An experience which has the potential to change the direction of your life, studying abroad often turns out to be a formative, eye-opening year or few months for many of those who choose to do so.
Exploring a new country while indulging in the local cuisine, learning the lingo, and experiencing the foreign culture are exactly the types of things you can expect to get up to during a term of studying abroad.
There are a thousand reasons why you should study abroad, and countless countries and cities in which you can do it.
But before we get carried away, let’s zoom out a moment to get a broader perspective and overview of what exactly it means to study abroad, and how you can go about it.
How to study abroad
Studying abroad is something which you may think is reserved only for those doing university degrees related to languages and other cultures, but this isn’t the case.
While university remains the most common way to study abroad, there are some other ways you can get in on the action too.
All that’s required to participate - university prerequisites aside - is an open mind, and a willingness to throw yourself into an entirely new way of living with new opportunities and challenges.
Studying abroad through university
Lots of degrees at university offer short terms studying in different countries as a means to gain real-life work experience.
You may hear of such degrees referred to as sandwich degrees, which means they include a year in industry or abroad after the second or third year of study.
While questions have been raised as to whether or not the popular Erasmus European exchange programme will continue post-brexit, this has traditionally been the most common way students undertake a term studying abroad.
For language degrees, it’s often the case that the student is offered the choice between either studying in the country of their second language, or working there. This allows for the student to decide what exactly they want to gain from the experience, and allows for the development of a range of skills.
With financial help and support in place from the government, these types of programmes can be very appealing, and can provide invaluable life and work experience.
Studying abroad through other means
If you’re jealous of everyone who completed a study abroad programme while at university, don’t worry, there’s still time yet for you to have an unforgettable experience in an exciting new country.
Studying abroad is an option open to people of all ages, and rightly so! The amount of people I have met on my travels who have spent anywhere between a few months and a few years living abroad is staggering.
But if you want to study while you soak up a new culture, instead of living with a host family, then you’ll want to consider one of the following options.
- Summer study abroad programmes
If the idea of spending the summer in another country fills you with excitement and that incredible feeling of wanderlust, then it’s worth taking a look at taking part in a summer study abroad programme.
This type of programme will typically last between 1-2 months over the summer period, and offer flexible study schedules.
This way you will be able to make the most of the country while picking up the language and keeping your brain in great shape.
The website goabroad is a fantastic resource for perusing the various summer study abroad programmes out there that might be of interest.
- Language immersion programmes
Another type of study abroad programme you can do without being actively enrolled in a university degree, is a language immersion programme.
Arguably the best way to pick up a second language in the shortest time possible, language immersion is as effective as it is exciting.
Speaking from experience, talking to an app on your phone, or drilling grammar exercises in a textbook can get old pretty quickly.
Luckily, studying a language doesn’t have to be that way. Taking a short, but intense, language immersion course abroad can be a great way of fast tracking your progress with the language as well as experiencing the culture behind the language.
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Is studying abroad the right move for me?
The idea of studying abroad might pique your interest, but you might have some reservations about the whole thing, understandably, so we’re going to address some of the biggest factors to consider now.
The question often comes up when the opportunity to study abroad first presents itself, and it’s worth digging deeper to assess whether or not studying abroad is the right move.
Let’s breakdown the main factors that should come into the decision-making process at one time or another.
After you’ve finished reading this list, check out our article covering important info on studying abroad to make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for.
Financing the time abroad
I’d like to preface this by reiterating the fact that it’s possible that the Erasmus programme will change in the near future, or be scrapped altogether post-Brexit, though this is something that is still very much in the air as of the time of writing.
With that out of the way, the Erasmus programme offers generous financial help for European students travelling to other European countries.
From my own personal experience travelling from the UK to Italy, I can attest to this, and I was able to live very comfortably without having to worry about money being an issue.
However, if you’re unfortunate enough not to get the Erasmus grant, then you will have to pay out of pocket, and rely on your own finances and budgeting ability to survive the term abroad.
So essentially the financial issue boils down to your savings, your eligibility for funding, and how frugal you are with your money.
That being said, many countries which offer study abroad programmes - Italy included - are much cheaper in general than the UK for example.
On balance, I would argue that unless you can’t help splashing out at every opportunity, then a study abroad term isn’t going to break the bank.
You’d be surprised how far your money goes when you choose to spend it on travelling around instead of the things you usually buy in your home country.
Dealing with culture shock
The next factor to consider if you’re on the fence about studying abroad is a big one: culture shock.
I’ll start by saying that culture shock is most definitely a real thing, and in my 4 years abroad I have known people to quit their study abroad programmes for a variety of reasons.
Some of the common issues faced during a study abroad programme include overwhelming homesickness, mental health troubles, and struggling to adjust to the people and the climate (moving to Galicia in Spain can be quite a shock if you’re expecting sunshine and siestas!).
On top of this, there are the language barriers. While for some this can be a challenging, but exciting obstacle to overcome, for others, it can prove to be exactly that: a barrier.
It isn’t necessarily those minor interactions in a coffee shop or supermarket that prove difficult, but the negotiating with a landlord over your apartment, or explaining to the train ticket inspector that you didn’t realise you had to validate your ticket.
It’s important to know about these things in advance, since not being able to communicate well in your daily life can take a toll on your self-esteem and general confidence if you’re not careful.
Negatives out the way, experiencing a new culture is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride that never seems to end however long you spend in the country!
Growing to love flamenco dancing, learning how to make your own Italian pasta, or partaking in the revelry of Oktoberfest are all perks of spending time in another culture. There is so much out there to experience, and even more things that you might never have thought you would enjoy.
For that reason, I wouldn’t let the culture ‘shock’ get in the way of a potentially life-changing experience, and would instead implore you to see it as a highly beneficial cultural education.
The last factor I’d like to bring your attention to is the need for independence that comes with any study abroad programme.
Even if you are fortunate enough to be travelling to a new country with a few friends or classmates, there will almost certainly be some challenges that will test your ability to navigate the world alone.
When I first walked through the door of my accommodation in Italy (a hotel-cum-apartment complex) I was met with my first big challenge of the experience.
As I approached the front desk I soon realised that the guy working there didn’t speak a word of English, and thrust a rent agreement contract in front of me. All 10 or so pages of it in Italian.
This was the first moment I realised that I was going to have to work hard on my language skills and sort things out for myself that previously I would have relied on other people for.
Aside from accommodation, you’ll be responsible for everything that goes on in your life, from making friends and pursuing activities and hobbies, to studying and travelling as much as possible.
For some people this will be easy enough, but for others who are perhaps more introverted (like myself) it can prove to be quite challenging at times.
Whatever the case, after a few weeks or so, it’s highly likely that you will settle into your new surroundings and be in a great position to enjoy all that is on offer in your new home!