Guest Blogger: Caroline Albro
With each passing day before my study abroad program in London commences, my excitement builds. I can’t wait to walk along the Thames, drink high tea, and learn new quirky British words. Just six months ago, I was sitting in my study abroad advisor’s office, deciding which program to apply for. After much deliberation, I settled on a year-long program in London because I could spend significant time in a cultural hotspot, take classes at one of the top universities in the world, and meet international students and other study abroad students in the same program. While I’m not exactly sure of the new experiences that await me in London, I am confident that I picked the right study abroad program for my needs. Here’s how you can too.
Step 1: Determine your needs
Think about what you need to be successful in a new environment. Are you okay with cold weather or would you rather spend time in a warm climate? Do you want to meet international students or remain with a small group of students from your home country? Do you want to live in a homestay or a dorm? These questions, among others, are important to consider before picking a study abroad program. Here are some factors that I deliberated before deciding to go to London:
- Living arrangement
- Class size
- Class structure
- Academic rigor
- Ability to travel on weekends and holidays
- Making friends
- Language barriers
- Financial constraint
- Academic credits
Step 2: Do your research
Talk to people. Begin by speaking with your study abroad advisor at your current institution. This person can often narrow down your search by providing an accurate concept of feasible programs and past students’ experiences. It’s helpful to think about your personal study abroad desires first, come up with a short list of interesting programs, and then go to your advisor for further guidance. My advisor even had a binder filled with suggestions and thoughts from former students who had completed various study abroad programs. You may also want to speak to your academic advisor, as they can recommend classes to take while abroad and ways to receive academic credit.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few programs, don’t be afraid to contact the program directly and ask any unanswered questions. For example, I had to apply for a visa for my program, so I ended up emailing my program’s director with specific questions regarding the visa application process. Lastly, reach out to program alums. The single most helpful piece of research that I conducted in making my decision to study abroad in London was talking with a student at my college who had completed the program last year. I asked her questions ranging from her housing situation to her favorite class, and she gave me so much useful information. She even shared a list of her favorite restaurants and a document filled with budgeting tips. Come prepared for these discussions with pen and paper, as you’ll leave with many helpful tidbits!
All of this research will probably suffice, but if you’re still undecided, I found social media and the internet to be somewhat inspiring. To get a feel for life abroad, you could watch study abroad “day in my life” videos on YouTube or follow Instagram influencers studying abroad in the country of your interest. However, keep in mind that this content is highly curated for social media and may not accurately reflect the ups and downs of studying abroad.
Step 3: Make your decision
After all this research, you should have a pretty good idea of where you want to go. Be sure to avoid rushing into a decision by beginning your research with ample time. Don’t feel pressured to pick a program that you’re not excited about. While college can feel like a time when everyone goes abroad, remember that there are other times in your life to have this experience. If now isn’t feeling right, then consider a gap year after college or an international fellowship. On the other hand, if you’re feeling ready for a different environment and a challenge, then go ahead and apply for the program of your choice.
Caroline Albro attends Scripps College in Claremont, California. Originally from the Bay Area, Caroline is ditching her California roots to spend the year studying abroad in London this year. Outside of her academic pursuits in sociology and economics, she enjoys spending time outdoors, reading, and has recently taken up embroidery.