why study abroad?
When I was an undergrad, all my friends wanted to spend their junior years in London, Australia, and Ireland. Notre Dame even boasted a "Semester At Sea" program for students to sail around the world (yes, like the short-lived Canadian TV series, Breaker High, starring a baby Ryan Gosling)!
Meanwhile, I was taking Russian classes and had this idea in my head of doing a semester in St. Petersburg, where I would bond with my host Babushka immediately. She would take me to the city's oldest theaters to see ballet performances and movies, and I would be semi-fluent in Russian within a couple of weeks.
I'd wear a thick fur coat and walk along the canals, maybe stopping into a cafe to warm up with a big cup of coffee. I was going to meet a baby bear.
Much more interesting than Ireland.
Here's what really happened:
I was placed with a girl not older than I who had the best of intentions, but could not afford to host and was soon borrowing money to feed me. As soon as I found this out I started paying for my own meals, and then eventually moved out altogether to a hostel for the remainder of my stay.
I went during the summer, so no fur coats, but lots of rain!
Also, I have pretty intense agoraphobia, meaning I'll walk miles before I take buses or subways if I can avoid them. So I did. I lost two pairs of shoes to the Petersburg streets within 9 weeks.
The coffee, like any European country, was served in thimble-sized cups and could cost up to $6, plus your firstborn.
really important to remember
I kept getting so frustrated with all the differences. Whaddayamean I have to carry my passport on me to the library? Why are grapes prohibitively expensive? WHY IS THERE NO TOILET PAPER IN PUBLIC RESTROOMS?
It goes without saying that any destination is going to require some open-mindedness. Ultimately, your study abroad experience is what you make of it, and the people who have the best trips are those who come prepared to be flexible, try new things, and willing to speak the language.
Russia was pretty great at times. For a History major, it is like a living museum. People were largely helpful and accommodating.
Also - I did get to see a baby bear on a leash outside in a park and it was amazing. (And a tourist trap.)
Or you can receive funding. However, awards, grants, and scholarships for studying abroad are incredibly competitive, so it's important to know how to convey the urgency of YOUR PROJECT being sponsored.
Writing a competitive funding application is a whole topic in itself, so for now I'll leave you with a quick checklist:
- Make sure you understand the sponsoring institution or organization's mission and mirror their values and objectives back to them in your own application.
- Write to any potential sponsors in the country you want to work in and ask for their advice and assistance. If possible, get an introduction from a mutual party so you are not requesting their help out of the blue.
- The essay needs to contain the history of your project, as well as your intended academic/professional trajectory.
how do i pay for study abroad?
But I'll go into all of that in Part II.