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Study up on studying abroad

By By David Replogle

By David Replogle
I speak from experience when I say studying abroad is one of the best experiences one can have during college.
After spending four months living on the Spanish coast, visiting 13 countries and posting a record number of Facebook pictures, I still look back on that fall semester with disbelief that it actually happened.
So how do you prepare yourself for such an experience? Well, it boils down to four basic questions…
Studying Abroad Question No. 1: Why?
Besides the fact that there are few things more exciting than embarking on an international adventure, there are several good reasons for studying abroad:
Gaining experiences:
“During your college years, you’re separating yourself from your parents and family,” says Patrick Evans, Marketing and Communications Manager for STA Travel, a travel agency for students. “Studying abroad adds to that experience. It’s a new environment, a new culture, a new opportunity, and you become a changed person.”
Learning stuff:
Evans adds, “You get to learn in a different environment and grow intellectually as well.” He argues that, in most cases, students stay more on track toward their degrees than if they had stayed on campus a semester. Says University of Virginia senior Rebecca Jackson, who studied for two months in London this past summer: “I got the opportunity to study literature in London.” Enough said.
Padding your resume:
Felix Wang, Director of Study and Volunteer Abroad for James Madison University’s Office of International Programs, stresses that studying abroad adds an impressive touch to your resume. “Employers look for international experiences. The world is becoming smaller due to technology, and it’s good to see students gaining new cultural educations.” Making lasting memories:
“Going abroad was a dream I had since I started at UVA,” Jackson says. “It was an unforgettable experience.”
Studying Abroad Question No. 2: Where?
Australia? France? Ecuador? Perhaps Kenya? Antarcti… er, maybe not that. The point is that there are tons of programs in countries around the globe. But, according to Evans, there are a few things to keep in mind:
The language barrier:
For U.S. college students, deciding where to go often depends largely on language. “London and Sydney are huge outlets for us, because the language is so familiar for those studying there,” says Evans. “The day-to-day interactions are just much easier for people.”
Birds of a feather…:
Evans adds that in places like Florence, where there is a strong infrastructure for those traveling abroad, the pressures of a foreign language aren’t so threatening. “There are thousands of other American students there to bond with.”
The chance to practice:
For some students, the challenge of applying foreign language skills draws them to a certain place. “I only had a couple more classes to go with my Spanish minor,” says Syracuse University senior Simone Laroche, who spent the previous spring semester in Madrid. “There was no place better to finish it than in the Spanish capital.”
The costs:
Evans says not to overlook your financial limitations. “Along with language, the cost of a program may be just as important when deciding where to go.” And don’t forget: You won’t be paying in U.S. dollars. Unfavorable exchange rates can seriously obliterate an already-tight budget.  
Studying Abroad Question No. 3: When?
And for how long? It’s crucial to figure out beforehand if you want to travel abroad for a month, a semester, an entire school year… it’s up to you. 
One year?
Some students choose to take a whole year out of college to travel. There are usually few other opportunities in life when one can commit to such a large block of time for travel, since post-grad adulthood brings on responsibilities like full-time employment and long-term leases.
One semester?
If you don’t have the time or money to invest in a full year, Wang says studying abroad is more meaningful when students go for at least a semester. This way, students can become integrated into their new environments. “You not only get the chance to experience the city but to become part of that city,” says Wang.
A couple of months?
“I really didn’t want to miss out on a semester at school, especially during junior or senior year,” says Jackson. “It was the perfect amount of time to stay.”
Summertime?
Like Jackson, many students prefer to do their studying abroad during summer months. “Students are very busy,” Wang emphasizes. “Many have leadership positions, are involved with athletics and fraternities, and have triple majors and double minors. Summer can be best for those who can’t afford to take a semester.”
Studying Abroad Question No. 4: With whom?
Hmmm… to go solo or to have a travel buddy, that is the question. There are pros and cons either way:
Going with friends:
Having a study-abroad buddy (or even a few) can be an attractive option, but according to Evans, “a huge part” of the experience is meeting new people. Jackson traveled with several acquaintances but ultimately became best friends with two students on her trip she hadn’t met before. “I also got close with some of the locals in our neighborhood and still keep in touch with them online,” she says.
Traveling alone:
While Laroche didn’t know anybody on her trip to Madrid, she says it didn’t matter. “I met great friends over the course of the semester. Plus, I had my twin sister studying in Barcelona.”
David Replogle writes and edits for UVA’s The Cavalier Daily. One of 16 high school students to participate in the Young Journalists Development Program at The Washington Post, David has worked at several local newspapers and magazines in his hometown of Loudoun County, Va.
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