During the fall term of my junior year, I was lucky enough to study abroad in Paris, France for a solid four months. Studying in Paris changed my entire perspective on college and life. Traveling and living as a foreigner allowed me to see through the college-bubble one can often find themselves living within as an undergrad.
While it all appears to be romantic and marvelous, like something straight out of Eat Pray Love, you have to remember that any extended stay in a far-off country takes a bit of planning and travel savvy. First and foremost, how the heck do you choose a destination! Location is a key element in what you want and hope to gain from your study abroad experience. As incoming freshmen, you have a year or two before you’ll be able to study abroad, but below are a several elements everyone should considered before choosing your destination, let me know what you think, and feel free to ask any specific questions about studying abroad!
• Do you speak a foreign language?
If you do, I recommend studying in a nation which predominantly speaks that language. This can be a helpful aid in functioning throughout daily life abroad and handy if you have a language requirement from your home university when transferring credits. Plus, this ability will allow you to travel off the beaten path and into more rural settings untouched by tourists.
On the other hand, if you do not speak a foreign language you can also take this on as an adventure as well as an incentive to learn a new language. But you should consider how accessible the environment will be to you; with only knowing English I recommend an urban setting as most locals will have knowledge of the English language.
• Can we experience the culture?
No matter where you travel, it will be a foreign culture. Being the foreign one as an American you will face moments of not fitting in or feeling lost in a new world. How “foreign” you want to go is up to you! What I mean by this is…Many nations have similar cultural traits to our American ones, while not all the same, this may help you adjust to the abruptness of living abroad. Likewise, being a foreigner works wonders, it allows you to experience an entirely new way of life through brand new cultural experiences. Your adaptability all depends on your ability to remain open and adventurous.
• Urban vs. Non-urban
Being in an urban environment puts you right where all of the action is. Like all major US cities life moves at a fast pace and never seems to slow down giving your experience an adrenaline rush. Also, urban settings allow you easier access towards traveling to other cities and even other nations at a moment’s notice. However, the large environment also gives you more space for someone to get lost in the jumble.
A non-urban environment allows you to see a calmer and possibly more realistic side of your nation of choice. The environment may be smaller and much-less fast paced, but this size has it advantages as it can help you foster relationships with locals of your community. While it may also make traveling to other destinations harder during your stay, having a home base and remaining local to your destination for a consecutive span of time allows you to become more of a “local.”
• Hobbies and studies
It is always best to travel to a destination that relates to your specific interests. In other words if you are interested in specific types of art, food, music, or business there are nations that will better cater to your needs and offer you a plethora of venues in which to explore your interests and offer new perspectives on how to apply them to your studies at home.
(Photo by Tulane Public Relations under Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0)