Studying abroad has many benefits. To begin with, you will see the world, get to know new cultures and make new friends. It can be a great way to get out of your comfort zone and build new skills and interests you never knew you were capable of.
Once you’ve made the decision to study abroad, however, the next question can be difficult to answer: Where should I study abroad? While some of your classmates might have dreamed of spending time living in Spain or Japan, for example, it’s perfectly normal to have trouble figuring out where you’d like to study internationally.
If you’re still deciding where you’d like to go, here are eight tips for choosing the perfect destination.
1. Understand the Various Benefits of Each Location
There are pros and cons to every study abroad location. You’ll want to think about the benefits of each location before deciding on where you want to study. Remember, everyone’s definition of an ideal environment is different. For some people, the hustle and bustle of a big city is thrilling and energizing. For others, it’s overwhelming. You must decide what you’re looking for and what you consider to be a benefit before you can evaluate each study abroad option.
2. Follow Your Intuition
While it’s a great idea to do your research — look at all the pros and cons, talk to advisors and peers and more — your intuition can also be a big help when trying to decide where to study abroad. In your heart, you probably know where you want to study. If your gut is nudging you toward New Zealand, Argentina or France for example, listen to it.
3. Speak with a Study Abroad Advisor
If you’ve never studied abroad before, it’s completely normal to be a little nervous and unsure. After all, you have no idea what to expect when you arrive at your placement! The good news? A study abroad advisor can help. They’ve worked with lots of students who have the same kinds of questions and concerns you do.
When you meet with your advisor, be fully prepared. Do some research in advance so you’re only asking questions you can’t get answered anywhere else. It’s a great idea to come with a list of questions. That way, you won’t forget to ask something crucial.
4. Gain Feedback From Peers
There’s good news about choosing the right study abroad location: Lots of other students have been through the process before you and may have insights that can help you. Get feedback from peers about their own study abroad engagement. They’ll not only have valuable experience to share, but they may be able to give you more specific advice on living and studying in particular locations. Don’t be shy about asking former study abroad students to tell you about their experience — most people love to share what they’re passionate about. Most students have a positive, rewarding experience studying abroad. Be sure to leverage that knowledge to your own advantage if you can.
5. Think About Your Goals
You may not have thought about what you want to get out of a study abroad program, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to figure out what your goals are. Are you just interested in learning about a new culture and expanding your horizons? Or are you considering studying abroad because the experience could help your future career? For instance, if you’re interested in working in international relations, going to an area where you can learn an in-demand language like Chinese, Russian or Arabic may be extremely beneficial.
Not every location offers the same learning opportunities and experiences. If you want to live and study in a rural area or a place where English is primarily spoken, then those locations may not give you the unique experience you’re looking for. Or perhaps you want to explore your heritage, volunteer with the locals or learn more about global issues facing our world. Whatever the case, it’s best to be clear about your goals. When you have that clarity, then asking yourself “where should I study abroad” will start to sound less overwhelming.
6. Determine Potential Dream Locations… Then Research!
If you’re like most people, you probably have a bucket list of travel destinations you want to visit in your lifetime. Even if you’re asking yourself “Where should I study abroad?” you probably have a few dream locations in the back of your mind. You should probably consider these when deciding where you’d like to go for your study abroad locations. And if you haven’t gotten around to making a bucket list of places to visit, now is a great time!
Once you’ve determined your dream locations, it’s time to research. Learn more about the food, the culture, transportation options, safety, and the study abroad options for those locations. Making a short list of dream locations can really help narrow things down and help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. It’s a lot easier to settle on five or so ideal locations than it is to research every possible choice and become confused.
7. Consider Each Country & Program to See if it’s a Fit
While it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, you don’t want to be miserable during your study abroad. This isn’t a vacation — you won’t simply be a tourist. You’ll be immersing yourself in a whole new culture and possibly learning a new language. Considering each country and study abroad program will help ensure you are happy during your program.
There are many factors you should consider when evaluating whether or not a country will be a cultural fit. What kind of food do you like? Are you reserved, or would you prefer a warmer, more open culture? What level of infrastructure makes you feel safe and comfortable? Do you want to drastically shake up your routine or just step a little bit outside your normal culture and experience something new?
There are no wrong answers to these questions, but you do need to be honest with yourself. Choosing the right fit can mean the difference between a great study abroad experience and a miserable one. Take your time to really research the culture of each possible country.
8. Be Brave
If you’re struggling to decide between countries, remember that the “safest” option isn’t always the best. While you want to choose a placement that is comfortable, study abroad is a great opportunity to expand your horizons and take some risks. Be brave, and consider locations that push the limits a little. You never know what you’ll like until you try it. Talking to your advisor and asking questions can also help you to be brave and to choose a location that is perhaps unexpected or off the beaten path.
Study Abroad: Grow as a Person, Wherever You Are
No matter where you choose to go for your study abroad experience, it will likely be a rewarding time in your life that helps you grow as a person. There aren’t many bad choices when it comes to studying abroad. You just need to dig deep and discover what’s most important to you.
Take your time, ask questions and above all, choose your location for yourself — not for your parents or your teachers.
This probably won’t be your only chance to live abroad, but it could change you in positive ways you aren’t expecting — and make you fall in love with a whole new culture.