Before I get started, I just wanted to remind readers that I also have two other blogs that may be interesting: my reading log (perhaps not as interesting) and my running blog (more interesting and most often updated).
As for this blog, I figured I needed to devote some time to actually talking about the study-abroad process and what it entails. This post is meant as an informal guide for college-level students trying to study abroad in another country while still enrolled at their home institution in the U.S. It’s also meant to be informative/entertaining for other readers, but will perhaps be most relevant for those I specified. Just a heads-up!
The hardest part of studying abroad, if one’s life is often financially determined like mine is, is actually getting accepted to a study-abroad program. Such programs, like the government funded German Academic Exchange program or the Critical Language Scholarship, or the privately funded Federation of German-American Clubs exchange program are competitive and require a lengthy application process. if one has dual-citizenship, life is so much easier because one can just apply to the university like one would to a U.S. school. The biggest issue in such a situation would be that one is pretty much on one’s own. A program, once accepted to, infinitely simplifies matters.
For those who were happy when the undergrad acceptance letters finally came in, completing a study-abroad application process can be harrowing. However, despite the time and effort it takes to apply, if one wants to make it to another country for a semester or a year, I don’t need to point out that it’s worth it.
Yet, even when one is accepted for a program, there’s a lot that needs to be done (though still less than if one studied abroad independently). This post-acceptance work is what the rest of this post is about. I’m going to hypothetically assume that you, the reader, are said accepted person for grammar purposes and to make my life easier (don’t you love grammar?).
Getting in contact
The first point of motion is responding to the acceptance letter and beginning communications with the key person who will be responsible for you while abroad. This could be the study-abroad coordinator at the university you will be studying, a local member of the program who is geographically close to your position of placement, or a regional coordinator who gives you all the basic instructions and then later passes you on to the university coordinator or local member. This person may be the one who ends up picking you up from the airport when you arrive in your new location or who helps arrange the practical aspects of your stay, such as where you’ll live, insurance, local transportation passes…
which brings me to my next point. Before you leave for your destination, you need to have several things already set-up, especially because many things need to be coordinated through your home-institution. These points of preparation can be divided between academics and personal life. On the personal life side, things like insurance need to be arranged. I don’t know how it is in other countries. However, in Germany, all students are required to register and pay for basic insurance benefits. No matter how U.S. Americans feel about state-funded insurance, I am grateful that this is an enforced requirement.The last thing I’d want while studying abroad is to break an arm while playing soccer and find that a flight home on basic aspirin is less expensive and painful than emergency medical treatment. Sometimes, a student’s personal insurance in the States may count in Germany, but not always. Sometimes the university where you will study provides an insurance plan; this is also not always the case. Most usually, the program you’ve applied through will provide you with an insurance coverage plan. This plan needs to be recognized abroad and accepted as a suitable replacement for, in the case the the university you’re going to does offer insurance, any other insurance you may be offered.
That’s all I want to say for now about personal business, since that’s the main thing I have to cover while still here that’s not related to academics. Another good way to prepare for the experience is to find yourself a mentor, someone who has done the program or visited the same city/location as you as a study-abroad student and already knows some of the most important things. It really helps to already get an idea of what you should be prepared for such as the exhaustion of total language immersion the first few days, the new eating or dressing habits you may need to develop, the differences in student life. For me, the most important question was: what were some of the things you wish someone had told you/prepared you for when you went over?
The other hard part about preparing for study-abroad is making sure that everything is set-up for when you come back. I don’t necessarily mean having the bed made, everything dusted, and your friends arranging a welcome-home party (which of course is very nice), but having everything you do academically while abroad be recognized on your transcript and at your home institution. After all, while people talk about the experience of intense language and cultural exchange, meeting new people and seeing new things, you probably still want to finish your degree and take care of some academic requirements while gone.
Again, if you go abroad through a program, this is easier than if you try to do it independently. Whether it is financially more friendly depends on the program.
In some cases, you study-abroad while remaining enrolled at your home-institution. That is, while abroad, you pay tuition and fees to the home institution and get transient credits, or, in more other words, the credits you take abroad are counted as credits at your university. On the transcript, it may even say you took these credits at said home-institution, but that the study was off-campus. This situation is usually the case if the program is intra-scholastic and you participate in the study-abroad program as to fulfill the requirements of your degree. It’s helpful if you have financial aid at your home-institution that you can use, but is a little frustrating when the tuition and fees are more than you would pay abroad.
The alternative to transient credits are transfer credits. This is an ideal situation if it means that you don’t have to pay tuition to your home institution and only pay the relatively minor student fees at your study-abroad institution. This means that the credits you earn are that institutions granted credits and you are considered enrolled at that school, receiving a transcript from that school. The main difficulty with this method of earning credit is that credits are not internationally recognized and degrees vary from country to country. In Europe, credits are based on contact hours and hours expected to meet with students outside of class, write term papers, and participate in local conferences. In the U.S. credits are purely based on contact hours. Furthermore, a class that seems suitable for your degree may not be recognized by the registrar’s office or the faculty as fulfilling certain requirements. This uncertainty makes transferring credits a little risky and i best if you are at the point in your degree where losing one year of studies is okay, or you have freedom of courses to take.
Signing up for classes
Once you decide what kinds of credits you’re working for, it helps to also know what you’re studying for those credits. This is something that you may decide while still at home, based on whether or not your program starts before or after your home-institution semester begins. In Europe, most universities start mid-Fall. That’s weeks after most universities start in the U.S. The drop/add period is passed, the fees have all been due, and some students are already taking mid-term exams when the doors of the European university opens. So, it’s important to have a plan for how you register for classes, even if you can’t even sign-up for them yet.
Here, having good communication with the study-abroad coordinator of your program at your home institution and the academic counselor helps. I found myself meeting with both several times in the week leading up to the registration deadline, and basically was signed up for four filler classes that satisfied being registered full-time. Then, I was able to pay tuition and fees, pay for a parking permit that I won’t even use, and look forward to seeing those credits on my transcript. Once I know what I’m actually taking while abroad (something that I’ll be advised upon during orientation at the university abroad), I can list the actual course names for the registrar to update.
So, after that long post, you’ve basically seen what I’ve been up to lately. Now, all I have to really do to prepare is pack my suitcases. I’ve been told that I should be prepared for wet and cold weather. Oh boy. Hopefully I have enough room.