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Student Opinion: If You’re a Busy College Student, Study Abroad in January

by Darby Joyce

When talking to friends and family about my time studying abroad in Berlin, Germany, I hear many variations of one common theme: “I’d love to study abroad as well, but I can’t imagine being away from home for so long!” When I started university as an international relations major and realized that one of my graduation requirements was study abroad, I was in the same boat. As much as I adore traveling and want to see as much of the world as I can, the thought of spending a whole semester on the other side of the world made me (and my wallet) a little nervous.

Luckily for me, when I brought up this concern at my first study abroad fair, I learned that AIFS not only offered summer sessions, but also had January term available.

It didn’t take long before I was celebrating my acceptance to the 2016 J-Term in Berlin, Germany, and I remember my time fondly nearly a year later. So, to my fellow college students stuck in the rut of wanting to go abroad while being a bit nervous about the time commitment—let me tell you about my experience with AIFS’ January term, and why I don’t regret a single thing about choosing it as my study abroad experience.

“Okay, Darby, I’m listening. What’s involved in a January term with AIFS?”

Willkommen sign in Germany

As the name suggests, the January term is a three-week study abroad session in—you guessed it—January. In my situation, this allowed me to study abroad in a very comfortable timeframe; I had been on winter break just long enough to be rested and spend some time with my family, but I hadn’t been home long enough for that dreaded cabin fever to set in. I also had the benefit of going to Berlin just in time to catch the end of their Christmas season, and if you know anything about Germany’s Christmas markets and lights, you know that winter is an especially ideal time to head to Europe.

Though the weather isn’t quite as appealing as it would be if I had gone during the summer, many travelers agree that there’s a certain chilly charm to Berlin in the winter, and now that I’ve experienced it for myself, I can definitely vouch for that. Of course, if you’re not a fan of the cold, AIFS offers January terms in the warmer climates of Costa Rica and Ecuador, giving you a chance to escape your heavy winter coat for three weeks. There’s a total of twelve January programs to choose from, so no matter what weather you’re searching for, you’re likely to find it.

“Well, what makes a January term a better fit than the summer program?”

The point of this post isn’t to vouch for one program over the other—in fact, I’m looking into going abroad through AIFS next summer! The wonderful thing about AIFS is its huge variety of programs and locations, and they’re more than happy to help you figure out which is the best fit for you personally. However, I firmly believe that the J-Term is often forgotten, and I’m here to point out not only that it’s a great option, but that it might be that perfect fit you’re looking for.

I often recommend the January programs to upperclassmen in more rigid academic programs, since their coursework follows a strict schedule that doesn’t allow them to leave campus for a semester, as well as to students who work full time or participate in internships during the summer. With its convenient timeframe and short duration, the J-Term is especially perfect for especially busy students who still want to study abroad and earn academic credits for it. I also recommend it to people who are nervous about being overseas for a long time, since the three weeks both gives them enough time to enjoy and settle where they are and prevents homesickness from getting too strong.

January Term: An Underrated Option for the Busy Traveler | AIFS Study Abroad

“Three weeks doesn’t seem like enough time to see all of a place.”

It definitely isn’t! I can admit that I came back home wishing that I had seen even more than I was able to during my time there. But at the same time, I don’t feel like a moment of my time in Germany was wasted. It took a fair bit of planning, and it definitely helped that I came to Berlin knowing what I wanted to spend my time doing. But when I wasn’t in class, I was trekking to every corner that my transportation pass took me to, seeing museums, shopping districts, and monuments. One of the most amazing things about studying abroad is that everything, no matter how mundane, is a new experience. Whether it was ordering dinner, clamoring to get off of the metro at my stop, or even doing laundry, being in Berlin was one non-stop adventure, and I was constantly learning. If you go overseas with a goal in mind for what you want to do, see, or accomplish, you’ll come back home feeling very satisfied with how you spent your time.

“Alright, Darby, I’m interested. What else do you have to say about the January term?”

Just that it’s just as rewarding as all of AIFS’ programs, and that I would recommend it with all of my heart. No matter how long you’re studying abroad, and no matter where you go, the experience will stay with you for all of your life, and it’ll wake up a love for travel that you’d never believe. Your perfect fit for study abroad is out there, and I can’t wait for you to find it.

This post was contributed by Darby Joyce, an AIFS Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad in with AIFS in Berlin, Germany.

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