What fun facts should I know about studying abroad?
March 17, 2010 7:32 PM   Subscribe

So I'm doing the old study abroad thing and I'm starting to plan for it now, because I already know the counsellors at my soon-to-be 4-year school are going to screw it up, just because counsellors do that. So how should I start?

Full history:
—I'm going to a community college now; after I get my AS I'm transferring to a 4-year school. I don't know if they will allow transfers to study abroad during the term, but if not, I can always go during the summer. If not, I'm doing it on my own.
—I will probably be graduating from this 4-year school in Fall 2013, so I'll have an extra semester anyway before grad school, which I may just go to as well (which also requires very advanced planning, so I'm planning).
—Should I try really hard to do this through the school? How hard would it be to do it myself? Should I just apply for one class and hope for the best, in the case that I can't do it through my school?
—Should I be going for some kind of internship program instead? Frankly, I'd rather learn in a different country than work in a different country. Obviously, too, I'd look for classes in English.
—Right now, I'm thinking about the UK, France (my French is the level of French one would have after 4 years at a US high school), maybe Netherlands or a Nordic country, and Lithuania.
—In regard to Lithuania, I may be able to qualify for dual citizenship but I have to wait until July for their new legislation. I think it would be nice to go to the motherland (I'm already teaching myself the "senas ir gražus" language of Lithuanian), and although it's a developing country, I've become a little intrigued by the idea of living in an Eastern European country that doesn't adhere to the same big-business values as Western Europe and the US. Even better, the tuition rate is something like $30-90 per credit, not $1,500 like England's would be. Is there anything specific I should know about studying in a developing country?

I'm assuming already that I'll be doing much of this on my own, especially if I go to Lithuania. I was thinking about taking a class directly through Vytautas Magnus University, Klaipėda University, or Vilnius University. Problems:
Almost nothing is in English
Their college websites, as you'll see, aren't quite as colorful and welcoming and information-saturated as the US
Their international programs and generally geared toward Erasmus students
Their English courses are mostly in International Studies (I am studying Philosophy, but I'd consider anything related, I guess).

Should I forget about Lithuania? I'd just go without the school thing, but I need structure in my day. I guess I could just take a Lithuanian Language class...but...that doesn't sound very appealing, if that's the only thing I'm there for.

I don't think I'd want to actually wait and go to grad school abroad, just because the best philosophy departments are mostly in the US, I've heard.
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So I'm doing the old study abroad thing and I'm starting to plan for it now, because I already know the counsellors at my soon-to-be 4-year school are going to screw it up, just because counsellors do that.

That is incredibly presumptuous. What makes you think that those people who run study abroad programs don't know what they are doing, or that you can do their job better than they can? I think you should try talking to whoever is in charge of the program at your soon-to-be school and see if they have options available that interest you before you discount it.
posted by amro at 7:43 PM on March 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

I studied abroad in college and also worked in my college's study abroad office for a few semesters. I would try to do this either through your school or through another US university that has a program in the country you wish to go to. My school's study abroad office handled study abroad arrangements for students from all over the country, not just our students. And some of ours went through other schools if we didn't have the program they wanted. So start with that. I would recommend that over doing it on your own. My experience with students in foreign countries suggested that many of them have a really hard time adjusting, particularly when English is not the native language. It sounds silly, but after a month of foreign TV, foreign students, not hearing any English, you start to go a little crazy and get fed up with everything taking so much effort to get done. It was really helpful for them to have coordinators to turn to, most of them needed us at one point or another. Plus, we found ways for them to use their financial aid and transfer credits properly. So I'd try to do it within a university program first, don't wing it unless you really have to.
posted by supercapitalist at 7:48 PM on March 17, 2010

I think you need to better define why it is you want to study abroad, and then use that to focus your plans. Are you just trying to travel while still in school? If that's the case, then you should just find a country that you're interested in, (maybe Lithuania?) and go there for a semester. You'll have to take some classes but they would be secondary to your main purpose of experiencing life in a different country. In my experience, the classes I took while studying abroad didn't affect my gpa at my home institution, so although I studied fairly hard as they were subjects I was interested in, I wouldn't have had to.

If there's a specific subject that you want to study, then find out where the best place to study that is and go there. That might mean going to a country you aren't particularly interested in, but would still be a great experience. I wanted to study forest ecology, so I went to New Zealand, which has some very unique forests. I wasn't very interested in New Zealand as a country prior to going there, but it was a good place to study something I was interested, and I ended up having a great time and really falling in love with the country. Also, keep in mind that to some extent, your options may be limited by the study abroad choices made available by your home institution.

In terms of studying anywhere outside of the developed world, and actually even in a lot of the developed world, be careful. I say this as someone currently considering attending a graduate school in Japan, which is very much a part of the developing world. However, here, as well as in a lot of other countries, schools just aren't as academically rigorous as those in the United States. They might be cheaper, but you have to think about what that will actually get you. In my case, that might be ok, as I'll be working on a masters in a subject that may directly lead to a job over here. But if you're studying philosophy, a degree unlikely to directly lead to any sort of job, you're probably better off studying at an institution with as reputable of an academic pedigree as possible. That probably means studying in the U.S., or maybe England.

Anyway, to make a long answer short, figure out what it is that you want out of studying abroad and that will lead you in the right direction.
posted by farce majeure at 7:50 PM on March 17, 2010

and by saying that Japan was very much a part of the "developing" world, I of course meant "developed" as anyone who has been here can tell you. must proofread before posting next time.
posted by farce majeure at 7:52 PM on March 17, 2010

You're overly complicating this. Most schools have good study abroad programs -- it's a very popular thing nowadays.

—Should I try really hard to do this through the school? How hard would it be to do it myself? Should I just apply for one class and hope for the best, in the case that I can't do it through my school?

I studied abroad twice - honestly, it involved a really short application and a short recommendation from a professor. Super easy, and they helped with all my visa information and such. Take advantage of the systems set up for you rather than try to go it alone -- that would involve directly enrolling in another school, difficult if you don't have command of the language.

The university will do the work of separating the legitimate programs from the scam ones. This is good.

If your school doesn't have a program that interests you, there are several other avenues. You can go through another university (U of Minnesota has a lot of programs), or through a group like IES, or meet with a study abroad advisor and work something out.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:33 PM on March 17, 2010

Should I try really hard to do this through the school?

Why wouldn't you? They will take care of all the paperwork for you--student visas, enrollment, health insurance, finding a place to live, having someone meet you at the airport, registering for classes and making sure that all courses you take will transfer for credit. To me, it's the only legitimate way to go about it.

Here is something else to consider: every single one of my friends who studied abroad got checks from my university to buy their plane tickets, pay their rent, groceries, and other expenses while abroad, and even spending money. The tuition + living expenses abroad qualify for federal and state financial aid when administered through the university, and they only paid whatever their share of tuition was for the current semester back home (in a couple of cases, including mine, that was just about $2000 after financial aid - enough to buy a decent flight, but certainly not sufficient to live on for any duration of time in a foreign country). YMMV.
posted by halogen at 8:34 PM on March 17, 2010

By the way - I have a good friend who transfered halfway through a 4-year degree. They're still letting her study abroad for all of her senior year, though they required her to petition. Of course this depends on the university, but they want you to study abroad. It looks really good for them. You shouldn't have trouble getting into a program.

BTW - I studied abroad in France. If you decide to go that route and want some input/advice, feel free to memail me.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:37 PM on March 17, 2010

You really need to be talking to the study abroad counselors at your four year school about this. I've recently applied to my home institution for permission to study abroad, and the process was actually more complicated than applying to the foreign school where I want to study. Your school will have its own set of rules and regulations to follow if you want to get credit for study abroad (if you just want to take a semester off, travel, and maybe take some classes for fun, that's another thing entirely). I wouldn't assume the people who advise students in your situation for a living will be incompetent. You may not like what they tell you, but you're going to be working in system that they're in charge of, not you, so listen to what they say. You said in a previous question that you were transferring to William and Mary? I think a school at that level (barring the random incompetence that can happen anywhere) will have people who know their shit. No one on Mefi is going to know W&M's policies better than someone in the Study Abroad office there.

That said, in my study abroad search, I found there were generally two ways to go. One is to go through a program, which are usually run by either US universities or by independent companies that often run programs in many different regions. The other is to apply directly to the school you want to attend.

They have different costs and benefits, logistically and academically. A program will be more expensive (generally) because they offer support services when you're abroad and before you go. AFAIK, this includes things like finding you a place to live and arranging visa things, as well as having a staff person on the ground in the country where you're studying. If you're going somewhere in the developing world or to a country where you don't speak the language, I can imagine this being really useful. Programs often give you some social support, too, because you'll have an automatic group of American students you can hang out with and go on trips with (some of which might be arranged by the program). You might not see this as a benefit.

Programs can also offer some cool and unique programs that go beyond just studying at a foreign university, but if you know exactly where you want to study and feel comfortable navigating an unfamiliar bureaucracy and being more on your own, applying directly is a totally legitimate route also. I'm applying directly to University College London- I chose the school based on my academic interests, I won't have language or crazy high cultural barriers to deal with, and I have family in England I can rely on for support if it all goes to hell while I'm there for some reason.

From your question (and full disclosure, your posting history) it sounds like you might want to save Lithuania for traveling and study abroad at a school with a good philosophy department. FYI, I'd also suggest researching what the university experience is like in other countries. British schools, for instance, have a verrrrry different approach to class structure, grading, class choice and pretty much everything compared to my liberal arts college.
posted by MadamM at 8:42 PM on March 17, 2010

Oh, and btw, there's a distinction between "going through the school" and going through a program. You should always work with your school's study abroad office- the alternative would be the taking a leave and doing whatever plan I mentioned before. You can go through the school and still apply directly to a foreign school, depending of course on your university's rules. The "programs" I mentioned above are often wrappers, of a sort, on studying at a foreign university. They cost more (you can do the cost/benefit analysis when you decide where you want to go) and they provide services and they are often administered by US schools, but usually any US student can study abroad through them.
posted by MadamM at 8:49 PM on March 17, 2010

amro: Maybe it's just been me, but I haven't had good experiences with people who are in, you know, the office. Of course, this has only been my high school guidance counselor who didn't know how to help me apply to schools outside of Virginia, and my community college's advising office, who kept changing which elective classes I could officially take that would transfer. I have to admit that the admissions advisor at William & Mary has been very nice & helpful to me though. I just want to be prepared.

I guess I'm looking for extra things I should know ahead of time that I might encounter when I start going through the whirlwind of all this. I think it would cost less to take a class in say, France, where tuition is $200 per semester, than it would to go through my own university (full tuition, which would be great with a grant but not so much with a loan). Thanks for all the good answers so far though!
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:28 PM on March 17, 2010

I meant to say: But it would be worth it to have the help the university would give while abroad. And THEN I meant to say thanks for the answers.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:30 PM on March 17, 2010

I think it would cost less to take a class in say, France, where tuition is $200 per semester, than it would to go through my own university (full tuition, which would be great with a grant but not so much with a loan).

Yeah, cost is a big issue. I see how it can be tempting. But don't underestimate the value that the support system can provide you.

Unless your experience was very out of the ordinary your high school French will not cut it in an actual French college. I can guarantee that. Beyond the language level, the system is completely different from ours and you'd be on your own (literally, foreign professors would not be helping you out.) I found it difficult to navigate the French university system even with the help of copious advisors. The grading system is different, the class registration system is different, the system for writing papers is different (no "5 paragraph essays", for example). I can only imagine it's the same for other countries.

When you study abroad they're not just plopping you into a host country university unless your language level is appropriate. You're in an immersive program that is designed for foreign students. This is a very good thing, trust me. You can have a wild, no-idea-what-the-hell-is-going-on experience when you travel. It is much less romantic when you're trying to live in a foreign city and navigate their government bureaucracy.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:52 PM on March 17, 2010

France, where tuition is $200 per semester

Where are you getting this number? If international students (meaning non-french students) were able to pay this price, why wouldn't we all be over there rather than racking up debt here?

You're really over thinking this one. You will go through your study abroad program at your school, they will help you find scholarships, tell you if they have any partnerships with other schools around the world, and help you make your decision.

I know from previous questions you've asked that you've had a lot of frustrating experiences with institutional support at your schools. I don't know all of the details, but I have to insist that you find a way to trust the professionals. They really do have your interest at heart and will help you so much, because just by reading this question (dual citizenship?), I can tell that you are going about this all wrong.
posted by Think_Long at 10:05 PM on March 17, 2010

That's actually an accurate number - french higher education is financed by taxes / the government. AFAIK, that number applies to foreign students as well. No one is over there because (beyond most people not speaking french and no one wanting to go through the trouble of getting a visa and that jazz) French public universities don't have a good reputation, to put it lightly.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:27 PM on March 17, 2010

Huh, well that is interesting. The rest of my point still stands at least.
posted by Think_Long at 10:31 PM on March 17, 2010

Don't prejudge W&M's study abroad office by your previous experiences elsewhere. Talk to them.
posted by umbú at 11:12 AM on March 18, 2010

« Older Help, Nikon Lens broke and I'm in the middle of...   |   What curriculum/books should I follow to teach 2... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.