Although everyone has a different threshold as far as comfort zones are concerned, it’s safe to say that moving to a foreign country is a little unnerving for anyone. But the decision as to where to study might be equally daunting as the experience itself.
If you’re anything like me, you received your AIFS packet of study abroad options in the mail and felt your eyes bug out of their sockets. Upon sifting through the packet, there are so many options in so many different regions, with so many different opportunities and lesson to discover. How are you expected to choose just one?
Maybe you were urged to study abroad in a place a friend or family member enjoyed. Or maybe your credits will best transfer through a certain program.
My biggest word of advice is to pursue the option that speaks directly to you.
If your credits transfer best but through a program that doesn’t strike you as having the potential to become a home away from home, compromise. Most of us only get the opportunity to study abroad once and the last thing you want to do is to return home with regrets.
Keep in mind, too, that although someone you know might have had a transformative experience in a certain city, this does not mean your experience will be the same. In theory, it could be even better. But make sure to create your own personal abroad experience. Imagine: if you pursue a new and unfamiliar place, you could be the one recommending it to others upon your return. Despite your experience, I can guarantee that upon departure, your abroad home will hold a special place in your heart.
Anyone who tells you they studied abroad solely for academic purposes is lying. School is important and can play a huge role in deciding where to go, but to me studying abroad is about the experience as a whole. If a region appeals to you, I think you should make it work despite the transfer credits. Go with your gut.
If you have any desire to learn a new language, that’s a great place to start. For me, this was a determining factor. Although I began searching for a Spanish immersion program in South America and somehow wound up in a college town in Western Spain, this was all part of the decision process. I (reluctantly) admit that initially the city of Salamanca appealed to me because it was a fun to say out loud. But hey, this is how it spoke to me! And I couldn’t have stumbled upon a more fitting place.
A good way to sort out your thoughts is by making a list or spreadsheet, instead of sorting through your 20+ Internet browser tabs. Research, research, and research some more. The AIFS blog site was an amazing reference for me to see how other students enjoyed their experiences abroad, so I’m happy to be passing the baton!
Remember, so much of traveling and studying abroad is what you make of it. If you extend yourself to others and create unique opportunities for yourself, your time anywhere will be enhanced. With the right outlook, you will leave with friendships that last a lifetime and memories that last even longer. The beauty of traveling is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, and self-growth inevitably follows. So try to channel the stress of choosing the “right” place into excitement, and trust that regardless of where you end up, you’ll create your own once-in-a-lifetime experience.