Taking a big bite into a French croissant dipped in chocolate more than likely beats the usual, questionable food at the dining hall. Going for a run on a fitness center treadmill hardly competes with taking a hike up Mount Doom in New Zealand. Enjoying a pint of Guinness while singing along with an Irish band in an Dublin pub is far superior to the frat house you’ve visited every weekend this year.
Taking classes outside of the classroom and across the globe opens up a door of opportunity, lessons and life-changing experiences for college students. According to the United States Institute of International Education, more than 270,000 American students journey across the globe each year to enhance their college experience. Will you be next?
For most students, traveling abroad is more than just booking a flight and getting a pocket translator. Before jetting off, students usually have to save some extra cash, make arrangements with their advisers back home for transferring credits and scheduling classes, apply to an international program, organize identification papers such as student visas and passports, and much more. The entire process can be overwhelming, and some students end up leaving without being totally prepared for what’s ahead.
Students don’t have to face these dilemmas alone. There is an endless supply of resources for students to take advantage of at each college or university. Syracuse University holds a study abroad fair each semester for interested students to learn more. Le Moyne College has information sessions each week where students can learn more and have their questions answered. SUNY has a universal system set up where SUNY students can travel through any program at any SUNY school—so if you’re at Cortland, but Oswego offers travel to Moscow, you can use Oswego’s program. Most schools in Central New York have an international studies office on campus where students can find resources and more information.
For senior Claire Wickersham, SUNY Cortland helped make her adventure to Cork, Ireland, this summer run smoother by providing her with a PowerPoint presentation, several information sessions, hard-copied information, and even an invitation to a Facebook group where she and her colleagues could discuss the trip.
Bethany Dixon, a senior at Le Moyne College, also turned to her school’s study abroad resources to ensure her credits would transfer and her costs wouldn’t skyrocket. “I found that using a Le Moyne program made it easier to transfer credits,” she says. “By going through Le Moyne, I was also able to pay the same tuition that I pay at Le Moyne.”
When all is said, done, paid and packed, students head toward the airport and are off to their overseas destinations. Some feel excited and anxious to head out into the new world. Some are nervous about what lies ahead of them. Being in a foreign country is a major culture shock for a lot of students, some of whom have to learn a foreign language before traveling. Other students opt to brush up on some current culture and history. However, all students agree that being in a foreign country means expecting the unexpected and anticipating whatever the country throws at you.
“Always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Nicole Albrigo, a junior at Le Moyne College, advises. She spent this past summer in Bologna, Italy, through SU’s study abroad program. Luckily for Albrigo, her travel plans went smoothly. If not prepared, others can find themselves lost in a city without a map, dodging cars driving on the left side of the road and getting tongue-tied in foreign lingo.
Even as a Spanish speaker, Megan DiBartolomeo, a senior at SUNY Geneseo, had a hard time adjusting her accent and lifestyle to those of Oviedo, Spain. “At first it was very difficult,” she explains. “I didn’t know anybody and although I knew Spanish, I had to adjust to a completely different accent from the one I was used to. Oviedo isn’t a big city, and it’s not one where many American students choose to study abroad, so there weren’t many English-speaking people around.”
For Katherine Powers, a junior at St. Lawrence University who studied in Nairobi, Kenya, adjusting to a culture is all about keeping an open mind. “The right attitude helped my adjustment tenfold,” she says. “Many of the traditions and customs were different, but as long as I was respectful and easygoing, everything worked out fine.”
Pay to Play
Unfortunately, traveling the globe comes with costs. For some students, the price tag is enough to scare them away from the trip. For others, their school obligations keep them bound to campus throughout the academic year. Luckily, there are ways to make the journey fun, affordable and reasonable.
According to DiBartolomeo, most students don’t take full advantage of their school’s support system. Almost every school has an international exchange program, allowing students to pay the same amount abroad as they would at home.
“I paid the same tuition that I would pay to Geneseo each semester,” DiBartolomeo explains. “And since I was living on my own in Spain I just paid rent to my landlord every month. That, combined with my groceries, added up to less than I would have paid to live on Geneseo’s campus with a meal plan for a year.”
Wickersham made her journey to Cork, Ireland, affordable by spending only a summer there and applying for scholarships through her college’s study abroad office. “I would advise anyone thinking about studying abroad to apply for as many scholarships as possible, even if they do not think they will be selected for them,” Wickersham notes. “I went on SUNY Cortland’s scholarship web page and applied to every scholarship I qualified for. I was so surprised by the number I actually received.”
Zach French, a junior at St. Lawrence University, also recommended studying abroad over the summer, especially for students with busy schedules and multiple on-campus commitments. “I had always planned on studying abroad for a full semester, but I had too much to do on campus,” he says. “I simply didn’t have enough time to leave campus for a semester and accomplish everything that I had planned.” French compromised by spending a summer semester in Copenhagen, Denmark.
For some students, though, the trip abroad is worth the splurge. Mitch Burke, a senior at SUNY Geneseo, traveled to Auckland, New Zealand, last spring, and says he spent every last penny he had. “I tried to live as large as I could while I was over there because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he says. “I would definitely say the experience is worth it to spend a little extra money.”
Other trips aren’t so expensive. Powers’ stay in Nairobi was much more affordable than her peers’. That’s because the U.S. dollar exchange rate is more favorable in Kenya as opposed to the Euro. “Avoid super-touristy areas because they will be much more expensive,” Powers advises. “Spend money on experiences rather than material items because those new and unique experiences are priceless.”
Traveling to different locations all across the globe, going for a semester, year or summer, hitting the popular tourist cities or hunkering down in a small town, each student comes home with an experience that is all their own. One thing they all can agree on is a strong recommendation to other students to take a break from the classroom, pack up and travel the world.
“It’s like nothing else you will ever do,” Burke says. “It teaches you a lot about yourself as well as helping you gain perspective on the world we live in, and I think that is very valuable.”Adds Powers: “Going abroad while still at school is the best option. It is so much fun getting to travel with your peers and learn from experienced professors. Once you’ve graduated, it will be more difficult to travel because you’ll be looking for a job, starting to pay off your loans and figuring out what you next step is. Why wait?”