Deciding where to study abroad is no easy task. It’s extremely personal, so everyone’s situation will be different. But, after reading some truly out of whack guides online, I decided to pipe up. Deciding where to go abroad is important because it can determine the opportunities you’ll personally get from your experience.
Considering the questions below before you study abroad, you are increasing your future career and networking opportunities exponentially. You are adding more to your resume and personal portfolio.
So, grab a beverage and my workbook below that goes with this post. Let’s figure out the country that’ll make your study abroad experience light your career on fire.
What not to ask yourself
Before we get into the right questions to ask yourself, let’s go over what aren’t good reasons to pick a certain country for study abroad:
“I’ve always wanted to visit this place!”
… Then you need to do just that, visit it. Studying abroad is not a vacation abroad, and it shouldn’t be treated like one. Consider, understand, and be humbled by the incredible opportunity you have to actually live and study somewhere else. You need to think about where you want to live, not where you want to visit, and how that location will benefit you (which we will get more into).
(Worried you won’t have enough money to visit the place you want if you don’t study abroad? Check out my post on how to use frequent flyer miles and fly abroad for under $50.)
“It’s the only place my major works with”
I hear a lot of people say that because they are X major, they must go study abroad in X location. They say it’s the only location their school offers classes abroad relevant to their major. This may just mean that you need to find a program outside of what your school offers. We will get into debunking this later. The important thing to remember is not to limit yourself to a location because of credits or a major.
“The weather is so great!”
The cost of a program or a country
If you’re dying to study abroad in a country but the program you have your eye on is just too pricey, it’s easy to feel dissuaded from it. Don’t let that happen! Countries usually each have multiple study abroad programs, so if one is too expensive (even if it’s your university’s!), that doesn’t mean that you should rule out that country. I managed to save $10,000 (!!) on my overall cost of tuition because I found a study abroad program that was less expensive than my university’s. A high price shouldn’t stop you from going somewhere you know is a good fit for you.
Let’s go through the more important factors to consider.
What to ask yourself
Before you begin, ask yourself: what are my study abroad goals? You should determine your study abroad location based on four main types of goals:
- Language and culture
Approaching your time abroad from these goals will result in a career boost for you down the line, I promise. Plus, many of them overlap with each other. Below we’ll review how to strategically pick where to study abroad with these goals in mind.
If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend grabbing the workbook I made to go along with this post (yours below). That way, you can keep track of how these goals apply to you specifically, and by the time you’ve worked through the post, have your ideal location chosen!
One of the most obvious benefits of studying abroad is the potential to learn a new language. If you are majoring in a second language or on the verge of fluency, you should probably go where you can become fluent. You also may have a deep interest in understanding a certain culture. The best way to achieve these goals are:
- Living with a host family
- Attending a local, public school (not an international school)
- Taking courses exclusively in your target language
- Living with natives of that country
Immersion is the idea here. If mastering the language and understanding a culture is one of your main goals, then you should look for study abroad programs that implement one of the above strategies.
If you think you want to go to a country for the language but don’t want to do one of the above, then I’d push this goal lower to the priority list. If you like Spanish and have taken a couple years but aren’t nearly fluent, I’d push it as priority to the bottom. The truth is, it’ll be very difficult to get truly fluent without one of those above techniques. It can play a part in the decision-making process, but shouldn’t be the only factor.
For some reason, this is the most under-considered factor for those deciding where to go abroad. You want to pick a country where the country itself complements your major and/or your projected career path. There are a couple of things you can look out for when choosing countries that will boost your career:
Specialties of your school’s specific programs
The easiest way to do this is to check to see if your school has study abroad programs that are specifically tailored to a field of study. Perhaps they have a program for artists in London, a biology program in Costa Rica, or a computer science program in Korea. You may find it best to go to a country you would have never expected because they have such a fitting program for you.
Now, think bigger than just your school. Research schools around the world that are strongest and most known for your field of study. Go to Times Higher Education and research the global university rankings for your college majors. Look at the top universities in your field that aren’t in your home country and consider your interest in those countries overall, the campus life of those schools, and what it would be like there.
Note both of the above in your workbook and we’ll come back to them.
Another benefit that comes with study abroad is the global network you build. You will create a network with the friends you make, and that’s great! But, I challenge you to take that a step further and build relationships with those professionals in your field.
A great way to boost your network is to study with professors abroad that are experts in your field. Studying with them can teach you so much about your subject you might not otherwise learn in your home country. They also can serve as great mentors while abroad and upon your return.
There are two ways to go about finding worthwhile professors:
Research the professors at the programs offered by your schools. If your school has exchange programs with foreign universities, you can see who the professors are in those schools. Even if you didn’t initially think about the country, check out the professors. They may have some professors doing some incredible work in your field.
Look in your textbooks. Go find the textbooks from the classes are the most core of your major and field of study. Then, look at the professors who wrote those books. Find out where they teach. They are likely at the top of their field. Note where they teach in your workbook.
Look into your projected career path and find out what the top 20 companies within that field are. These are likely your dream companies. Now, map out where each of them are in the world. If a few of them are all in one country, consider studying there. Keep track of them in your workbook. You could potentially intern there, network with employees there over coffee and office tours, or volunteer at an event they have.
(Read more about how to network abroad here.)
This is where you can really think about the setting of your experience and type of program. Things like program size, program type, program focus, etc. Again, I encourage you to think of these consistently with your goals in mind.
Urban v. Rural
Do you want to be in a big city or in a small town? Before you answer, let’s look at some of the pros for each:
- More chances to volunteer and intern
- Opportunity to network, meet professionals and meet academics
- More international, diverse community
- Likely more English speakers
- Opportunity to make deeper connections with locals and the community
- Likely less English, easier to learn target language
- Better way to understand the culture as it’ll be less influenced than in a city
- Easier to lead a volunteer project or event which builds leadership
Understand the difference between the two in connection with your goals and choose that way.
Involved, inclusive program
independent, immersive program
Do you want a small program that is completely planned out for you? Or, would you rather be independently living abroad?
- Less stress, all is planned for you
- You’ll get very close with the students in your group
- You can focus on the specific niche of the program
- Potentially less expensive if meals and accommodations are included
- You’ll likely get exposure to a wide variety of people and subjects in school
- Easier to make local friends
- Builds your independence and creativity
- Easier to travel and run your semester how you want to spend it
These are only two of the many factors to consider when identifying the experience you want to have while abroad. The important thing is to think through the factors in relationship to your goals.
Now comes the less fun part of choosing. You may have your dream country or program in mind but wonder how you can afford it, how your credits will transfer, and so on. A lot of times, though, there are ways around the logistic challenges. They just take a little extra work (#worthit!).
One of the most common challenges I hear from people wanting to study abroad is that they have to study abroad in X country because that’s the only program their school offers classes from their major. But, this is NOT the case! There are plenty of external programs that will emphasize your field. Use Go Overseas to research programs in your particular field. Keep track of them in your workbook.
Please note that if you’ve already identified schools that specialize in your major, you don’t need to do this part. We’ll talk about how to petition your school to accept foreign credits later.
Everyone’s favorite topic! You might be wondering how to afford study abroad. Every once in a while, I hear people tell me about how they pay for their study abroad program on top of their semester at home. This is insanely expensive and not necessary. Your school should not be double charging you. Ask them how you can study abroad while having credits transfer, not a double payment. Don’t be afraid to petition if you need. I petitioned and saved $10,000! I found an external study abroad program that was actually less expensive than one semester at my home university. Thanks to my petitioning, I only had to pay for my study abroad program and they all transferred.
Another consideration is the currency of the foreign country. This may be more expensive than your home one, but don’t be discouraged. First off, most study abroad programs are inclusive in terms of food and housing. So, you’ll have fewer expenses. If need be, you can base your program off of how much is included. You can also cut down costs while away but not traveling much while there (which I recommend doing anyway.) You’ll just need to decide your priorities when going abroad.But, since I imagine shopping on vacationing isn’t one of them, currency shouldn’t stop you from going where is best for you!
Okay, this was a lot of information! You might be reading this and say that you haven’t narrowed down where you want to go at all. That’s normal! That just means you’ve done a great job identifying what countries can offer you other than just a good time or some language improvement. To keep track of this all, you should fill out the workbook I have at the bottom of this post. It’ll help you keep track of what and where is relevant to you. Then, at the end, you can compare all of your options together and see which is the best fit.