Sitting on the plane on the tarmac in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport, reality had finally hit me. I was going to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina in less than twenty-four hours and would not be returning to the place I have called home for my whole life, for one whole year. This year while I am abroad, I will be writing about everything study abroad-related, including how to plan for it, finance it, and what I’m actually experiencing in another part of the world.
You may be surprised to find out that study abroad is not as common in the United States as it is in other parts of the world. According to the National Association for Foreign Students Advisers (NAFSA), “In the 2011-2012 academic year, only 283,332 U.S. students studied abroad. This is only 1 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States.”
Some reading this article may be thinking, “Why should I leave the country to study abroad when I go to such an incredible university like St. Kate’s?” There are so many answers to this great question, the first being: when else are you going to have this amazing opportunity presented to you in your life? The time is now; don’t put it off and say that you’ll go sometime in the future, because as we all know, plans can change!
Studying abroad is a great opportunity to leave your comfort shell, which is affirmed by your friends, family, university, neighborhood, state, and even country, to venture into an unknown and unfamiliar universe completely different than your own. It presents an opportunity to get to know another place that you may not have known much about, to learn more about a particular culture, and to open your mind and heart to new ideas and ways of thinking. Being abroad can help you learn a new language or practice an old one that you once learned. It can assist you in opening your eyes to a new or different way of life and problems that are present in other countries compared to your own. Ultimately it will force you to grow into the person you are meant to be, by traveling to a place where you will encounter unlimited opportunities.
If you are thinking about studying abroad, or even slightly considering it, the first step you should take is making an appointment—via email—with the Office of Global Studies, to meet with one of the coordinators. It is never too early to start planning a study abroad! Most students tend to study abroad during their junior year of college, but the farther out in advance that you plan your study abroad, the better. Planning ahead allots you more time to find out when and where you would like to go. You will also have a head start on all of the components needed to make your dream become a reality, which include a lot of paperwork (with firm deadlines!) as well as academic and financial planning.
As I began the process of looking at all of the possible places I could study abroad, I realized that it was going to be difficult to choose just one place. Some countries only have specific programs that require participants to have a certain major or field of study and experience in a foreign language.
“For some majors it can be difficult to find a good curricular match abroad, in which case we tend to focus on the Liberal Arts requirements. In any case, beyond the course offerings other considerations should be the type of program (classes only composed of American students vs. integrated with local students), the size of the city (large capital city vs. smaller city off of the tourist circuit), and features such as housing options (homestay vs. student apartment), internship and service-learning opportunities, and on-site support,” said Raine de Campeau, Assistant Director of Global Studies.
The next part of the process is sitting down with your academic advisor who will assist you in planning which courses you will take abroad and if they will count toward your major, minor, elective or liberal arts requirement credit. It is best to do this step early on so that you can match up the courses you need to take with the courses that are offered at the abroad institution. Once that is complete, you sit down with your Financial Aid counselor who will help you plan the financial aspect of the process. This part sounds scary but it is more comforting than anything since many students find out that study abroad is a lot more affordable than originally thought.
“St. Catherine University is very generous in allowing students to use their institutional financial aid to pay for study abroad. For semester or year-long programs, students take their full award for the term to pay for the program. St. Kate’s charges just a small administrative fee, but no tuition for that term,” said de Campeau.
In addition to St. Kate’s financial aid, scholarships, and loans that can be applied toward study abroad, there are countless scholarships you can apply for through St. Kate’s as well as through other independent organizations. Another factor that you should consider is that the cost of your study abroad depends on where you wish to study. For example, London is more expensive than Buenos Aires. Along with that, you should consider how expensive the cost of living is there, so you know how much money you will need to save for your time abroad, whether it is for a month, a summer, a semester, or a full year. In addition, a cost that is not covered by your study abroad financial aid is your flight, which has become very expensive with the rising cost of fuel. A roundtrip flight to Buenos Aires was approximately $2,000, which is jaw-dropping, but not completely overwhelming since I had almost a year to save up for it. Once again, having the most time to plan all of this is the best possible scenario!
After all of the hard work and late nights you spent planning your study abroad experience are finally over, the only thing you have to do is wait until the day comes when you´re sitting on the tarmac in the plane that will take you on a journey of a lifetime.
Elizabeth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.