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Study Abroad Linguistics
By: Nicole Mittelstaedt (justin) 2012.10.01

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The Abroad Experience - How to Reach That Overseas Classroom

Every year, thousands of young people leave the world as they know it to study abroad. Still, less than 3 percent of college students ever take the plunge and see what's out there. What are you waiting for?

Many of you reading this have never considered studying abroad. Maybe you think the abroad experience means carrying a ridiculously heavy backpack through the streets of Europe during the summer - not that this isn't or one hell of a good time. But what people forget is that the only way to truly learn the ins and outs of another culture is to live abroad.

What holds students back from studying abroad? First, there are the myths: You've heard that only people with good grades and fluency in a language can qualify, right? What you need to know is that there really is a program out there for everyone - so whatever your ideal experience is, you can make it happen. Want to go to France but don't speak a mot of francais? No problem. Want to go to New Zealand for a year but can only get away for a semester? You can do it. Want to go to Hong Kong but you got a D in Macro Economics? It's possible - anything is possible in the world of study abroad.

The resources you need are right at your fingertips, and with a little research, you'll be well on your way to retaking econ... in Paris. Chances are, your university has its own study-abroad office, where students and counselors who have done it all before can help. Many universities offer their own programs in different locations across the globe, but if yours doesn't there's no need to worry. There are thousands of other programs at other universities and organizations that will still give credit (and often financial) aid back at your own university.

The most important thing to do is to figure out what you want from your program: language proficiency, learning about a culture, etc.). Start early, usually six months to a year in advance.

"My school has a legacy study-abroad program called Gonzaga-In-Florence. It's very popular, and I knew as a freshman that I wanted to go to Italy with them," says Megan Rose, a junior at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. "The time has almost arrived. I leave in September, and I can't wait because I think it's the best decision I ever made."

If your campus doesn't have a study-abroad office, the Web is your best bet. The easiest sites to use are search engines - www.goabroad.com and www.iiepassport.org are your best bets - where you enter in criteria such as country, city, or area of study, and the computer combs a database looking for all programs that match.

While there are programs in literally every country, the most popular destinations tend to be western European countries such as England, France, Italy, and Spain. But this doesn't necessarily make them the best places to go. Biology majors might be surprised to find that Barbados and Australia have top-quality programs. If you're an African studies major, why not go to Ghana or South Africa? People choose locations for very different reasons - family ancestry, language, proximity to the beach. Never forget all the choices out there.

Once you decide on a country and program, all that's left to do is apply. Deadlines vary, but again, six months to a year is a good rule of thumb. Even if the deadline has passed, it doesn't hurt to ask - space may still be available. Applications usually require a statement about why you want to go, and sometimes letters of recommendation or a deposit to hold your space. Once you're accepted, the next step is to learn as much about the country as you can: where to go, what to see, what the government is like, who the celebrities are - anything to make the transition easier. Talking to past participants (or anyone who's studied abroad) will make a difference.

Cost is always a concern, and it's important to remember that airfare plus living expenses often equals the tuition at your home school. Still, some programs can cost is the country's standard of living isn't as high as in the U.S. Most students can keep the financial aid they are on and even receive additional scholarships from organizations that reward those who take on overseas studies. Again, the Web is a great resource (check out http://www.studyabroad.com/scholarships for more information on scholarships).

Susan Brennan, a study abroad alum from the University of Sussex in England, looks back on her experience with great pride. "I left looking for a great adventure," she says, "and what I got changed my life."

Photo by Jeff Booth


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