What do semesters abroad in Barcelona, Spain, and Rovaniemi, Finland, have in common? In both cases, you’ll share unique experiences with people from all around the world, learn about a new culture, try local foods, and broaden your horizon – to name a few things. However, the total lifestyle, climate, language, landscape, and people couldn’t be more different. That’s why it’s essential to figure out your expectations for your study abroad program. This way, you can make the most out of it and don’t feel incomplete or like you missed something at the end. Find the best country to study abroad for you!
You don’t need to boil it down to one reason only, but “gaining international experience” shouldn’t be one of them. If you don’t have a clear goal or dream, your letter of motivation will fail in the first place. As a result of that, your university will reject your application right away or place you in one of the less-desired study abroad programs. So here are eleven proper reasons to go abroad. Find more in the pros and cons list here.
The first step is brainstorming (templates) to get a better understanding of your goals. Don’t think about all the buzzwords from the internet (lifetime experience, global mind-set, self-reliance, etc.). Instead, picture yourself during your stay abroad and how you want to spend that particular part of your life. Ideally, write down everything that comes to your mind. If you have two completely different goals, use two pieces of paper. Also, try to think about how your study abroad program could help you achieve your future career goals.
Even if you know that you want to study abroad in, e.g., Australia, you should still consider why and where exactly. Folks who like surfing would consider living in Canberra to be a nightmare. Students who are majoring in politics might prefer to stay in the capital city. Especially in Europe, there are substantial cultural differences within the single counties, too. Try to narrow it down as much as you can.
Your goal is to study abroad at one of the world’s best universities out of pure curiosity, boost your CV, and increase your career opportunities. Who wouldn’t like to study abroad at Harvard anyway? However, you should keep in mind that there are always multiple options for you. There are world-class universities outside the USA, too. Some of which are free or come at a fraction of the cost (of living). Does your university have partnerships with all the great universities in the USA anyway? There are excellent universities in Europe and Asia, too. Keep in mind that there are always other options to consider.
With your brainstorming map in hand, you should research where you can achieve your goals in the best way possible. Keep in mind to look for similar options, too. Also, check out the free tests to help you choose a country and program. On top of that, it is essential to check your home university’s partner universities abroad. This limits your options significantly and might leave you with only two or three places to choose from in the end. However, make sure to do the brainstorm first and then check the partner universities afterwards. If you are willing to pay tuition fees, you can apply at any university worldwide. Just keep in mind that getting in is way harder, involves more research and time (courses, contact person etc.) and usually requires more paper work in general.
Whatever your goals and options are, always consider what comes with them both up and downstream in the “Study Abroad Funnel” below.
Imagine your goal is to take courses in renewable energy that are not offered at your home university. A great idea would be to take these at a university abroad. Thought about taking these courses at the ETH in Switzerland, one of the world’s most sustainable countries? In that case, keep in mind that Zürich is one of the most expensive cities in Europe (upstream). On the flip side, you’d probably surround yourself with brilliant people and learn a lot (downstream).
Suppose you want to improve your French skills to have more options in the job market. The best idea would be to spend a semester in a French-speaking country. How about taking Canada, Africa, or little Belgium into consideration, too? You could visit a completely different continent and experience a unique culture (mainly upstream). However, you should also consider the cost, safety, quality of education, and matching courses for your degree (downstream).
Focusing on the options that don’t interfere with your goals narrows down your choices significantly. This involves more research than it sounds (see examples below). Also, making your goal the highest priority helps you determine a proper area or environment you want to live in and the people you want to surround yourself with. For instance, this involves the adequate choice of housing, too. If a potential city or university doesn’t offer the conditions to follow your goals, go for a different one.
Want to go surfing every morning before class? Besides the obvious, focus on options that allow you to arrange your classes accordingly or start late in general, and fit your budget for gear and transportation. Make sure you can go to bed early, afford to live in accommodation close to the sea, and don’t end up in bars too often. Living the surfer lifestyle in Portugal is way more affordable compared to California, for instance.
Have you always been passionate about one specific country? Wouldn’t you love to experience it during a semester abroad without focusing on academics too much? If so, go for a less reputable and less demanding university. Also, make sure they don’t check attendance or reduce your academic workload to a minimum by taking fewer courses. Instead, consider taking an extra class before or after the semester abroad. In your favorite country, choose a city or university that is a great starting point for all your travels.
Which option is best to match your brainstorming fantasies? Compare your options with your goals and rank them if required (individually for each goal if you had multiple). Which one is the cheapest? Which one requires the least planning? Which one is the most exciting? In case you can’t boil it down to one option, go back to Step 1 and think again. If you need more help or an honest opinion, feel free to get in touch with me.
To be happy with your study abroad goals in the longterm and don’t feel the pain of regret, you should ask yourself: Will I be pleased with my decision a couple of years from now? Or is my plan just a stupid idea to boost my ego? Is it really worth it to invest all that money (from your parents?) to study for one semester at a highly-ranked university (Example 1)? Is it worth the time and effort to move to a foreign country to improve my French skills (Example 3)? If your answer is “Yes”, go for it and enjoy your time abroad. If you need some pros and cons, check out this post.