College of Charleston is nationally ranked for the large number of students who choose to study abroad every year, in large part because of the wide range of international programs that complement any available major. Wouldn’t it be lovely to stroll along the River Thames after a class taught by a professor with an exquisite British accent? How about a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower before class? Some authentic gelato on the streets of Rome instead of “Italian” ice from Waterfront Park? Imagine yourself with some fellow art history students studying famous works of art at the Louvre. Say hello to study abroad: the act of attending a university in a foreign land (foreign meaning not Charleston, SC).
Studying abroad comes in all shapes and sizes. You can choose a school sponsored program for a semester or a College of Charleston program led by a professor. If the College does not offer the exact program you want, affiliate programs have more individualized options, allowing you to customize where you want to go and what you want to do. According to the College’s website, “Affiliate programs are a third-party provider or another U.S. university that facilitates enrollment at a host institution or offers their own courses abroad.” That means that you sort of transfer for a semester (or shorter).
Let’s begin the exciting, magical journey into studying abroad.
WHEN TO GO
When to study abroad is a crucial decision in your college career. Freshman year is out of the question. First semester freshman year is not an option for obvious reasons, and second semester is just as important as first semester in terms of getting settled into a new school. You need to spend at least a year at the school to make sure it is the right fit. By going away so early, you are doing yourself an injustice.
Sophomore year is an option; second semester is more convenient than first if you can swing it. By the second semester of sophomore year, most students still have some core classes left to complete, which are the easiest courses to find equivalents of abroad. Most, if not all, universities around the globe offer history and science courses, so you can be sure to find the right classes to keep you on track for graduation and enough credit hours to keep your scholarship. Who wouldn’t want to get their core classes out of the way in a beautiful city in a different country?
Junior year is the most popular option because many study abroad programs cater to a specific set of majors. Gaining global experience in your field of interest is immensely beneficial to your resume. Additionally, juniors bring a higher level of maturity to the experience, so it might be easier to appreciate everything about the semester abroad, from the power of monuments and sites to the cultural differences.
Senior year is not recommended because it is your last year of college (hopefully). Seniors are typically busy crossing off any remaining items on their Charleston bucket list, exploring available job opportunities or applying to graduate school. You do not want to be stressing out about your future career during your semester abroad. You want to enjoy every last second of the best four years of your life.
Should you go abroad fall or spring semester? There are so many factors that influence which semester is best for you. Keep in mind the weather in whichever country you choose. Also double check the course schedule at your university of choice and at the College; there might be an essential class that is only offered during one semester in either location.
WHERE TO GO
Where do you want to expand your horizons? Can you speak another language? Do you want to go somewhere known for its rich history of vikings or somewhere known for a lot of sunshine and tropical fish? Can you afford to live in an expensive city or do you want save costs and stay somewhere cheaper? These are all important factors when choosing where you want to study.
The U.K. is one of the five most chosen countries to study abroad, and understandably so. London draws millions of people to experience its culture every year. London is a big city with lots of historic buildings, a great nightlife and an English-speaking population. On the weekends you can visit Buckingham Palace or any of the numerous castles around the country. You can literally walk the same halls as Elizabeth I or Henry VIII. The drawbacks are the high price of living and the dreary weather.
Another (warmer) country among the top five most popular destinations is Italy. Italy is especially good for art and architecture students, and it also offers a history filled with handmade pizza and tales of Ancient Rome.
Asian countries offer a glimpse into a non-Western lifestyle. China is popular among business students because of its rapidly growing economy. If expense is a priority when choosing your study abroad location, Mexico City is one of the cheapest locations for students because of the low cost of food, transportation and living. If you want greenery, adventure and heavily accented English, then Australia is a great choice. Australia boasts so many beaches that you could go to a different beach every day for 29 years!
HOW LONG TO STAY
How long do you feel comfortable being away from the United States? How long do you feel comfortable not seeing your family and friends? Some people have no problem creating distance, and for these people, a semester (or longer) is a great idea. If you cannot imagine being away for more than two weeks, consider spring break trips or classes that offer a short trip abroad. If you are somewhere in the middle, a summer abroad is a great idea. Taking a few classes one summer to get them out of the way in London or Venice sounds a lot better than taking the courses at your local community college. This is also a great way to get electives out of the way. Why wouldn’t you take a theatre class at The Globe in London or an art class in Paris?
HOW MUCH TO PAY
The average price of study abroad for a semester is similar to the cost of a typical semester at the College. A summer program, on the other hand, costs upward of $7,000. Any trip to Europe or somewhere across an ocean has an airfare worth least $1,000. Cost of living should also be factored into the amount of time you plan to live abroad. The longer you are away, the more money you are going to spend on travel and food. Being away for a shorter amount of time can be more cost effective. On the other hand, going abroad for a longer amount of time allows you to get more for your money. Is it worth it to spend $1,000 on an airplane ticket for one week, or is it more advantageous to spend that amount of money for a trip that will last a few months?
Overall, studying abroad is a rewarding experience filled with new adventures and a new understanding of the world. You not only learn your course material, but also open your mind to cultural differences and have experiences that will stay with you forever. Study abroad. It’s good for your education and good for your soul.
This article first appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Yard.