PART II: Living Abroad
Topics Covered in Part II
- Your Study Abroad Office
- Field of Study
- Academic Credit
- Language Requirements
- Timing & Duration
- Enrollment Options
- Housing Options
- Housing Specifics
- How To Research Study Abroad Opportunities
- Financial Aid
- Students with Disabilities
- How To Research Internship, Volunteer & Work Abroad Opportunities
Choosing a study abroad program that is the “right fit” for you is the best way to achieve your personal and academic goals for study abroad, as well as assist you with your long-range career plans. Therefore, it is important to plan carefully. However, when selecting the program, you are likely to get the most from involved careful planning. Hundreds of opportunities exist, more than ever before. They differ in location, duration, curriculum, degrees of cultural immersion, language, cost, and many, many other ways. Because there is so much to consider, it’s smart to begin planning a full year before you want to depart. In some cases colleges and universities expect you to declare your intent to study abroad a full year in advance.
Start by realistically assessing your academic and personal preparation and objectives:
- What do you want or need to study?
- Do you need to earn credit while abroad, or would a work abroad program not for credit be possible?
- Are you fluent enough in a foreign language to take classes in it, or will it be necessary for you to take some or all of your coursework in English?
- How much time can you afford to spend abroad, in terms of academic time and economic resources?
- Where do you want to go? Why?
- How structured or open of a program are you looking for?
- Do you want to live in a dorm with other Americans, stay with a local family, or have some other housing option?
- How much money can you spend on tuition and fees? On housing and food? On international transportation?
- Will you need to apply for financial aid? Is it available?
This section provides information that will help you answer these questions.
Getting the most from any study abroad program requires open-mindedness, flexibility, dedication, independence, and above all, a spirit of adventure. Some programs, however, require more of these characteristics than others. Also keep in mind your adventure quotient when considering programs. Challenge yourself, but be realistic.
Your Study Abroad Office
Find out if your campus has a study abroad office. (It probably does if it sends more than just a few students abroad to study.) Study abroad advisors are experienced guides, especially in knowing what your campus supports and encourages. They can assist you in exploring all reasonable alternatives and help you sharpen your objectives for a foreign study program. He or she will help determine whether the courses you are considering will mesh with your educational goals – and whether you will receive academic credit for them. If your school doesn’t have a study abroad advisor, consult the office of the academic dean, the office of academic advising, or a faculty member who is knowledgeable about foreign study programs. As described below, access to study abroad resources via written materials and the internet is easy.
Field of Study
What do you want to study? The largest percentage of US students abroad take some courses in their major, while others take a broader selection. The most prevalent course work available overseas is in social sciences and humanities areas, followed by business and management; third in popularity are foreign languages. But programs exist in nearly every subject, from art to zoology. There are courses in animation, classical studies, chemistry, development studies, historical preservation, literature, marine biology, mathematics, the performing arts, physics, social anthropology, TEFL/TESL (Teaching English as a Foreign (or Second) Language), and women’s studies. You can learn or polish a foreign language, including Aramaic, French, Kannada, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, and Xhosa. And you can study the people and culture of another country or region.
IIEPassport: Academic Year Abroad and IIEPassport: Short Term Study Abroad, published by Educational Directories Unlimited and the Institute of International Education, are comprehensive reference directories to international study for US students. The books are updated annually, and contain information on thousands of program offerings. Programs are indexed by field of study – as well as cost ranges, sponsoring institutions, consortia, and special options – making these directories easy to use. All of the programs listed in these directories are also included in a very useful web directory, www.IIEPassport.org.
Peterson’s also publishes a large program guide and has a website listing programs. In addition, there are various other websites, such as www.studyabroad.com, which list programs and have hyperlinks to program web pages.
Explore a New Subject. You might like to take an opportunity to explore an entirely new subject. Some students go abroad to take courses that aren’t available at their home campuses. Others want to pursue subjects that can offer a richer experience when they study in another country – political issues of the Middle East, for example, or the marine biology of Jamaica. If you are considering this option, find out how it will affect your graduation plans. Will you be able to meet your graduation and major departmental requirements? Will you need to spend an additional semester or year on campus?
Foreign Language Courses. Many students take part in study abroad to learn a new language or to perfect their skills in a language that is their major or minor. Living in a foreign country can make learning the local language much easier, thanks to abundant opportunities to hear it and practice speaking it. In addition, you may want to study a language or a dialect that is rarely taught in the US.
If you are interested in foreign language study, make sure any programs you consider are taught at your level of proficiency. Check program facilities: Is there a language lab? Is it well-equipped? Will you have access to a multimedia center or library? Will the credits be accepted by the appropriate language department at your home university?
It is as important to make sure you are able to earn the maximum academic credit for your program abroad as it is to decide what or where to study. With the ever-increasing cost of a college education, no one wants to discover upon return home that credit for a semester or academic year spent studying abroad will not be accepted. Even if the program is offered by your home university, having the credit accepted and counted toward graduation is seldom automatic.
It is essential to get approval in advance – and in writing. This may be routinely done on your campus or you may need to take an active role in getting approval for your study abroad program. Most colleges and universities only accept credit from programs that they authorize in advance. In fact, if you’re receiving financial aid of any kind, pre-approval is required.
Find out if your campus has a procedure (or a requirement) for arranging pre-approval of the academic work you intend to take abroad. A study abroad advisor is the best source of help in this process. If your school doesn’t have one, check with your registrar, faculty advisor, dean or admissions officer. These are the questions to ask:
What can I earn credit for? This varies from institution to institution and obviously depends on the level and quality of your overseas courses. Once pre-approval is given, this should make it clear if your overseas course work counts toward your academic major, or minor; or toward curricular electives; or simply as general degree credit. Be sure to find out before you leave where your credits fit in your domestic requirements for graduation. Ask if your school requires that you take a minimum course load in order to qualify for credit – it usually does.
What kind of documentation do I need to have a course approved? If you plan to enroll in a program offered by your home university, the description in the course catalog will probably be all your advisor (or registrar or dean) needs to approve it. If, however, you are considering a program offered by another US university, you may need more in order to earn “transfer credit” – credit transferred from another school to your home university.
Your study abroad advisor may request all or some of the following before you are approved for participation:
- The number of contact hours of the program: hours spent in lectures, labs, field work, etc.
- The course format
- Course outline and reading list
- Information on the level of the course
- The academic credentials of the teaching faculty
- Method of course assessment (exams, essays, projects, etc.)
- The grading system (ABCDEF, numerical scale etc.) and the lowest passing grade
- After you return, you may be asked to furnish your course notes, exams, papers, etc., before credit is granted or a course is certified as meeting a particular graduation requirement.
Who issues the transcript? The US university that sponsors the program? A foreign university? You and your advisor need to know this. The same information will be needed if you are considering a program sponsored by an agency or a foreign university.
Is the program abroad offered by a US-accredited institution? Is the institution accredited to offer academic degrees in its own country? Your home university may require either US or foreign accreditation in order for credit to be accepted. Find out your university’s policies BEFORE you apply to a program.
How much credit can I earn? This will depend on your school policies and those of the host institution. Mostly, a ‘full load’ of courses passed overseas translates into the same number of credits which could be earned at home during the same time period. But not always, so get this clear in advance. Also, find out what minimum grade you need to earn in order to receive credit from your home school – usually, a C or higher is required. If your college requires that you achieve a grade of C or above, you may not be able to take overseas courses on a pass/fail basis because in many systems the lowest passing grade is a D. Therefore, ask if your school will award credit for courses taken pass/fail.
Amount of credit will also depend on whether the study abroad program is on a quarter or semester basis. If your home school offers classes by semester, and the overseas program is on a quarter system, ask your advisor how transfer credit is calculated.
In addition, universities may (or may not) grant credit for independent study, internships and other experiential study, as well as dissertation credit for graduate students who do research abroad. If you are interested in these types of credit, discuss the possibilities and the requirements with your academic advisor and the registrar.
In sum, be sure you know how much credit will be awarded for all overseas study and whether there are any tuition fees that must be paid to your home institution in addition to the fees for the study abroad program.
Foreign universities may give a number grade rather than a letter, or even give comments in place of a grade. In addition, grading in some overseas universities can be much stricter than in the US Transferring of grades to an American system can be complicated. Therefore, some colleges show only the courses and the credits you take, without recording the grades on the transcript. In other cases, grades earned abroad are listed on the home transcript but not included in the grade point average (GPA). Be sure to ask whether your home institution figures grades earned abroad in your grade point average, as this might affect which courses you decided to take.
Note: Most graduate schools, medical schools, and law schools will ask to see the original transcript from your international program. These institutions may convert the grades from abroad and include them in your GPA, even if your home institution does not.
An important factor when considering a study abroad program is its language of instruction. Do you need to know the local language in order to begin (or complete) the program? If so, how well? In some programs, some courses are offered in the native language, and others in English. For a number of overseas study programs, a specified degree of fluency in the host language is required for entry. Others require that you be willing to study the local language, perhaps at the beginning level. This, of course, is not an issue in English-speaking countries, or with programs in other countries that teach courses for foreigners in English.
You can evaluate your language skills either by taking a language proficiency or placement exam or by taking an appropriate foreign language class. Sometimes testing is done on the home campus, and sometimes programs themselves will test applicants (or accepted students, after arrival, to judge the level of their placement). How well can you understand and communicate in a foreign language? It is wise to be completely realistic about your level of competency. Being able to carry on a simple conversation in another language is no guarantee that you can do academic work in it. On the other hand, opportunities to make quantum leaps forward in your language proficiency are one of the reasons for studying overseas. You might be amazed at how much you will learn once you are surrounded by a language other than English and have ample opportunities to speak, read, and write it.
Many study abroad programs sponsored by American colleges and universities are conducted in cooperation with a foreign university or offer special courses taught by foreign faculty. In such arrangements, courses are typically taught in the language of the host country, and generally require a minimum of two years of college study or the equivalent in that language. Some American colleges and universities offer language immersion programs to prepare their students for this course work.
A second choice is to enroll directly in a foreign university, where courses are usually taught in the host country language – or in an institute set up to meet the needs of foreign and visiting (non-matriculated) students. In either instance, you will need to be sufficiently fluent in the local language in order to be able to comprehend lectures – including academic and technical terminology – and read scholarly books and other publications. Most foreign universities and institutes require US students to take a language proficiency exam before admission. If your language skills need some brushing up, many foreign universities offer visiting students special courses in the language, and others on the native culture and history. Note: Direct enrollment typically means more effort on your part to ensure your home college/university approval of credit and financial aid transfer.
A number of study abroad programs offer some classes in English and some in the local language. With these, you’ll be able to understand and participate in classes while you polish your foreign language skills.
Consider a program that offers all course work in English, plus a foreign language class (which is typically taught in the language being studied). This is an option within many study abroad programs, including short-term overseas programs, often held in the summer or a winter interim. But review the course offerings carefully, as such programs typically offer only a limited selection of courses. Whatever your foreign language skills, you’re likely to have a better understanding and appreciation of your host country if you make an effort to learn the local language. Learning a foreign language in a country in which it’s spoken is an entirely different experience from learning it at home. Because you are surrounded by the language in everyday life, what you learn in the classroom can be practiced everywhere you go. Even if you acquire only “survival” language skills, the people you meet will appreciate your efforts. This is likely to open up even more opportunities to practice your proficiency.
Knowing a foreign language can be a passport to many different countries beyond the obvious. French, for instance, is spoken not only in France, but Morocco, some West African countries, the Caribbean, and the Canadian province of Quebec. Portuguese is the native tongue of Portugal, but also spoken as the primary language of gigantic Brazil. And Spanish, of course, is spoken in Spain and almost all of Central and South America, and in numerous countries around the world.
Timing & Duration
When would overseas study be best for you? How much flexibility is there in your academic schedule? How long a sojourn can you afford with your economic resources, even with financial assistance? These are major considerations you need to think about before choosing a program. In the past, most undergraduates who went abroad typically did so during their junior year for the entire year. The majority were foreign language majors, or studied in English-speaking countries. Today, many options exist for study abroad across the curriculum; for participating in programs which vary in duration from a few weeks to a calendar year; and for studying abroad at almost any point during undergraduate degree studies (or after one has graduated). All of these options exist – at least in theory. In practice, your college or university may have rules and requirements which restrict your choices a little or a lot.
Timing. When is the best time to study abroad? That depends on you and your degree program. Study and living abroad can give you new insight into your academic goals, so taking part in this experience early in your undergraduate education – typically at some point in the sophomore year – can help provide academic direction. If, however, you have strong academic interests that you would like to explore beyond the boundaries of your home campus, study abroad might be more appropriate in your junior or senior year. Be aware that some universities don’t allow senior year study abroad, and some allow it only in the first semester of the year. Be sure to check with your campus study abroad office regarding institutional policies.
Duration. How much time do you want to spend studying abroad? Study abroad advisors, from long experience listening to returned students, generally counsel that the longer the program and the more immersed in the local culture you are, the greater the long-range benefit.
Academic or Semester: About half of all US students currently studying abroad are participating in semester or academic year abroad programs. Such programs, because of their length and opportunities for true immersion in a foreign culture, are likely to make the strongest and most long-lasting impact both academically and in terms of cross-cultural understanding and career preparation. It takes time to adjust to a new living and learning environment, and many would say that the best learning takes place after such adjustment has taken place. But there are other issues to consider. Do you have the discipline to pursue your studies for a semester or year away from home? Can you afford to spend that much time away from your academic program? If the answer to either of these is “no,” there are still plenty of study abroad options available to you. About half of all US students now studying abroad do so on short-term programs; that is, programs shorter than an academic semester. Shorter programs, if well-planned, can offer a more intensive and focused experience – and may be the only realistic alternative in terms of the demands of your degree studies and economic resources.
Summer study programs range in length from two weeks to three months, with the largest number offered for one to two months. You can combine academic course work with program-related travel, or course work can be followed by vacation travel. Sometimes the program is entirely travel (in which case earning credit may not be possible). Such programs are sponsored both by American higher educational institutions, as well as by overseas universities, agencies, and organizations. So-called ‘vacation’ study programs are enormous in number and variety. Such programs are offered all over the world. You can study business law in Australia, fashion design in London, US-Mexico relations in Mexico, and international finance in Tokyo. Programs range from two- or four-week courses to those that last two or three months. Courses of study vary from those with a strong focus on academics, with the addition of a few field trips, to a study tour, in which travel and learning are combined. Vacation and summer study programs are sponsored by US colleges and universities and foreign higher educational institutions. Many specialized institutes abroad focus on the art, language, and culture of their home countries and offer short-term programs to US nationals.
Interim study programs are held in the period between semesters, especially for universities on the 4-1-4 calendar, or between academic quarters for those operating on the quarter system.
Pre-freshman year programs are available for students who feel they need a breathing period between completing high school and beginning college.
Follow-up or Lab programs, led by the instructor, are held to supplement what was learned in class with first-hand, on-site, exposure to what was studied.
Some language study programs are sponsored by language-teaching institutes, e.g., Alliance Française Goethe Institute.
Also available are study tour’ programs in which a US professor leads a traveling group of students, alums, or others within one country or to several countries, for credit or just the educational exposure.
Europe or Elsewhere Throughout the World? Where is the best place for you to study? The answer obviously depends on many different personal, curricular, and institutional considerations. Think this through carefully, as no given place is likely to answer all your needs, and yet each place has something unique to offer. Western Europe is the traditional destination for American students going abroad, and now accounts for about two-thirds of all students. One of the reasons students head for Western European countries is because there are so many well-established program sites. Yet programs now beckon from all over the globe.
But, in increasing numbers, students are also deciding to consider other regions, sometimes based on course work, sometimes on language, cultural, or career interests. Excellent programs are available in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America, South America, the Caribbean and the islands of the South Pacific. In fact, almost (but not quite) everywhere! You can study volcanology in Costa Rica, political change in South Africa, Buddhism in Tibet, or indigenous music in Zambia. Nothing can compare with learning a foreign language in a country where it’s spoken, whether that means learning Spanish in Spain or Wolof in Senegal.
Living and learning in a culture that is dramatically different from one’s own can provide an incomparable learning experience, challenging customary assumptions about one’s own society and values and providing a unique perspective on the larger world. The fact that nearly three-quarters of the world’s population live in ‘developing’ nations is bound to have a significant effect on the course of history. From an economic standpoint, it is worth noting that US trade with developing countries now approaches 40 percent of all US imports and exports. In today’s economically interdependent world, knowledge of developing nations may prove to be a tremendous career asset. One legacy of colonialism in these culturally diverse and economically emerging countries is that the language of instruction in higher education is often English, Spanish or French rather than the native language. This does not apply, however, to countries like China, which has an extensive scientific and technical literature of its own, and which draws large numbers of students to study its literature, languages and cultures.
In Search of Roots. Some students go abroad in search not of the new, but of what they hope and assume will accord with their own family background, whether ethnic, religious, or national. Students from Arabic-speaking families thus sometimes wish to study in the Middle East, Hispanic students might select any of the countries where Spanish is spoken, Jewish students might opt for Israel, African-American students might be interested in one of the many programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asian-American students may look to programs in the Orient. If this is part of your motivation, you are likely to find rewarding connections to your background. But be prepared to find that, no matter how fluently you speak the local language or how closely you resemble the local people, you will first of all be treated as ‘an American’ by the local population.
Big City vs. Small Town. Do you want to study in a big city? A small town? A rural area? A large city offers a wide array of social choices and many cultural opportunities, but it can also be expensive, impersonal, and more cosmopolitan than national in its identity. Aix-en-Provence is perhaps a more ‘French’ city than Paris, Tampere a more ‘Finnish’ city than Helsinki, for instance. On the other hand, a provincial town or rural area can offer a traditional way of life and more contact with local residents, but its narrower lifestyle may be too confining for some.
One Place or Many? Do you want to spend most of your time in one place, or travel to several places? Would you like full-immersion in one culture or comparative glimpses of many, in pursuit of common themes or issues – e.g., environmental pollution, national health care systems, the treatment of minorities, etc.? While the majority of study abroad programs are based primarily in one location, with occasional excursions to other nearby cities, a few programs involve some or even considerable travel. A program of studying wildlife ecology in Kenya, for example, will probably include a number of excursions from the classroom to game reserves. Other programs use travel as a means of comparing and contrasting differences. One program on Ecuadorian ecology takes students from the capital city of Quito to a small village, through the Amazon rain forest, and to the Galapagos Islands. Another looks at issues affecting women in England, the Netherlands, and Germany. Yet another contrasts business management assumptions and policies in Korea, China, and Japan.
Approximately 72% of US undergraduates who end up studying abroad enroll in a study abroad program specially organized for students like them. The sponsor may be a US college or university (the student’s own, another, or a consortium) with which it has reached an agreement. Or the sponsor could be a domestic organization other than a college or university, or an overseas university or organization, often as part of its program for other international students. However, depending on your own institution’s policies with regard to transfer credit from other domestic or overseas institutions, a host of other options may exist for you. The below list moves from options centered in your own institution to options more centered in overseas institutions.
Enroll in a Program Designed and Overseen by US Colleges or Universities for American Students. The most popular choices of study abroad programs include those sponsored by a student’s own institution, by another US college or university, or by a consortium, or group, of US colleges or universities. Such arrangements make possible hundreds of academic year, semester, quarter, and vacation study program opportunities.
Programs sponsored by US colleges allow students to study in a foreign environment while remaining within an US academic framework. Even if the actual course work is taken at a foreign university, academic credit is arranged through the sponsoring US institution. In many cases, special courses in the language and culture of the host country are offered, and the language requirements may be relaxed. The sponsoring college usually also makes housing and round-trip travel arrangements for students, and may arrange cultural excursions.
Programs offered by US institutions basically fall into two main categories, though many variations exist within each:
- The “island” program: All courses are arranged for a group of US students and taught by home campus faculty members familiar with the host culture or by foreign faculty hired by the US school. Costs are often about the same as study on the home campus, and financial aid that you receive from your institution or from the government can typically be used. Some of these programs offer intensive language study for language majors. Generally, though, these programs are taught in English, except for foreign language classes, which are taught in the language studied. This is a good option for students who don’t speak the local language. It may also be a good choice if this will be your first time overseas. Be aware, however, that no overseas program can provide academic and social services identical to what you are accustomed to at home.
- Hybrid programs: Study in a foreign institution, combined with courses arranged for the group by the sponsoring US institution: These programs generally require some knowledge of the host country language. Nnetheless, special university courses for US or other foreign students usually have less demanding language requirements than regular university courses. And some programs offer a choice of foreign institutions, depending on the level of the student’s language skills. One benefit of this type of program is that it lets you study at a foreign institution while meeting requirements for your US degree. Many of these programs also offer academic support services similar to those found on a US campus.
Enroll in A Program Sponsored by an Organization Other than a US College or University. Some not-for-profit and for-profit organizations in the US and overseas also sponsor study abroad programs. Of these, some have agreements with colleges and universities allowing students to be registered on their home campuses. Others indicate that academic credit is available or transferable, but students must arrange or verify the credit themselves. If you are considering one of these programs, be sure to investigate your school’s credit transfer policy, as well as the policy of the program you are considering.
Enroll in a Program for International Students at a Foreign University. Some universities abroad offer language and culture programs to foreigners. These enable US students (considered ‘international students’ while overseas) to interact with students from several other countries. Some programs sponsored by foreign universities are especially designed to meet the needs of English-speaking students, with courses offered in English as well as the host country language. In addition, in the 1990s, as academic mobility and exchange in Europe increased, a number of English-language programs were designed for students from other countries. Some of these are available to US students as well.
If you want to enroll in this kind of program, be sure to discuss credit transfer with your advisor. In some cases, foreign schools arrange to transfer credit through an accredited US college. But credit doesn’t transfer automatically from foreign universities, and in some cases is not transferable.
Enroll in A Foreign University Via a US College or University. It is also possible to enroll in foreign universities directly by applying through US programs set-up for this purpose – e.g., Arcadia University’s Center for Study Abroad or Butler University’s Institute for Study Abroad. This intermediation can solve the credit transfer problem, as the overseas course work is placed on an American college transcript. Such a process can increase overall costs, but, in return, may also provide orientation, accommodations, excursions, and on-site support services not otherwise available to occasional or special students.
Enroll Directly in a Foreign University As a ‘Special’ Student. Many universities around the world are open to students from other countries who qualify for admission as ‘special’ or occasional students. This is similar to taking regular classes in the United States as a non-admitted or part-time student. Credit does not transfer automatically from foreign universities and in some cases is not transferable. Taking classes taught by foreign teachers, alongside students from the host country, can be very exciting and challenging. But it requires an extra measure of enterprise and resourcefulness on your part, since it’s up to you to make the arrangements and do the course work without support services from an US institution. You also must be fluent in the language of instruction to consider this option. And there can be difficulty with credit transfer as well with the transferability of your US financial assistance.
In many foreign countries, students can receive a secondary school education that is more advanced and intensive than what US high school’s or preparatory academies offer, with students graduating at the age of 19 or older, then sometimes waiting another year or so before beginning their university education. These students may have the same academic preparation as an American student who has completed two or more years of college. For this reason, even foreign universities that accept American undergraduates into degree programs may do so only after they have completed their sophomore year.
If you are interested in this option, addresses of most foreign institutions can be found in World of Learning or the International Handbook of Universities, reference directories on higher education worldwide that can be found in many US college and university libraries. To ensure a response, enclose an International Reply coupon (available from any Post Office) with your inquiry. An easier way to find out whether you should even consider applying for admission to an overseas institution is to do a Web-search and pursue your interest through foreign university Web pages. Again, your study abroad advisor may also provide guidance.
Other Study Abroad Opportunities. There are yet additional options for acquiring overseas education. You can:
- Attend a branch campus of a US college or international university abroad.
- Set up an Independent project to be carried out overseas. Some, but certainly not all, US colleges and universities offer independent study arrangements in which qualified students carry out pre-approved research or in-depth study projects in a selected field or on a special topic. It is your responsibility to complete the study or conduct the research, typically evaluated by a faculty advisor when you return home.
- Pursue course work, language learning, research, or an internship overseas after graduation, with no expectation of credit, but increasing your credentials and career pursuits.
Your living situation will have a significant impact on your study abroad experience. Housing can be as grand as a manor house, as rugged as a tent in a rain forest, or as standard-issue as a university residence hall.
Many study abroad programs provide student housing. Some arrange home-stays, in which you live with a local family. Others provide housing in dormitories or apartments, where your roommates could be students from the host country, from other foreign countries, or from the United States. For short-term programs or those that require extensive travel, students may be housed in hotels, pensions, or student hostels.
Some programs offer a choice of housing arrangements. In most cases, however, the choices are few, as student housing is difficult to find almost everywhere. Dormitory space is often so limited that many foreign universities have strict quotas for the number of rooms allotted to international students.
Be sure to find out whether programs you are interested in arrange housing for participants; not all do. If it’s up to you to find your own housing, ask if the sponsoring institution will assist you. Request an estimate of costs for accommodations, food, travel and essential living expenses.
Living in Dorms or Apartments. Most students live in dorms or apartments while studying abroad. Some single rooms may be available, but two or more students to a dorm or apartment are more common. Depending on the program you select, you may have a choice of the nationality of students you room with.
Living with other US students. Surrounded by experiences that are new, some US students are most comfortable living with students from their own country. However, if cultural immersion, cross-cultural learning, and/or an intensive experience of the host culture are high on your list of goals, you may wish to live with students from the host country.
Living with students from the host country or other foreign countries. You may opt for this if you consider your living situation to be part of your overseas learning experience. If you want to live with local students, be aware that, in some countries, local students live in dorms only for their first year, then move to apartments.
Many universities abroad put all foreign students – including those from the US – in a special dorm for foreigners. While, you are unlikely to meet host country students in these dorms, you will be surrounded by other students sharing the experience of being new to a country.
Homestays. Homestays usually provide the greatest immersion in the host language and culture, giving you the opportunity to experience how local people really live. This is especially true if you live with a family that treats you like one of the family, getting to know you and offering help if you need it.
In some cases, however, the host is simply someone with an extra room to rent out, and your relationship is strictly that of landlord/tenant, with little or no social interaction. In many cases, you will not know the name or address of your home-stay until you arrive at the program. This is a major difference between college-level study abroad programs and high school exchanges.
Smoking is far more common – and accepted – abroad than in the US. If a nonsmoking environment is important to you, find out if anyone smokes in home-stays you are considering, or ask for a nonsmoking roommate in dorms and apartments. But be prepared to learn to live in an environment where people smoke.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, or if you have other special dietary needs, check to see if these can be accommodated. Vegetarian menus are not common outside of the United States, especially in Europe. If you are living with a host family, it may be perceived as rude for you to refuse the meals they serve.
In many cases, it may be a hardship for the family to provide separate meals for you. Please be clear about your needs before the program places you in a home-stay situation as it may not always be possible to accommodate your special requests. And be prepared to compromise with regard to your dietary choices. Remember, you are the guest. You may also have to bear the extra costs of special meals yourself.
Get as much information as possible about housing. This can help you decide whether a program is for you, or at least prepare you for what to expect.
For programs in any country, ask:
- What kind of furnishings does a dorm or apartment have?
- Is there a desk or table for you to work at?
- Is the kitchen equipped with cooking utensils?
- Does a dorm provide sheets, blankets, pillows etc.?
- If not, Is there a service available to rent linens?
- Are there laundry facilities?
- If so, are these automatic washers or laundry tubs?
- Is there a limit on how often you can use them?
- What is the cost?
- Will you have access to a phone in your residence?
If you’re planning to study in a developing country, ask your program representative:
- Is there drinking water available?
- Is there hot water for showers?
- Is electricity always available?
Last, remember to confirm all housing arrangements well ahead of your departure.
How To Research Study Abroad Opportunities
Once you’ve considered fully what kind of program is right for you, you’re ready to research what’s available to fit your complex needs and interests, resources, and time. Most students begin by investigating those programs directly sponsored by their own campus. Some schools indeed limit their students to their own programs, providing information only about these programs (and, sometimes, affiliated programs) and erecting a host of academic and/or economic disincentives meant to discourage students from participating in programs sponsored by other institutions. Others have lists of programs pre-approved for transfer of credit, which may or may not qualify for institutional financial aid. Yet others have an open policy, allowing students to choose from the hundreds and hundreds of available programs which are open to any qualified student. If your school doesn’t sponsor study abroad programs (or doesn’t offer the ‘right’ program for you) or you want to look beyond your home campus course offerings, there is a wealth of information available today, from many different sources, on programs of all types.
Campus Advisors. If your school has a study abroad office, talk to a study abroad advisor about how and where to research programs. If your campus does not have a study abroad office, ask your academic advisor for help in researching your options. He or she may be knowledgeable about international study, or may be able to refer you to faculty members who are. You should also talk to your school registrar or someone in the admissions office about your school’s policies on study abroad, especially if you are considering a program that is not sponsored by your school. Also, if you’d like credit in your major for study abroad, be sure to see an advisor in your major department.
Campus Study Abroad Library. Many US colleges and universities have a study abroad library, or a section of the college library that is devoted to study abroad. A good study abroad library will have reference books containing thousands of listings of study abroad programs, as well as catalogs of study abroad programs from other US institutions, and foreign university catalogs – the best reference guide is IIEPassport: Academic Year Abroad and IIEPassport: Short Term Study Abroad, published by the Institute of International Education and Educational Directories Unlimited Ask an advisor if there are brochures for individual programs, or videos, slides, CD-Roms, or photos of programs and program sites. Your campus study abroad library may also carry the magazine Transitions Abroad, with articles about study, work, and travel abroad written by recently returned student participants (also see the magazine’s website, www.transitionsabroad.com). In addition, many study abroad libraries have written evaluations of programs from recent participants. This kind of unbiased first-hand information usually cannot be found elsewhere.
Searching The Internet, the World Wide Web, and Education Databases. In recent years access to information of all sorts on international education, via new telecommunications technologies, has burgeoned. No longer are you limited to what your particular campus has on its library shelves or what you can write for to be sent to you. Volumes of valuable information on nearly every aspect of study abroad is now immediate from any personal computer or campus network. Using this technology to find Web-pages, you can gather information on hundreds of programs and foreign universities; on financial aid: scholarships, fellowships, and grants specifically geared to study abroad; on internships and volunteer opportunities; on international travel; on particular countries or specific fields; on getting your passport and visa requirements; on health and safety conditions; and on international currency exchange rates and banking. Information alone will not be sufficient, so it should be gathered, studied, and discussed with your campus advisors and fellow students.
A few of the best sites to start with are:
- www.IIEPassport.org, Institute of International Education and Educational Directories Unlimited: includes IIEPassport: Academic Year Abroad and IIEPassport: Short Term Study Abroad, in database format, as well as scholarship information.
- www.StudyAbroad.com, providing online directories of programs and destination information plus links to leading providers.
- www.nafsa.org/secussa, (click on “Annotated Internet Resources”) the site of NAFSA: Association of International Educators; has links to the best websites for study, work and travel abroad.
Talking With Returned Students. If you are interested in a particular program, talking to students who have recently taken part in it is often the best way to find out what it’s really like. Be aware, however, that no two students on the same program ever have precisely the same experience or response, and you may have different goals and interests. You might ask: Did the course load leave time for socializing or traveling? Is an ability to get along with others essential on this program? Is the optional safari – or scuba diving expedition or trek to see ancient ruins – worth the extra time and money? and the like. Your campus may organize group sessions with these students, or give you contact information for them so you can talk to them individually.
If it’s not possible to talk to students who’ve been on programs that interest you, talking to students who have taken part in any study abroad program will be useful, since you’ll hear about what it’s like to live and study in a foreign country. Many campuses use returned study abroad students as ‘peer counselors.’ If yours does, make sure you tap into their seasoned perspectives. Of course, it’s best if you can find students who studied in the country or region you’re considering. If you’re considering studying abroad through a program not sponsored by your school, ask the program for telephone numbers or e-mail addresses of students who have attended that program. These may be carefully selected individuals. Still, be wary of a program that refuses to let you contact previous participants.
Talking with program representatives can provide invaluable insight and information which is direct and personalized. Many campuses arrange for occasional campus visits by such people. Some also set up annual Study Abroad Fairs, at which representatives from many different study abroad programs, as well as from organizations sponsoring internships and voluntary work programs, are present throughout a given day or evening, to talk with interested students. There may also be students present who have participated in particular programs. If such opportunities present themselves (on your own or a nearby campus), you should definitely take advantage of being able to collect current materials, ask questions, and gain insights from persons who know their program from direct experience.
Even the best reference book or catalog has only general information about programs, and brochures may focus more on the local attractions and nightlife than on academics. After you’ve identified programs that interest you, check the programs’ websites, e-mail, call or write the sponsoring institutions for detailed information and application forms. And it’s always best to call a program and speak with its advisors to discuss questions that remain unclear after you’ve read program booklets. Many programs, especially larger and more established ones, allow the 800 number or e-mail address to be used for the purpose of providing you with additional information, answering your and your parent’s questions on a one-to-one basis – and, when you are ready, taking an application.
Costs. In order to encourage students to study abroad, most US institutions do their best to try to keep the expenses of overseas study comparable to the cost of the same period of study at the home campus. How much will studying abroad actually cost you (and your parents), especially in relation to what study at home costs? There is no simple answer to this major question, other than that participation in any given program can add up to somewhat less or much more, depending on a host of factors – some of which are controlled by your institution (e.g., its tuition policy, whether it sponsors its own programs, whether financial aid travels, etc.); some of which are matters over which American institutions may have no control (e.g., international currency exchange rates, overseas costs of living, university tuition costs, etc.). In short, the absolute, overall cost of an overseas study experience is something apart from how affordable it is to any given participant.
Variables. Many US sponsors of study abroad programs bundle the program’s major costs into one comprehensive fee. This usually includes tuition, housing, meals, and international airfare, and may also include medical and accident insurance, excursions, books, rail passes, and other program-related expenses. Others may include some, but not necessarily all of these items. Since all are likely to be relevant to figuring out overall costs, it is your and your parents’ responsibility to ask enough questions until you have complete figures and can decide if the bottom line is clear, and affordable. It is equally important to have an idea of the many variables which can affect overall costs.
Costs vary by:
Location. Programs in Western Europe tend to be more expensive than those in most other parts of the world (e.g., Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, or South America). But relatively expensive programs sometime exist in countries where the cost of living is relatively low, and conversely, depending on the nature of the living and learning experience. The cost of living in countries in which the US Dollar is weak relative to the local currency is (usually) higher than in countries where the US Dollar is strong. Because it costs more to live in most cosmopolitan areas than in the hinterlands, programs based in cities typically cost more.
Sponsor. In general, programs sponsored by private colleges or organizations are more expensive than those offered by public institutions. If you are interested in a program in a specific location or at a particular foreign university, check to see if more than one sponsor offers it. In some cities, a number of institutions sponsor similar study abroad programs, at a variety of prices.
Program Type. Island programs, where everything is specially arranged for the US group, are usually more expensive than immersion or direct enrollment programs. Because special or US style services cost more, this is reflected in the program fee. These can include on-site support services, special language-training courses, cross-cultural orientation, social activities, and excursions to sites of interest. The extra expense may be well worth it if this is your first time abroad or you think you would get more out of a program that offers those services. But you can save money by choosing a program that doesn’t include them. Remember, however, that you will then have to be more independent when it comes to problem-solving.
Duration. While some of the costs of participating in a program are the same, regardless of how long the overseas sojourn is (e.g., airfare), other costs vary according to how long one is away, e.g., room and board, tuition, etc. Thus, the longer the program, the more expensive it is, in absolute terms. On the other hand, there are also ‘economies of scale,’ so that the per week/per credit cost of a summer program may be proportionally greater than the per week/per credit costs of a semester program, etc.
Home Campus Tuition Policy. Tuition fees at foreign universities, which are usually state supported, are often much lower than those charged by US institutions. Some countries, however, charge separate fees to foreign students that are considerably higher than those charged to local students. If you choose a program sponsored by your own school or another US school, you may find that you’re paying full home-campus tuition even if the school you’ll be attending abroad charges much lower tuition. The higher cost to you is for the home-campus credit as well as for the home-campus study abroad advising and other administrative and support services.
Financial Aid Availability. In addition, there are a number of other expenses which may or may not be included in the stated bottom line ‘program fee’ – and some of which are not part of the ‘program’ per se, but are nevertheless related to the overall costs of the experience of living and learning in another country.
These can include:
- Academic fees
- Application fee (Q. refundable or nonrefundable?)
- Administrative fee
- Tuition and other academic fees
- Books and other supplies
- Use of labs and libraries
- Computers: Internet use fees, access to e-mail
Room and Board (Q. Are room and board included during vacations and holidays?)-
- Housing or key deposits
- Residence permits
- Food (Q: Does this include three meals a day? Seven days a week, or weekdays only?)
- Round-trip transportation from the United States to the host country
- Transportation between point of international entry and program site, if not included in the round-trip transportation fee
- Commuting costs to and from campus
- Program-related travel
- Optional travel
- Passport fee
- Visa, if required
- Immunizations, if required
- International Student Identity Card
- Health and accident insurance
- Traveler’s insurance, for lost or stolen personal items
- Admission to cultural sites and events
- Fluctuating exchange rates
- Postage and phone calls
- Dry cleaning
- Personal care products
- In addition, don’t forget to budget money for clothing appropriate to the climate and luggage or a backpack.
Always contact the sponsor directly for the most current information on costs. Exchange rates fluctuate, and the mix of services provided for the program fee can change, so the cost listed in last year’s catalog or study abroad guide may no longer be accurate.
Is Financial Aid Available for Study Abroad? If you are currently receiving financial aid for your college education, in many cases you can use it to study abroad. This can be the case with aid from an institution, a foundation, the state or federal government, or other private or public sources. Talk to your study abroad advisor, financial aid officer, or bursar about what can and can’t be applied to a program of study abroad.
The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1992 mandated that a student can receive financial aid for study abroad if the student is enrolled in a program approved by the home institution. Moreover, the student would be eligible to receive “grants, loans, or work assistance without regard to whether the study abroad program is required as a part of the student’s degree.”
What Types of Financial Aid are Available? Federal and state governments, foundations, and private and public organizations are primary sources of financial aid. Be sure to check with your financial aid director, study abroad advisor or bursar about whether your financial aid can apply to study abroad.
If you are planning to attend an overseas study program sponsored by another institution, the home institution, through a written agreement between the schools, might allow you to use your financial aid. But students should realize that policies vary among institutions of higher education and therefore, should check with their study abroad advisors and financial aid administrators regarding enrollments with another institution.
Note the following types of financial aid:
Federal Aid. Federal aid can consist of loans, grants, scholarships, or work-study.
Loans. The Federal Direct Ford Student Loan or the Federal Stafford Guaranteed Student Loan is available to students who demonstrate need. The Federal government pays interest on subsidized loans as long as the student is enrolled half-time and demonstrates financial need through the submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Repayment begins after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time.
These loans can also be unsubsidized and are available to students regardless of need; interest is charged to the students while in school. A student may choose to make the interest-only payments on the unsubsidized loan or allow the interest to be added to the loan principal and then pay both principal and interest after leaving school.
Federal PLUS loans are available to parents of dependent students under the Federal Direct Loan Program and the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). These loans are made either by the school (direct loan) or through a private lender. Parents are responsible for all interest charges. Repayment begins 60 days after loan disbursements.
Grants and Scholarships. Federal Pell Grants are awarded to exceptionally needy undergraduate students. Part-time enrollment reduces eligibility.
Federal Supplemental Educational Grants (SEOG) are awarded to exceptionally needy undergraduate students. Must be enrolled at least half-time.
The National Security Education Program (NSEP) and the Fulbright Program funded by the Federal government have grants and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students for study and research overseas.
Students should be aware that government organizations in other countries such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offer funding opportunities.
State Aid. A few states offer assistance to students to attend college which comes from sources other than Federal funding. This aid can be applied to study abroad. It can be need-based or merit based. These include grants or loans but may include tuition waivers, work programs, or other types of aid. The HEA of 1998 stated in the Special Leverage Educational Assistance Partnership Program that “incentive grants are available to States from the Federal government to assist eligible students enrolled in study abroad programs that were approved for credit by the home institution.”
Institutional Aid. Some financial aid is funded by the student’s home institution, not based on public monies. These scholarships can be based on need and/or on merit. Institutional aid can come from a variety of sources, which includes alumni, faculty, endowments, etc. Some aid can be specified for overseas study but other scholarships can be restricted to the campus, state, or for domestic programs, etc.
If you are planning to attend an overseas study program sponsored by another institution, your home institution, through a written agreement between the schools, might allow you to use your financial aid. But students should realize that policies vary among institutions of higher education and therefore, should check with their study abroad advisors and financial aid administrators regarding enrollments with another institution.
Private and Public Organizations. Other than governmental and institutional aid, private organizations, foundations, corporations, and civic groups are additional sources of aid for study abroad. For example, the Coca-Cola Foundation, Amoco, Chrysler Corporation, etc., have given funds for overseas study. The Rotary Foundation, which has a private, sponsored International scholarship program provides funds for undergraduate, graduate, and vocational students. Some private and public organizations will give overseas study funding for students in a particular major or area of study. Private organizations and associations related to your area of study or destination are worth consulting, as are ethnic and service organizations in your home town. The League of United Latin American Citizens, Alliance Francaise, Dante Alighieri, Goethe groups, etc., are examples of other sources of funding for overseas study and research.
Program Sponsors. Organizations like the American Institute of Foreign Study (AIFS), Syracuse University, Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), etc., offer need and merit scholarships for their own sponsored programs. This is, effectively, a form of discounting. Check IIEPassport: Academic Abroad and IIEPassport: Short Term Study Abroad published by the Institute of International Education for study abroad programs which offer scholarships or work-study assistance.
Underrepresented Students (Minorities, Students with Disabilities, and Non-Traditional Students). Various types of financial aid might apply to assist underrepresented students enrolling in overseas study programs. Special grants or scholarships are specified for this purpose. The Robert Bailey Minority scholarships sponsored by the Council of Educational Exchange (CIEE) is a prime example.
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, study abroad and financial aid offices are required to offer the same services to non-disabled and disabled students.
How Do I Make Arrangements to Have Financial Aid Applied to a Study Abroad Program? Upon application to a study abroad program, you should also contact the financial aid office to see if there are special application processes or policies required in receiving financial aid for overseas study. For example, the study abroad office may provide the financial aid office with costs or a budget for your study abroad program that will facilitate the disbursement of aid when you leave the country. You may also need to check with the bursar’s office on how they can contact you or to make financial aid disbursement arrangements. If you have previous loans, you should check wih the registrar’s office regarding deferment procedures while you’re enrolled overseas. Be sure to check with all four offices, weeks before your plans are finalized. Keep records of all forms submitted and submission dates as well as all personal contacts made (individuals and dates of those contacts). Those records will help you avoid confusion as well as clarify issues that might arise.
Could Financial Aid for Study Abroad Affect Funding for Next Semester’s Aid? There is a possibility that funding for future semesters might be affected resulting from financial aid given for a semester’s study abroad program as your eligibility for certain types of aid might have expired. The financial aid office will be monitoring your progress toward your degree as to whether you have exceeded your eligibility requirements. The best advice is to check with a Financial Aid advisor about your funding.
How Many Credits Do I Need to Receive Financial Aid (Including Loans) for Study Abroad? Credit level required for direct subsidized/unsubsidized loan eligibility for all semesters is half-time time. For undergraduates, half-time requires enrollment in at least 6 credit hours. For scholarships and grants, you need to maintain the enrollment level required for each aid program listed on your financial aid award letter.
Is Power of Attorney Useful if I am Overseas? If you are overseas, power of attorney gives the designated person (family member or trusted friend); the power to act in your behalf if a legal document requires a signature. If you are receiving federal financial aid, you must endorse the check before it can be deposited. A power of attorney can facilitate the process of receiving funds.
What Sources are Available to Obtain Further Information on Financial Aid and Funding for Study Abroad? The following on-line and publication sources are very useful for students who wish further information. On-Line Information:
- www.finaid.org The Financial Aid Page: links to scholarship searches and comprehensive listing of financial aid information.
- www.ed.gov A more comprehensive federal site.
- studentaid.ed.gov/students/publications/student_guide/index.html The Student Guide: Department of Education publishes a guide each year on the eligibility requirements on various federal aid programs.
- www.fastweb.com Fast Web. This service provides a free customized list of financial aid sources including private sector scholarships, fellowships, grants, and loans.
- www.collegeboard.com College Board Scholarship Search, and www.plato.org P.L.A.T.O. Scholarship Search are other pertinent engines for grant information
- www.collegenet.com/mach25 Another ready guide to a scholarship search.
- www.petersons.com Has references to study abroad which the student might find useful.
- www.umabroad.umn.edu/financial/scholarships/ (University of Minnesota), www.lib.msu.edu/harris23/grants (Michigan State University), and www.studyabroad.com/os/finaid.html All three of these websites have information on scholarships and grants for study abroad.
Of course, be sure to also check your school’s web site for information about their financial aid and study abroad programs.
- A Student’s Guide to Scholarships, Grants, and Funding Publications in International Education and Other Disciplines, Michigan State University, Rm 209, Office of International Studies and Programs, East Lansing, Michigan (April 1997) Contains 79 pages of annotated bibliographical information on references and websites.
Other useful sources include:
- Financial Aid for Studying and Training Abroad (Reference Service Press, 2001), Gail Ann Schlachter and David R Weber
- Directory of Financial Aid for Women, 2003-2005; Financial Aid for African Americans, 2003-2005 (Reference Service Press)
- Financial Resources for International Study, Marie O’Sullivan, ed., Institute of International Education, New York, (1996)
It is an historical fact that the diversity of student backgrounds represented in US higher education has not been reflected fully in the profiles of students studying abroad. American students of rich ethnic or racial heritage, for instance, have not studied abroad in the same proportions as so-called ‘traditional’ students. Often the reason is strictly economic, but there are other factors as well. Also underrepresented in study abroad participation over the years have been white males, older students, community college students, as well as students majoring in academic and pre-professional areas – such as science, engineering, business, education, architecture, etc. with rigid curricular sequences. Though students from these underrepresented groups still represent only a small percentage of US undergraduates who study abroad, their numbers have increased dramatically in recent years. Today members of all such groups participate in study abroad, going to every region of the world, and many overseas programs and universities make special efforts to ensure that they feel welcome on their programs and in their classrooms.
If you have a strong ethnic or racial minority background, the key to your successful study abroad experience lies in making an informed choice on what you will find overseas, based on full and accurate information. In these regards, the quality of advising available to you on your home campus may or may not be adequate. Your most important questions are likely to concern how you will be received in a foreign country. However encouraging, and informed your study abroad advisor is, probably your best resource will be other students of color or ethnic minorities who have studied abroad. Returned students report a variety of experiences with racial or ethnic prejudice overseas, just as they have a variety of experiences in this country. Some have found that local people were ‘only’ curious about their race and ethnicity, which, while occasionally annoying, was not a problem that interfered with their primary reasons for living and learning in another country. There said they were willing, when asked, to answer questions, for instances, about their hair, religion, historically black institutions, and many other topics, as long as the questions were asked with genuine curiosity and did not reflect racist attitudes.
Other returnees report having been elated to find that, for the first time in their lives, their skin color or ethnic heritage was not an issue, although there was still the matter of being a foreigner in that particular country. Still others found some active prejudice in their new host country and had to deal with this however possible. No matter the new social climate, however, the majority of returning minority students felt that the overall experience was so important to their education (in the broadest sense) and their development as individuals that almost all argued that the fear of discrimination should not keep someone at home. As one Spelman College student said, “Getting stared at and hearing ourselves described as ‘dirty’ was a small price to pay for a semester in the studios of Florentine artists.”
Picking the Right Country and Program. The unfortunate fact is that nearly every country discriminates against some group of people although the targets vary from country to country and even within different regions of a country. It is here that the study abroad advisor can play an invaluable role. Ask your advisor to identify countries that have a good track record with minorities, remembering that all minority students are not treated the same way in each country. An African American student will not necessarily have the same experience in Spain or the Dominican Republic that a Hispanic student will.
A student must also be open to the experience and avoid saying the American way is better; it is, after all, only different. It is also the case that certain cities and certain campuses and programs in a given country may be more supportive and tolerant than others.
Talk seriously with your advisor about what you are really looking for and what you are willing to experience – how far outside of your comfort zone do you want to step. Your advisor can probably identify countries as well as programs where minority students have had positive experiences. Countries with wide ethnic diversity like Brazil, Costa Rica, South Africa, and England or those, such as Thailand, in which religious and cultural beliefs encourage tolerance of all peoples, may be good choices. However, you should not necessarily automatically rule out those places which are more homogeneous or less tolerant. The real issue is making an informed choice.
Many students select places in spite of knowing that they are likely to encounter some overt or subtle discrimination there. If you are prepared for whatever attitudes exist, you will usually be able to handle it more constructively. The same is true for your parents, who most likely grew up in times less tolerant than today and, as a result, are afraid to send their children into a situation where they could encounter discrimination. You and your study abroad advisor or perhaps the parents of another returned minority student will need to work with your parents so that they will become comfortable with your choice. There are networks of individuals who can help you and your parents will have a better experience.
Your study abroad advisor should be able to tell you about programs that have offered highly positive experiences to minority participants, and – just as importantly – those that haven’t. In addition, she or he may be able to put you in touch with other minority students who have studied abroad. You can also access the website of the Council on International Educational Exchange for a list of study abroad advisors who can link you up with past minority participants willing to speak with their peers about work, study and volunteer abroad programs in the country where they spent time. This information is available at www.ciee.org/mindis.htm, and is part of the Forum on Underrepresentation in Education Abroad, cosponsored By NAFSA: Association of International Educators. If requested, the North American Office of Lancaster University can provide minority students and their parents with the names and contact numbers for past minority students and their parents. Many programs use returning students, including minorities, as ambassadors, giving out their names as contacts for their programs. Exploring Your Heritage. Some minority students may wish to study in a country primarily to explore their cultural roots, whether racial, ethnic, or religious. If this applies to you, consult a study abroad advisor about appropriate programs. While most students who choose a country as part of “heritage-seeking” find it a rewarding experience, nearly all report that they were perceived as primarily ‘American’ by their hosts – a perception which can be devastating if a student is not prepared for this type of seeming rejection in a region previously thought to be “homeland.” Being seen primarily as an ‘American,’ in spite of one’s family roots, often occurs not only in African countries for African American students, but also in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan, Israel, and even Mexico for students with this heritage. Hispanic students who do not speak fluent Spanish or Asian Americans who cannot speak Japanese or Chinese with some fluency may have a harder time on this type of “heritage” study than other students who expect to be seen as a foreigner and not a long lost relative.
Another issue associated with heritage study abroad is that first generation American parents sometimes want their children to rediscover family ‘roots’ via study abroad, while their daughters or sons may want to go somewhere else entirely. Your study abroad advisor or your academic advisor may be able to help convince such parents otherwise. It is often necessary to use all your “assets” in order to get permission and support to go abroad, no matter what the destination. Some American colleges initiate contact with parents in order to play a supportive and informing role in this decision. One of the reasons for parental hesitancy is often that student is the main English-speaker for the family and is needed to take grandmother to the doctor and provide a bridge to the English speaking world. Nonetheless, the family can be reassured by help from the study abroad advisor.
If you are concerned about being the only non-white student in a study abroad group or perhaps the only 1 or 2 in a group of 100+, look into programs that are sponsored by institutions with sizable minority populations. Traditionally black colleges, such as Spelman and Lincoln, or colleges with a substantial Hispanic student body, such as Pitzer or Scripps, may sponsor study abroad programs, or can direct you to the sponsors of programs that their students use on a regular basis. You could also try to convince friends of color to study abroad with you, but remember that one of the primary goals of study abroad is to make friends in your host country.
There are several special sources of financial aid earmarked for minority students. If you attend a College Fund/UNCF institution or Howard or Hampton, you are eligible for the Luard Fellowship of The English Speaking Union in New York City. This award covers the full cost of an academic year abroad at a British university of your choice. Students can apply in the fall of their sophomore year for their junior year. Three or four grants are given per year. See your study abroad advisor if you attend an eligible school. Lancaster University provides two Fylde College Scholarships each year for minority students. These grants are approximately 700 pounds sterling and can be used to cover the cost of food and other expenses.
The Robert Bailey Scholarships are distributed each semester by Council/CIEE to minority students on their own programs. The application dates are in October and April. The grants are approximately $500 – $1000. The College Fund/UNCF runs a program with the Department of Education and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation called “The Institute for International Public Policy.” This is a multiple year commitment for a summer institute after the sophomore year, half the costs of study abroad in the junior year, a Woodrow Wilson junior institute in the summer after the junior year, special language training after the senior year or an internship overseas and then a fellowship to cover much of the cost of an MA degree in International Studies at an APSIA institution, like Georgetown, SAIS, Tufts, or Princeton. Applications for this grant are available to sophomores with a 3.25 in the winter of the sophomore year who are African American, Asian American, Hispanic American or Native American. Twenty scholarships are given each year. Minority students have also done extremely well in the National Security Education Program Fellowship competitions (NSEP). African American, Hispanic American and Asian American students have done extremely well in this competition for fellowships to non-traditional study abroad destinations in diverse disciplines, including science and engineering, social sciences and business. See campus NSEP representative for information. Deadline is typically in early February.
Specialized Financial Aid. Ask your study abroad advisor or financial-aid officer for assistance in locating grants or loans to study abroad. Some foundations offer special minority scholarships that may be used for study abroad. The federal government has aid targeted to “nontraditional” students – those who are underrepresented in study abroad programs. Some study abroad sponsors, in addition to offering scholarships and work-study, offer special grants or are willing to waive fees for minority students in an effort to attract a diverse student group, including students who might not qualify for other types of aid.
A good source for financial aid for Hispanic students is Hispanic Yearbook-Anuario Hispano, published by TIYM Publishing Co. You can get more information online at http://hispanicyearbook.com/. This guide lists Hispanic organizations, publications, radio and TV stations, though not specifically for grant-giving purposes. Complete contents available online, or you may order a copy by contacting TIYM.
Students With Disabilities
Finding a Program Which can Accommodate Your Needs. If you are a US student with a disabilities, you need to know that studying abroad remains an option worth exploring. Whether you have a physical or mobility, learning or psychiatric disability, visual or hearing impairment, a wide range of international opportunities may be still be open to you. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 has sensitized study abroad offices, international exchange programs, and voluntary service projects regarding the need to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities who choose to study outside of the United States. Be sure that your advisor and program provider know what accommodations you will need early in the planning process. You may be asked to provide documentation specifying the nature of your disability. Obviously, there are some limiting factors.
Although programs and universities abroad are becoming more aware of the inclusion of students with disabilities, the extent to which accommodations can be provided depends on the nature of the accommodation needs, the general situation in that particular country regarding accessibility and available services, and the creativity and flexibility of the student and staff/faculty in planning for the experience abroad. Programs will try to provide accommodations as necessary, such as more exam time for a student with a learning disability, materials in alternative formats or readers for someone who is blind, interpreters for a deaf participant, or an accessible home-stay for a person who uses a wheelchair. Some schools abroad also can arrange contact between students with disabilities from the US and the host country.
Mobility International USA/The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange. If you have a disability and would like to study abroad, your advisor may recommend, in addition to exploring your own institution’s program, that you contact Mobility International USA (MIUSA). MIUSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for people with disabilities in international exchange, leadership development, disability rights training and community service and, in collaboration with the United States Information Agency, coordinates the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange.
The Clearinghouse works with international exchange organizations to increase the inclusion of students with disabilities in their international programs and to advise on ways for making their programs accessible. It provides free information and referral to individuals with disabilities who would like to study, volunteer, or work abroad. MIUSA and the Clearinghouse also publish a semi-annual journal, books, videos and brochures with useful information for those with disabilities who are planning international opportunities. Contact MIUSA and the Clearinghouse at:
Mobility International USA/National Clearinghouse On Disability and Exchange
PO Box 10767
Eugene, OR 97440
Phone: 541-343-1284 (voice/TTY)
An excellent reference for students with disabilities who want to study in Europe or Canada is Studying Abroad: A Guide to Accessible University Programs and Facilities for Students with Disabilities. This is available from:
University of New Orleans Training, Resource and Assistive-Technology Center
PO Box 1051
New Orleans, LA 70148
Voluntary Service Projects. International voluntary service projects are open to qualified students with disabilities. Examples of voluntary service projects could include building homes for families, establishing art and recreation programs for children, or planting gardens in urban areas. In some areas, if you wish you can participate in projects assisting people with disabilities in the host country. For example, you might choose to teach sign language to children who are hearing impaired.
Travel. US airlines are required to accommodate travelers with Disabilities. A publication called New Horizonsfor Air Travel with a Disability will tell you about your rights. This is available free of charge by contacting:
Department of Transportation Office of Consumer Affairs
400 Seventh St SW, Rm 10454
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: 202-366-2220 (voice) or 202-755-7687 (TTY)
On foreign carriers, accessibility varies. If you plan to travel on a non-US airline, find out what their policy is regarding Individuals with disabilities and let them know what you need well In advance of departure. General travel and accessibility Information is available from:
Society for the Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH)
347 Fifth Avenue, Ste 610
New York, NY 10016
Organizations for those with Disabilities in the Host Country. Once you’ve chosen a country, contact organizations there for people with disabilities. They can tell you what conditions are like in their country for people with disabilities. They can also provide practical information, such as a list of housing that is accessible or recommendations for sign language interpreters. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange can assist in connecting you with these organizations (see contact information listed above).
How to Research Internship, Volunteer and Work Abroad Opportunities Work abroad: The other way to get an education abroad.
An increasing number of US students are interested in hands-on experience abroad, either as a way to immerse themselves in the local culture or to prepare for an international career. You can get this experience through:
For credit or not for credit? A work experience can be offered as an integral part of a study abroad program, in which case academic credit may be built in (if the program is offered by your own college) or may be transferred towards your degree. Study abroad programs that offer work experiences – usually unpaid – charge tuition and give academic credit. Financial aid may be available.
Alternatively, some work abroad programs are not part of a formal study abroad program, so credit is less likely to be granted for them unless you make special arrangements beforehand. Financial aid is usually not available for non-academic programs.
If you’re interested in receiving academic credit for a work abroad experience, consult a study abroad advisor for your school’s policy on how to get credit for internships and voluntary service projects (sometimes termed experiential learning). Some schools require that a student have an advisor who evaluates their activities abroad. Students keep journals or write reports, and may be interviewed by their advisor after returning home.
Paid or unpaid? If you prefer to work abroad in a paid job, be aware that you’ll need a work permit. Special officially-recognized work exchange programs, listed in the Paid Work Abroad Programs section below, make this relatively easy to arrange in many countries. Working abroad without a work permit could subject you to deportation or heavy fines!
Internships. Internships provide direct experience in the student’s major field of study, giving students an opportunity to try out a career. They vary in length from a few months to one year.
These programs are often for students who have completed at least two years of college. Internship placements are developed in close consultation with program administrators or faculty advisors and are tailored to suit each individual student’s needs. Interns may be placed abroad at museums, schools, government offices, international organizations, or corporations.
There are three main types of internships:
Initiative is an important quality for a successful internship. You may have to demonstrate that you can handle responsibility before you’re assigned to interesting projects.
Guide to Internships Abroad. IIEPassport: Academic Year Abroad and IIEPassport: Short Term Study Abroad have indexed listings for internships and voluntary service projects (called “volunteer/service”), practical training, teaching, or research. Look in the books’ indexes under “Special Options.” Or use these as search terms in IIE’s outstanding website, www.IIEPassport.org.
Voluntary Service Projects. International voluntary service projects offer opportunities to young people from all over the world to live and work together with local people in community development. Not only do you help others, you experience the local lifestyle and learn firsthand about the political and social issues of a region. This could involve building a school in rural Senegal, planting trees in Brazil, or taking care of children in a Russian orphanage. Voluntary service projects are a good opportunity for students interested in a career in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or working with developing countries. Voluntary service projects may be sponsored by NGOs, religious organizations, or government organizations such as the Peace Corps.
Often, no special skills are required. Hundreds of short-term voluntary service projects (also known as “workcamps”) take place during the summer for two- or three-week periods, but it is also possible to participate in semester or academic-year programs. For graduates, paid long-term volunteering for a period of two years through programs such as the Peace Corps may be an option. Many short-term projects are offered in Europe (and worldwide), with longer-term projects usually taking place in developing countries.
Some study abroad programs incorporate a service project – you pay tuition for a program of coursework combined with volunteering, and get academic credit. IIEPassport: Academic Year Abroad and IIEPassport: Short Term Study Abroad are good sources for finding “service-learning” study abroad programs.
For other short-term, nonacademic volunteer service projects, the work is usually unpaid but volunteers may receive room and board. Nearly all programs charge fees (from $200 upwards) to partially cover the costs of placing, training, and on-site support of volunteers.
To learn the highs and lows of voluntary service projects that interest you, talk to former participants. Most organizations will provide contact information on students and others who have participated in their programs. A good book on the benefits and challenges of volunteering abroad is How to Serve & Learn Abroad Effectively: Students Tell Students, available from:
International Partnership for Service-Learning
815 Second Ave, Ste 315
New York, NY 10017
An excellent list of resources, containing information on both short- and long-term programs for volunteering abroad, may be found in the following section, “Resources for Study, Work and Careers Abroad-Work and Volunteering Abroad” beginning on page lx.
To register for short-term volunteer service programs, contact:
VFP (Volunteers for Peace)
1034 Tiffany Rd
Belmont, VT 05730-0202
Web: www.vfp.org, or the CIEE (see next section)
The Peace Corps, a US government-sponsored program offered in over 90 countries, is one of the largest and best-paying volunteer programs, if you are ready to make a two-year commitment and are qualified. Contact:
1990 K St NW
Washington, DC 20526
Paid Work Abroad Exchange Programs. These programs offer work permits and placements into short-term paid jobs, or on-site assistance in finding them. Programs are usually for a period of a summer or semester, though some offer permits for up to 18 months. Work exchange programs operate on the basis of official reciprocal exchange agreements between the US and foreign governments.
Some of these programs assist with work permits and the on-site job search, while others offer placements. Fees range between $200-1,000. Most participants are able to earn enough to cover their expenses while abroad.
Types of paid jobs available run the gamut from internships to typical summer jobs such as temping and restaurant work. But you’re less likely to find paid work in governmental or non-profit sectors and in non-applied fields such as the fine arts or social sciences. Also, work in less-developed countries, if it can be found at all, will pay at local wage rates – a fraction of wages in the US!
AIESEC (from the French acronym for the International Association of Students in Economics & Business Management) is an international student-run organization which offers approximately 5,000 paid internships each year in business and other fields in over 80 countries. Application for AIESEC internships is usually possible only through campus chapters. Contact:
127 West 26th St, 10th Fl
New York, NY 10001
AIPT (Association for International Practical Training) / IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience). IAESTE offers engineering & science internships in over 60 countries for students (apply by early December). The Student Exchanges Program offers work permits in numerous countries for students who find their own internships. The Career Development program provides work permits for up to 18 months in Austria (11 month limit), Britain (12 month limit), Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Slovak Republic, Sweden, and Switzerland for university graduates who find their own placements. Contact:
10 Corporate Center, Ste 250
10400 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044-3519
American-Scandinavian Foundation. This non-profit organization offers internship placements in Scandinavian countries for students of technical subjects as well as positions in Finland for teaching English or farming. ASF can also assist with short-term work permits in Scandinavian countries for those who have job offers. Contact:
58 Park Ave
New York, NY 10016
BUNAC (British Universities North American Club). Non-profit organization, offers the Work in Britain program. With 6,000 American participants annually, this is one of the most popular work abroad programs. The program provides a work-permit and job-search assistance, but does not offer job placements. BUNAC’s Work in Britain handbook has a large selection of addresses of potential employers. BUNAC also offers a similar Work in Australia program. For students and recent graduates (within one semester of graduation) only. Contact:
BUNAC: Work in Britain & Australia programs
PO Box 430
Southbury, CT 06488
Phone: 800-GO-BUNAC or 203-264-0901
Camp Counselors USA. This non-profit organization offers several programs for students and non-students: Work in Australia and Work in New Zealand, as well as programs which offer placements to serve as camp counselors in Russia and Venezuela. Contact:
2330 Marinship Way, Ste 250
Sausalito, CA 94965
CDS International. A non-profit organization that offers paid internship programs in Germany for students, graduates and professionals for periods ranging from a summer to a year. CDS can also assist with work permits in Germany for those who have job offers. Contact:
871 United Nations Plaza, 15th Fl
New York, NY 10017-1814
CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange or COUNCIL Exchanges). The non-profit Council Work Abroad program, one of the largest work abroad programs (with over 2,000 US participants annually), offers short-term work permits and job search support for France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, Costa Rica, Australia and New Zealand. The Council also offers a Teach in China program and International Volunteer Projects in around 30 countries. Contact:
7 Custom House St, 3rd Fl
Portland, ME 04101
Phone: 800-40-STUDY or 207-553-7600
InterExchange. A non-profit organization which offers a variety of placements for students and non-students. Apply four months in advance of desired departure date: English Teaching in Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland; internships in Germany for marketing, trade and tourism, museums, and business; farm work in Norway; au pair (child care) placements in Austria, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. Contact:
InterExchange 161 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10013
International Cooperative Education Program. This program provides around 450 paid summer internships in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Japan, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil or Chile for students and recent graduates who have studied the appropriate language: German, French, Italian, Finnish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish or Portuguese. Apply by January. Contact:
International Cooperative Education Program
15 Spiros Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Teaching English Abroad. English has become the language of choice for much of the world when it comes to business, technology, diplomacy and higher education. Because of this, teaching English abroad is an accessible and popular option for paid long-term working abroad – especially for college graduates (a few programs, including ones designed for student teaching, are open to current students). The need for teachers of English is greatest in regions outside of Western Europe.
Several of the programs already mentioned above offer placements for teaching English abroad – AIESEC, the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the CIEE Teach in China program, InterExchange, and the Peace Corps.
Examples of other major programs for teaching English abroad include:
Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships. One-year positions available in Belgium & Luxembourg, France, Germany, Hungary, Korea and Turkey. Bachelor’s degree required; strong preference is given to majors in appropriate foreign language who intend to be future teachers. Application deadline is in mid-September a year before the position starts. Contact:
Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships
US Student Programs Division
Institute of International Education
809 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017-3580
JET Program. Sponsored by the Japanese government, this program offers placements for teaching English in junior or senior high schools in Japan for one year. Several thousand positions available each year. Bachelor’s degree and US citizenship required. Application deadline is in early December. Also, for those with at least intermediate command of Japanese, Coordinator of International Relations positions are available. Contact:
Office of the JET Program
Embassy of Japan
2520 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 202-238-6772, 202-238-6773
Web: www.us.emb-japan.go.jp or http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/jet/index.html
How to find out more about working abroad and international careers. The magazine Transitions Abroad is the only US publication which regularly publishes first-hand reports about work abroad – see if your college’s study abroad office carries it. For listings of many more work abroad programs than we have room for here, along with some of the best articles from Transitions Abroad, get their book, Work Abroad: The Complete Guide to Finding a Job Overseas, Clay Hubbs, editor, 1999. Contact:
PO Box 745
Bennington, VT 05201
For books about long-term international careers, we especially recommend the Directory of Websites for International Jobs, by Ron and Caryl Krannich, 2002, Impact Publications, and ,i>International Jobs: Where They Are, How to Get Them, by Eric Kocher and Nina Segal, 2003, Basic Books. These and many other international job resources can be ordered from:
9104 Manassas Dr
Manassas Park, VA 20111-5211
Websites for Work Abroad and International Careers. These are good sites to start with, and are far better than a random search of the web. Each site provide links to many, many more sites and programs specifically about working abroad:
www.www.iie.org, Institute of International Education
www.transitionsabroad.com, Transitions Abroad magazine
www.www.cie.uci.edu/~cie/iop, University of California-Irvine, International Opportunities Program
www.umich.edu/~icenter/overseas, University of Michigan, International Center
www.istc.umn.edu, University of Minnesota, International Study and Travel Center (ISTC)
www.internationaleducation.wlu.edu/workabroad.htm, Washington and Lee University, Office of International Education