So, your semester is in full swing and you're just doing your thing. Sitting through classes, doing your homework, maybe meeting for the occasional library study group. You're heading out with your squad to the dining hall for dinner, and you keep passing these banners and posters with blown up, beautiful landscapes, and each one of them is urging you to take a semester abroad.
And you're like, "no way, not me. I can't do that."
Believe me, I get it. That was me, too. But let's talk about how we can turn that "can't" into a resounding "can," because studying abroad is a life-changing experience that you deserve, too.
I remember having the same reaction to those posters; awesome photos of students in front of the Eiffel Tower, or posing with locals in South Korea. I remember thinking, "God, that sounds so cool. But I can't." My concerns and hesitations overwhelmed me for a long time, and I didn't look into the opportunities that were available to me until my junior year. Once I finally addressed my reservations and started looking for answers and ways to make an opportunity abroad happen for me, I had so many doors opened to me, and I wound up spending my Summer taking language, culture, and even film classes in Osaka, Japan. It was a profoundly meaningful experience, and, not to sound cliche, but it absolutely was life-changing. I now work as a coordinator and advisor to help other students at my university get abroad, and I hope some of my advice reaches you, too.
My concerns about studying abroad boiled down to three big concerns: time, difficulty, and, of course, money.
The things I had heard about studying abroad were from people who did long-term exchanges; they took off for a semester or a year and studied in a foreign university. That was all fine and good, but I enjoyed taking my upper-level classes with faculty that I had grown personal relationships with. On top of that, I had a job here at home, and I didn't want to give that up! The thing about studying abroad is that there is absolutely an opportunity that will fit your schedule. My trip was for one month over the Summer, so it didn't interfere with my normal academic year. My best friend did as an awesome hands-on opportunity for biology in Belize - and she was only gone for ten days. Maybe you don't want to leave home behind for a year, and that's okay - you don't have to!
Aside from time and schedule concerns, I was admittedly terrified to study abroad. I had hardly left my home state before, let alone the country. I had never even been on an airplane before. The thought of going somewhere completely different from home filled me with a whole new kind of anxiety that I did not know how to resolve. The thing about studying abroad is that you have access to people and resources that you won't have when you graduate, so it's a great way to have your first travel experience! For one, all that big planning is in somebody else's hands; your program director will help arrange your lodging, airfare, and all of that for you. Typically, you even have an orientation before you depart to let you know everything you need to know about your destination, including what to pack, how the weather will be, and how to exchange currency if you need to. With my short Summer program, I traveled with a group of about a dozen other students most of the time, so I never felt totally lost or overwhelmed. Studying abroad gives you access to all kinds of help and advice that can alleviate so much first-time travel anxiety. If you have questions or concerns about the country you want to travel to, there are websites with everything from crime rates to currency that you can check out. There are also valuable websites for individuals that identify with any kind of minority - identities based on race, gender, your sexual orientation, and more - to help you navigate how to hold on to that opportunity in a country that might be different from home.
Finally, I just knew I couldn't afford to go abroad. I would see those flyers for upcoming programs and think, "yeah, okay. I have student loans and a Pell grant. I can't afford that."
The thing is, in most cases, your financial aid can help you go abroad. Typically, you will pay tuition to your home university, even though you're taking classes in Italy or Morocco or wherever your heart desires. If you get financial aid to help with that tuition, you'll still get it. There's also a ton of scholarships available to you; your university may even have its own funds to help students go abroad. My university even offers a grant specifically for students who have never traveled before! When I was preparing to go abroad, between my financial aid, a decently successful crowdfunding campaign, and a scholarship, I only paid about a fifth of my program cost out of pocket.
You can absolutely find a study abroad opportunity that you are passionate about, and there are ways to make it happen for you! Reach out to your university's education abroad office! Ask your favorite professors if they know of any upcoming trips for your major so you can get course credit!
It is so worth it, and I hope you chase your dreams, wherever they take you!