Studying abroad in Barcelona was the highlight of my college experience, from the croissants to the museums, to the late night dinners. I was able to practice my Spanish in an entirely new context, and learn so much for my double major. Being there was the fun part, but prepping to get there was the stressful part! There is a multitude of programs and scholarship options for college students that want to study abroad, and it can be so overwhelming. Here are my five tips for study abroad prep that made my life much easier while preparing for Barça!
1 // Go abroad for yourself
Please, please, please do not follow your friends to a study abroad program. This kind of experience should be for you, and no one else. If you’re interested in a program that’s in a different city than where your friends want to go, stick with your choice anyway. It’s so much more fulfilling that way. Also, it’s very likely you will meet people from all over the U.S. and locals of the country where you’re studying.
It is likely the only time in your life where you’re surrounded by new people and there are so many opportunities to meet other Americans as well! I only met my roommate from my program because we both came to our program without friends, and we still have a great friendship! Remember that this experience is for you to cherish forever, so don’t do it for other people.
2 // Apply to a couple of programs — not a bunch
The semester before a study abroad experience is already stressful; don’t overload yourself with more work! I only applied to one study abroad program, and I would suggest applying to a maximum of three. Most study abroad programs don’t have strict GPA requirements, and if your GPA is below the acceptance level, most will accept a written statement explaining it and advocating for your ability to study abroad and succeed.
3 // Thoroughly research the credit transfers and financial aid policies from your school
This point is so, so important. At the end of the day, you’re working towards your degree(s) while you go to the destination of your dreams. You definitely want to make 100% sure that your credits from studying abroad will transfer to your home institution, and that they will count towards your major or minor if you need them to. This can be the most stressful part of the process, so get help from the study abroad office and/or the registrar at your home school.
Getting your financial aid and scholarships to transfer can be really taxing as well, so start early! Set up an appointment with your school’s financial aid office to go over all of your options, and write to outside scholarship committees about using their funds for your study abroad program. There are also scholarships available through most study abroad companies, so there are lots of options to make study abroad affordable.
4 // Learn a little about where you want to travel
Your study abroad experience will be even more enjoyable if you learn a little bit about the place you’re going. Some destinations have attractions you’ll need to book tickets for months in advance. Others are more open, so do your homework about the places you want to visit while you’re abroad. However, spontaneity is your friend, so leave some things to chance! Some of my favorite memories of my study abroad experience are places I decided to visit on a whim with people I’d just met. Don’t rob yourself of that chance!
5 // Spend as much time with your loved ones as possible before you go
I cannot highlight this enough. One of the hardest parts about being abroad is missing the important people in your life. I’m so thankful I prioritized time with my mom before I left for Barcelona, because I went four months without seeing her in person. FaceTime calls helped me get through, but it’s just not the same. Studying abroad will be so worth the difficulties of being away from familiarity and comfort, but there are sacrifices.
One way that can help you get through is planning a trip together with the people you love! My mom came to Europe and we traveled together after my program. It gave me something to look forward to, and I got to share part of my study abroad experience with her. If you plan on going home at the end of your program, plan a staycation with the important people in your life instead! The best part is having special time with them right before and right after your study abroad experience.
Above all, make the most of your time away from your home school. It is the experience of a lifetime, and you’ll never forget it!