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The Top 10 Myths About Study Abroad [U.S. News & World Report]

December 17, 2008

By  Lynn F. Jacobs, Jeremy S. Hyman U.S. News & World Report

Thinking you might want to study abroad? For some, it’ll prove to be one of the most rewarding, life-enhancing experiences of their college careers. For others—well, they’ll enjoy the fish and chips, but that’s about all. This week, visiting blogger Sara Dumont , director of the Study Abroad Program at American University, explores the 10 most common myths about study abroad. Avoid these, and you’re guaranteed a bon voyage:

10. With the state of the world today, it’s just too dangerous. It’s always wise to keep abreast of world events and not choose to study in a region that is currently in a state of war or has a high level of civil unrest. But not surprisingly, there don’t tend to be study-abroad programs in those regions, anyway! Your school’s study-abroad adviser will be able to help you assess the relative risks of various regions.

4-Star Tip. Check online resources especially designed for students studying abroad, such as www.globaled.us/safeti/.

9. I can’t afford to go. For most students, affording a semester, term, or even a year studying abroad is perfectly doable. If you will earn credit toward your degree for your experience abroad and you receive federal financial aid, then that aid can be applied to your study-abroad costs. In addition, many colleges allow their own institutional aid and scholarships to travel with the student. Some special study-abroad scholarships are also available, and you should definitely apply for those. You’d be surprised how many students don’t apply for them, which makes the odds for you even better!

Extra Pointer. Be wary of those who try to talk you into studying on a summer or January break, claiming that short programs cost less than semester-length programs. While the program price may be less, financial aid is rarely available for study outside the regular semesters, and there are very few additional scholarships for short-term study abroad.

8. All programs are alike, so I just need to pick my favorite country. This couldn’t be more wrong. There are many types of study-abroad programs, designed to meet the wants and needs of all kinds of students in terms of academics and extracurriculars. When we do information sessions for students and parents, we find that the first answer to any question is “It depends,” because it depends on the program you pick. Will you study with foreign students or other Americans? It depends. Will you have foreign professors or American ones? It depends. Will you live in a dorm, in an apartment, or with a family? It depends. And so on. You need to do your research. Let your study-abroad office help you narrow your choices!

7. I don’t speak a foreign language , so I can’t study abroad. Don’t forget that English (or a form of it!) is the language of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa and is one of the major languages in a host of other African countries. And in most non-English-speaking countries, you will have a choice of study-abroad programs depending on your level of language, so you can learn the language while taking other courses in English. Many European and Middle Eastern universities are now offering a range of courses in English, too. This is especially true of the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Israel, and Jordan.

6. I’m not in humanities or social sciences, so I can’t get courses to count for my major . While students majoring in subjects like history, political science, and languages tend to have the widest range of courses and programs available, with careful choice of program and planning, students in any major can study abroad and stay on track for graduation. Consult the university website or catalogue to see what’s offered in the sciences, mathematics, or whatever your major might be. Just remember that if you are in a very rigid academic program and will require specific equivalent courses abroad, you will need some extra time to plan in order to be sure of getting the courses you need.

5. It’s too late for me to study abroad. Don’t worry if you haven’t done anything about planning to study abroad for the spring or summer. Normally, you apply for study abroad midway through the semester in advance of the one you want to be away. And even if you miss the application deadline, check with your study-abroad adviser, because many programs will still have space and can accept late applicants.

Extra Pointer. It’s not just sophomores and juniors who study abroad—seniors do it, too. Just keep in mind the need to plan if you need specific courses. And be aware that some countries require students to get visas, and the length of time that takes can mean that you won’t be able to go to some countries if you are a late applicant.

4. I’d like to study abroad so I can become completely fluent in the language in one semester/year . Alas, no. Learning a language to the point of fluency is a challenging and lengthy process for most people, and even a year of immersion usually isn’t enough to do it. Be realistic about your goals. If you aren’t, you will become frustrated and not make the most of your experience.

3. I’m going to make lots of local friends and travel as much as I can to “see the world.” Those two expectations are incompatible. If you spend all your free time traveling and away from the place where you are studying, then you won’t have the needed time in your new temporary home to make any new friends. Students from your host country are unlikely to have the money it takes to go away on jaunts every weekend. So if you want to make local friends, you have to stick around and hang out with them. If traveling is what you think is most important, then realize that you will end up traveling mostly or exclusively with other Americans.

2. I’m paying the same as at my home university, so I should get exactly the same level of services, extracurricular opportunities , and technology. NOT! You’re in a different country; things will be different. There are different standards of living, expectations, and priorities in other countries and cultures. You’ll undoubtedly think some things are better than at home and some things are worse. Remember that you have gone abroad to experience differences: Enjoy them!

1. I’m not going abroad to sit in a classroom or in a library (the most important thing is the experience outside the classroom). You’ll hear plenty of people say this to you, including (I am sad to say) some faculty. But hey, this is *study* abroad, remember? You’re getting academic credit toward your degree for it, remember? This means you will certainly be expected to do the work—reading, writing papers, and participating in classes. Having experiences is great, but collecting experiences without the intellectual/analytical underpinnings is a very superficial thing, and study abroad is meant to be profound.

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