For most of us, making the choice to study abroad involves a big change. It’s going to be a drain on finances, a big change in environment and a test of how adaptable we are. Some students leave their program early to go back home because they didn’t think it through before they left home. They return home with a huge hole in their finances (or that of their parents’) and disappointment in themselves.
If you know yourself well before you apply for a program abroad, you’ll have a better experience to come back with.
I’m not saying everyone who successfully completes a study abroad program already knew everything about themselves before they left home. But it is possible to take a calculated risk, by thinking things through first.
Here are six questions to ask yourself before you study abroad.
Can you afford it?
One of the first things to ask yourself is whether or not you can afford the program. But don’t get discouraged right at the outset by the cost of foreign education. Explore options and research scholarships before you make a decision either way.
Some longer programs may be out of your reach. But you could still look for shorter programs, such as summer programs or programs that let you find your own housing.
To find out what scholarships are available to you, check first with education Counsellor at education fairs held every year. You could also check some government websites to find out what kinds of financial aid the government offers deserving students.
Google Search will be a good friend on your investigations for a good program and scholarship match. You should also speak to seniors from your high school who have studied abroad. They may have a lot of useful advice for you.
Can you live away from your family for a couple of years or more?
The next question to ask is, can you live away from your family for the duration of your course? If it’s a short-term summer course, it may not be a big deal. But longer programs can seem really long if you’re battling homesickness through most of it.
Some young people can adapt very easily to new scenarios and can take care of themselves when they’re living abroad. But many Indian students, especially boys, have been living in their parents’ homes all their lives. They are often unused to having to take care of themselves. Practical things like doing laundry, or making dinner can take on monstrous proportions of stress when you’re in an unfamiliar country and have time and budget constraint with all that coursework and those cruel exchange rates.
What do you want out of your study abroad program?
It’s extremely important to ask yourself what you hope to achieve or learn on the program. Are you looking for exposure to a new culture? Do you simply want to learn the local language and enjoy the experience of living and studying in a new country? Do you want to make new connections? Do you want to use it as a launchpad to travel? Does it tie in with your career goals?
About that last question, I have to say that if you’re wondering whether or not a semester or two abroad will look good on your CV no matter what course you choose, I’d say the answer is a qualified “Yes.” As long as your program is relevant to your chosen career path, most employers or institutions of higher education will look favorably on anyone with some experience in living and studying in a foreign country.
Having said that, only go abroad if you have very clear ideas about your career goals and are pursuing a course that is worthwhile. For instance, it may not be a good idea to study Fisheries in a college in Vermont, US, just for foreign education, if you eventually want to become a biochemist.
What do you know about the country you’re applying to?
This is obviously a question to ask yourself a little later in the application process, once you’re sure that you’ll get there. You’ll have to think about things like the local language. Will you need to learn a language to get by? What about the food? Are you a vegetarian heading to China, where you desperately say wo chir su to every server or food stall vendor you meet in the hopes of not finding shrimp in your fried rice?
You’ll also want to think about the local religion. Will you have a safe space to practice your religion in that new country? Do you know what your neighborhood is going to be like? What do you need to be careful about as a foreign student?
These are some of the questions that will help you be prepared to navigate life in a new country.
How open are you to new cultures and people?
Some students apply for a study abroad program without really being interested in adapting to new cultures or meeting new people. Life can get stressful for such students. When you’re not ready to adapt, you probably won’t be able to seek help when you need it from other international or local students. You could have a complete meltdown when you come across small differences between your country and the new country.
Does the program align with your beliefs and values?
Don’t pick a program to study based on what others are saying about it. By “others” I mean education counsellors, your peers, the ex-students you’ve spoken to, your parents and friends. For instance, your friends may urge you to study a program in a big city with more exposure (and tougher competition) but you may want a quiet, distraction-free campus to study at, such as a rural college. You should obviously go with the choice you’re drawn towards.
At the end of the day, you want to make sure the program you’re choosing connects with your values and how you approach life. Do you feel very strongly about being involved in the local culture? In that case, you may want to join a program that’s more culturally immersive. Or do you want a program that incorporates sustainable living into it?
The thing about these things when you pick a program, and you’re more likely to find a good fit for you. And if you find studying abroad is not for you, that’s okay too!