Approaching study abroad

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Lillian Barkley

A student snapped a shot of Budapest, Hungary on a study abroad trip.

By Lillian Barkley, Features Editor

Study abroad is an experience unlike any other, cliché as that sounds. The chance to visit new places, get immersed in a different culture and practice a second language while earning class credit may seem like an obvious choice for some students. However, with over 400 programs to choose from through the University’s study abroad office, it can be difficult for students to make that final choice.

For students who are unsure about study abroad or want a general overview of the programs, the study abroad office organizes in-person First Steps info sessions, which are held at 2 p.m. every Friday in room 101 of the International Studies Building during the school year. The study abroad office is the best resource for program information and one-on-one advising. Walk-in advising is also available during the school year.

Visiting the study abroad office can be easier if the student does some independent research beforehand, however.

The first thing to consider is where to go. Programs are offered on six continents, so this choice is pretty personal. Students should think about where they most want to travel or how comfortable they would be in an area where they may not speak the language fluently. Personally, I decided to study in Geneva, Switzerland, because it’s a French-speaking, centrally located country, which meant it was easy to travel to other countries (and I somewhat knew the native language).

Another important detail is when to go. Spring semester was the best fit for me because I didn’t miss homecoming or holidays, and I didn’t have to deal with Illinois’ winter. Also, some programs are only offered during certain semesters. If traveling abroad for a semester seems too worrisome or expensive, plenty of options are also available for winter and summer programs.

If students have an idea of where and when they might want to go, a good place to start is study abroad’s advanced search page, which filters programs based on location, language requirement and academic area as well as more specific parameters. This is a great option for students who are concerned about credits transferring. The University’s study abroad page has a “suitcase,” which means students can save programs that interest them and compare them later.

This in-depth comparison includes projected costs, which can understandably be a deal breaker for many students. However, students who are concerned about costs shouldn’t necessarily give up hope of studying abroad. The University offers scholarships for specific colleges and the Illinois Study Abroad and International Programs and Studies scholarships that are open to all Illinois students. Students with financial aid packages can also talk to a financial aid advisor about how much their aid package will cover.

From there, the final decision depends on each student’s personal needs and interests. After a decision has been made, it is vital to keep up with application deadlines for the program as well as for any scholarships or other requirements. Taking care of all this can be a little stressful during the school year, but the final experience is completely worth it. Happy travels!

Lilian is a junior in Media.
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