Experiencing a new culture, a new country and a new language is an opportunity unlike any other. Whether someone is a second-year engineering student or a third-year zoology student, studying abroad can enhance any degree program. Many students who study abroad still graduate in four years. The benefits of studying abroad are endless. Here are some tips to get ready for studying abroad.
Choosing a program
The first step to studying abroad is to know what kind of experience is desired. This includes not only choosing a country and city to study abroad in, but choosing a program that is right for the individual.
'What students should look for depends on what they want to get out of it,' said Joan Raducha, director of the Study Abroad Office. 'Do they need to fulfill classes in their major or do they need general education requirements? Are they looking for classes taught in English or classes in a foreign language? Living with a host family is very important to some students while other students would rather live in a dorm. It is essential for students to ask themselves, 'What do I really want out of this experience''?
Study abroad resources
UW-Madison Study Abroad
UW-Madison Financial Aid
252 Bascom Hall open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Resource Room, 252 Bascom
Tuesday, Sept. 25, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 25, 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Once a student has thought about what he or she is looking for in a study abroad program, it is time to start narrowing down choices of programs and consulting his or her adviser. There are many resources for students to use in order to do this. For Jim Isaac, an international relations and German major, his choice came down to two programs.
'There were two programs offered in Germany and I specifically wanted to improve my language skills,' Isaac said. 'I chose Freiburg over Bonn after talking to my professor, my adviser and students who had gone on the program. The costs of the two programs were approximately the same.'
Besides consulting advisers, professors and students who have gone on the program, the Web is also a great source of information on study abroad programs.
'There are lots of ways that students can look for a program,' Raducha said. 'The Web is a great place to start. UW-Madison has a study abroad Web site, but students can also use a search engine to find programs on other campuses. An easy place for students to start is the Resource Room in 252 Bascom which is staffed by peer advisers who are students [with] study abroad experience.'
Depending on a student's major, there are many options for studying abroad within his or her field of study. There are international programs offered in the College of Letters and Science, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the School of Business, the College of Engineering and the Institute for Environmental Studies. Consulting professors and advisers helps students choose a program and plan what classes to take both abroad and upon their return.
Jenny Patrick, a fourth-year student studying Russian who just returned from a year abroad on the UW-Madison Moscow program, consulted numerous sources before settling on her program.
'I talked to my adviser who was my professor at the time,' Patrick said. 'I looked on the Internet at the [Web] page which detailed more information on the program to Moscow and I found out more at the Center for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia where I worked.'
While UW-Madison offers more than 60 study abroad programs varying in length from a summer to a semester to a year, some students choose to go on programs sponsored by other universities. For fourth-year student Sarah Gerl, a zoology major, it was just a matter of finding the right program.
'I always knew that I wanted to go abroad. At first I wanted to go to London because it was more like the United States, but then I decided I wanted something less Western and I heard about my program by chance,' Gerl said. 'I looked at the UW[-Madison] Study Abroad office, but then I heard about my program to Poland through my cousin who went to UW-Stevens Point.'
Applying for a program and paying for it
Once a student has settled on the program that fits his or her needs, it is time to start the application process. Depending on what program a student is applying for and what institution the program is from, the application process will vary. For programs that will be taught in a foreign language, there is a language evaluation that must be completed by a professor. Often there is a short personal statement on why a student wants to go abroad and what challenges will be faced.
Since most programs require a minimum GPA to go, a transcript may be necessary as well. For UW-Madison-sponsored programs, applications can be picked up in the Resource Room, 252 Bascom Hall.
Many students would love to study abroad but worry about how they will fund such an experience. Students can apply financial aid to study abroad programs. Even if a student doesn't receive financial aid, it is a good idea to apply. Students may qualify for loans to help defray costs.
'A lot of students worry about the cost of studying abroad,' Raducha said. 'A lot of programs don't cost more than going to Madison. There are need- and merit-based scholarships available in the study abroad office and financial aid carries over to studying abroad. The differences in cost are often that students need more money for travel when they are abroad.'
Following acceptance into a program, students can anticipate an orientation session to acclimate them to their program.
Benefits of studying abroad
Many students see studying abroad as the chance of a lifetime. Not only does it allow for personal growth, but it also gives students the chance to learn about and explore a new culture and a new country while in many cases improving their language skills.
'Some of the real benefits from studying abroad include building individual self-sufficiency skills,' Raducha said. 'When students arrive in a city, they need to negotiate the transportation system and meet new people. Students gain a kind of confidence from that independence.'
Advice from students who have gone abroad
So the applications have been filled out, the program has been paid for and the luggage has been packed. What else is left? Three students who have studied abroad have some advice about how to get ready.
'Once you know where you're going, it is important to follow the news and find out what is going on in your country,' Gerl said. 'Don't reinforce stereotypes of Americans by not knowing what is going on or what the form of government is in the country you are studying in.'
Patrick offered advice on what a student's mindset should be.
'Be patient because things don't always work the way you want them to,' Patrick said. 'It is important to go with an open mind and not too high of expectations.'
Culture shock can be a problem not only when a student arrives in a foreign country but also when he or she returns to the United States.
'I experienced more [in Germany] in one year than the past 21 years of my life,' Isaac said. 'Know that it is going to be challenging and that there will be lows and highs. It took awhile and a lot of effort to get to know Germans because they are not always outgoing. Take every opportunity to get out and separate yourself from Americans in order to improve your language. While studying in Germany, there was a newness and a freshness of everyday, but when I returned it was like coming back to the ordinary and it took some time for me to re-assimilate.'