If you’ve always dreamed of traveling the world but would rather not give up on your education, then why not combine the two? Record numbers of people are now studying abroad, gaining once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences in far-flung places and improving their job prospects in the process.
In the United States alone, the number of people studying abroad for academic credit has increased by almost 400% since the 1980s. Some of these students traveled abroad for a whole year or an entire semester. But most took short-term trips, learning new skills between jobs or using the summer to sharpen up their résumés.
Apart from bringing you closer to that bright future you’ve promised yourself, studying abroad will allow you to absorb a new culture, make new friends and—quite possibly—learn a language that will open doors for you in a world that’s increasingly interconnected.
The options for studying abroad
Just a couple of decades ago, the options for studying abroad were few and far between. Today the marketplace is positively crowded: so much so that it’s difficult to know where to start.
On the upside, this means you’re very much the master of your own destiny. You can choose to spend a week away, or a summer, or even a few years. You can go to China. Or Spain. Or you can keep things simple by studying in an English-speaking country like Canada or Australia. Quite literally, there’s a whole world of options to choose from.
So, if you’re serious about studying abroad (as opposed to just traveling for fun), it’s time to get planning. Where would you like to go?
Is there a specific country, course or university that appeals to you? How does your “study abroad” plan fit with your long-term goals? Is the university you’re considering well respected? Could you be happy in a foreign country, far from your friends and the usual home comforts? Crucially, if you’re already studying, will your home university or college credit you for the things that you learn abroad?
These are tough questions to get to grips with early on, but you’re not in this alone. Program advisors, lecturers, fellow students, friends and parents can all give advice and help you find a study abroad program that fits with your academic goals and, just as importantly, your personal interests.
Websites such as ThirdYearAbroad.com are helpful when it comes to making a plan, with plenty of pre- and post-trip advice from other students. Meanwhile, sites like StudyAbroad.com and CIEE.org contain lists of up-to-date study-abroad opportunities for people at different stages of their education, from high school students and undergraduates to those looking to volunteer or teach English overseas.
Funding your trip
Studying abroad can quickly get expensive. Apart from the cost of the actual education you receive and the learning materials that go along with it, there are additional expenses to think about—from flights and accommodation to food, sightseeing and travel insurance.
“Eighty percent of American high school teens say they want to travel, but only 1–3 percent of them actually do it,” says Samantha Martin, “and we know finances are a huge part of the problem.”
Last year Samantha and her colleague Jennifer Thomas launched Project Travel, a specialist crowd-funding website, to help more students “get on the plane or bus.” Students can launch individual fundraising projects for study, interning, volunteering, teaching and other types of educational travel.
Project Travel, which until now has operated on an invite-only basis, has already helped students raise some $60,000. But the rewards aren’t only financial. “We had a nursing student who wanted to go on a trip to Guatemala with the other students from her school,” Samantha explains. “Even though she reached her financial goal, the most important aspect was seeing how the community surrounded her and encouraged her.”
Looking further afield
Crowdfunding isn’t necessarily for everyone, and there are other avenues you can go down if you want to reduce the overall cost of studying abroad.
Public universities in some European countries, including Sweden and Germany, do not charge European students who want to study there. Of course, you’ll need to balance any savings you’ll make with the relatively high cost of living in those countries. Elsewhere, universities with less of a global reputation, such as those in Eastern Europe, offer international students high-quality courses for a fraction of the amount they would pay in the United Kingdom or the United States, with the added attraction of lower living costs.
Scholarships and grants also are worth investigating, with private companies and government-sponsored organizations like the British Council offering up thousands of dollars worth of merit-based funds every semester. The Scholarship Portal and International Scholarships websites have useful databases full of funding opportunities, searchable by geographical location.
Finally, if you’re a European citizen and are interested in studying abroad, you’d do well to check out the new Erasmus+ program, which aims to enable four million people across the continent to study, volunteer or gain experience abroad.
This article is part of a continuing series covering study abroad programs with Project Travel, a company that helps students of all ages tap into the funding potential of their communities. Rough Guides is proud to support the students working to fund their study abroad programs with Project Travel. Visit projecttravel.com/go/rough-guides for more information.
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