I have arrived in France and I am beginning to feel more at home here in Caen. However, my first few weeks were rough, to say the least. From the frustrating amount of luggage I brought to the always-overcast sky to the uneasiness of new beginnings, this experience has been an exasperating one. Lucky for you, though, I’m here to tell you all about it and give you tips on how to overcome that! In this post, I’ll discuss all the tips I’ve found to help you choose the perfect study abroad program for you! I hope that this doesn’t scare you away, but prepares you for the “wake-up call” comes with studying abroad. So grab your warm cup of tea and put on some soothing music because this may shake your whole plan up!
Take Your Time
One of the biggest tips I have in regards to choosing the right program for you is to take your time. So your political science professor mentioned this cool, 5-week trip to Austria over summer break? That’s great, but there could be a program that offers all that and more! When it comes to choosing the right program, “love at first sight” isn’t always the best philosophy. The first thing you should always do is talk with your school’s study abroad office. They can tell you if it’s possible to do a study abroad with your major, they can offer suggestions on popular destinations, and (most importantly) they can get to know you and help you pick a program that is specific for you. After meeting with them, spend some time looking through their directory on your own. I know with my home university, there are SO many study abroad options, you could spend an entire day getting lost in the directory!
Come to Terms with Reality
This was a big problem for me, and the reason I think I had such a hard time adjusting. It’s really important that you understand the weight of studying abroad. You’re in a foreign country (where they likely don’t speak your language), all alone, simultaneously having way too much stuff and not nearly enough, and you have to make what little money you have last for 5 months. Studying abroad is a great opportunity, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes schools focus so much on the good experiences that they fail to mention the enormous mountain that students initially face when they move abroad.
Coming to terms with the potential hardships can help you decide what you are emotionally capable of. For example, my specific program is a sponsored scholarship exchange. So, one person from France comes to America and one person from America goes to France (in other words, I was the only American going to France in this specific program during that semester). There are countless programs like this and they can be very satisfying for individualistic people who have been abroad before.
However, I really recommend finding a program that sends multiple people from your school to the same place. For example, Kentucky offers a program called KIIS that provides various destinations and supports tons of majors. My boyfriend went through this program, I’ve had friends participate in this program, your professors can sponsor a program, and there is even a group of Kentuckians her in Caen right now who are participating in the KIIS program! I highly recommend finding something like this because it allows you to have a support system throughout the entire process. They are typically more expensive up front, but (I would say) about 80% of what you need is covered by the program ( i.e. meals, housing deposit, etc.) through a stipend. If you know that you depend on a well organized and supportive program, then you should definitely try to find something like this!
Familiarize Yourself with Potential Destinations
Do you despise Chinese food? Can’t speak Portuguese? Hate cold, rainy weather? Keep that in mind when you’re looking for a program! You’ll be submerging yourself into a completely different culture for five months. Culture shock is real and a bout of homesickness is to be expected, so it’s wise to choose a culture you can relate to in some way.
My first days here in Caen were rough. I spent most of my time sobbing uncontrollably and begging anyone who would listen to let me come home. Here I was in a relatively small town in France where English is not widely spoken (shocker! Other countries don’t speak English???? Whaaat?!). I quickly realized that I didn’t know nearly enough French to communicate graciously with cashiers, taxi drivers, and servers. Thus ensued the panic.
Now, that kind of comes with the territory when it comes to studying abroad. Unless your destination is Ireland or Great Britain, you’ll probably experience a significant language barrier. Don’t fret! I promise, what they say is true! You do begin picking up common phrases rather quickly!
My point is that you already have to deal with this language barrier, pick a place where you relate to the culture on some level. (I was blessed to discover that the French are fans of Lipton tea! Yay!) Having that one thing that you know right off the bat can help that initial culture shock, but you have to think about it before you actually go abroad!
And there we have it! My best tips for choosing the right study abroad program for you! I hope this helped you narrow down your options! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me! If your visiting from another blog, leave your link in the comments so I can share the love <3