused on a specific location is that you close your mind off to places that may be better suited for you and that you may have never even thought of. Once I was abroad, I realized that location mattered very little in the end, and I wish that I had been more open minded in where I decided to study abroad.
- Housing: Housing is an important aspect to consider, and it’s one thing I wish that I had considered more carefully. Where you are housed can influence how easy it is to adapt to and immerse yourself in the local culture and language. For example, if you are studying abroad to learn a new language, it might be better to do a program with a host family because it will force you to use the language on a day-to-day basis. That being said, as a French student, I didn’t live with a host family. Not living with a host family meant that it was more of a challenge for me to find ways to practice French, but that doesn’t mean that it was impossible. Living by yourself in a tiny dorm can make it more difficult to immerse yourself in the culture, but it can also make it easier to meet people from the local culture you wouldn’t have met otherwise. At the end of the day, there are benefits and disadvantages to every living situation.
- Budget: Although the experience of going abroad is priceless, there’s no getting around the fact that it can be very expensive to live abroad. Before I went abroad, I wish I had thought more about how much living abroad would cost outside of just basic program costs. There are of course the obvious outside costs like airfare and food. However, in countries like France, there is a social security tax you have to pay when you arrive. On top of that, if you live alone, you will need to buy things like silverware, sheets, pillows, toilet paper, etc. There are also costs from things like school supplies, fees to get a student ID, and so on and so forth. It’s very difficult if not impossible to predict everything you will need to buy once you are abroad, but it is something I wish I had thought about more carefully.
Caitlin Smith is a senior at the University of Kentucky studying French and Sociology. She studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France during the Spring 2016 semester.