Finding the Right Study Abroad Program
Finding the Right Study Abroad Program
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Multiple study abroad programs serve nearly every city in the world, but not every program is approved by your college. Check with your study abroad office to learn your options. You may opt for a program in which you take classes with other Americans or you might prefer to jump into classes with locals. You might want to live with a host family or in the dorms. When deciding on your program, consider your academic and personal preferences and your ability to get approval for credit transfer.

Choosing a Program Approved for Credit Transfers

Your study abroad office maintains a list of all of the programs it approves. If you participate on a program approved by your college, you can rest assured that the credits you earn abroad will transfer back to your school. (You will still need to work with your advisor if you want to count any of those credits toward your major.)

Sometimes, your school approves more than one study abroad program in each destination. It may even sponsor programs, meaning that the only participants are other students from your college. Other times, it does not approve any programs in a specific location at all.

If you do not find your choices to your liking, you may be able to petition the study abroad office to approve of a program hosted by another institution. If you want to study abroad without traveling as part of a program, you will also need to petition your college for approval. In fact, all study abroad students should work with their advisors, study abroad offices, and host universities to make sure their credits from abroad will transfer back home.

Choosing the Right Academic Experience

Different program models offer students different academic experiences. Consider your preferences and goals. How do you want to learn? From and with whom? How much guidance do you need?

  • For students who want to learn with other Americans: Island study abroad programs cater to U.S. students. They recreate a typical North American classroom overseas. Faculty from U.S. colleges are often the instructors and the language of instruction is usually English, which is great for students who aren’t fluent in a second language. Island programs thereby create an enclave of American learners within the host country. Any time you participate in a program or travel class sponsored by your college (only open to students at your college), you are participating in an island experience.
  • For students who want to immerse themselves as much as possible: In an integrated study abroad experience, students register directly for classes at a foreign university, not at an extension of a North American one. Their classmates are degree-seeking local students, and their professors are faculty from the host country. Integrated study abroad experiences attract independent students who are fluent in the language of the host country. There are two types of integrated experiences:
    • Direct enrollment: Students who undertake direct enrollment do not register for a study abroad program at all. Instead, they take a leave of absence from their home universities to enroll at a foreign institution. The student is in charge of everything, from housing to class registration. Students who directly enroll must work with their home universities more than any other students. Credit transfer can be tricky without administrative support.
    • Facilitated Direct Enrollment: To avoid extra responsibilities, a student may choose a facilitated direct enrollment. This type of program helps the student register for classes without compromising the immersive experience.
  • For students who want immersion and support: Hybrid programs situate themselves between the island model and the integrated one. In a hybrid program, students take some classes—usually concentrating on the language or history of a host country—at a study center with other U.S. students. The rest of their credits are completed at a foreign university with local degree-seeking classmates.
  • For students who want to conduct an independent study abroad: Field-based programs, like hybrid programs, may require classes with other North Americans, with local students, or with both. Their differentiating feature is that they also have an independent study component. A student may have to perform research, write a thesis, or participate in an internship. Students customize their education and explore topics of interest hands-on. SIT is the largest study abroad organization to offer field-based programs.

Choosing the Right Housing

Some programs require that students live in a certain kind of housing, like with a host family or in a dorm. Other programs are flexible and let students pick their preferences. It could be that you have your heart set on one type of housing situation, so you pick a program that accommodates your preferences. Otherwise, you must decide which type of housing you prefer later. Either way, study abroad students typically live in one of three housing situations:

  • Host families: Living with a family during your time abroad gives you the most immersive experience possible. Your hosts become your immediate support system, conversation partners, and windows into the culture. Usually, you have your own bedroom and set of keys to the house. Depending on your agreement with the family, you receive one to three home-cooked meals a day. Some students enjoy the company and guidance. Others find it smothering after living on their own at college.
  • Apartments: Living on your own while abroad means total independence. You get to decide in which neighborhood you’d like to live, if you’d like to have a roommate, when and what to cook, etc. It’s all up to you. On the downside, the experience can be isolating, especially in a foreign country. As far as safety goes, you must be extra cautious. You don’t necessarily have a buddy who immediately notices if you don’t come home from class one day.
  • Dorms: Dorm life might be the answer for you if you love the college experience and want to emulate it abroad. You often live with other students from all over the world, not necessarily from your host country. You can explore together, but you may not get any linguistic immersion.

Your perfect study abroad program will be the one where you get the academic and living experiences that you want, and one where the credits will easily (if not seamlessly) transfer to your home institution. For some students, the perfect semester abroad involves living in the dorms and enrolling at a foreign institution. Others want to study abroad with the friends they’ve already made at their home institution and live in apartments. Only you can decide what type of program is right for you.

Page last updated: 01/2019