When and where did you study abroad?
I studied abroad in Gothenburg, Sweden for the 2012 spring semester.
What made you want to study abroad?
I was a senior at the University at Albany in New York, with just seven elective credits left to graduate. Who wants to sit around on campus just to take seven elective credits? My best friend had decided that she was going to study abroad and really pushed me towards making the decision to go abroad. I’d always wanted to go to Europe to travel and this was my opportunity!
How did you search for programs? What made you select your program?
Our university has a system set up online for all New York State schools to be able to search all available study abroad programs. I was somewhat limited due to the fact that English is my only strong language and a lot of overseas universities require a general knowledge of their home language. I ended up finding one in Sweden that only required English, so I signed up.
What were the biggest surprises about your time abroad?
When I arrived in Sweden (and Europe in general) I noticed how much smaller and closer together everything is compared to the United States. You can walk across town in a short amount of time, their buildings are not more than maybe five stories at the tallest, all of the vehicles are small, and it’s easy to get around. Another surprise was how well everyone spoke English. I had barely any trouble communicating with people. I was definitely expecting more of a language barrier.
What made your study abroad experience abroad a success?
My study abroad experience was a success because I felt at home while I was living there. I felt embraced by the culture as well as the people. I felt like I belonged and that I could live there for the rest of my life. I also judge it as a success because I accomplished everything I went there for. I graduated college, I traveled Europe, made many friends from all over the world, and I became a part of another culture and society.
Did anything help you adjust to life abroad?
There were many other students from all over Europe at the same university I was studying at and they were more than happy to help out. Being from America made it a little tougher because we were not used to a lot of the customs or food that they eat or appreciate all over Europe. The European students had a lot of fun showing us what to do and helping us try new things so that we were not missing out on the secret treasures of Europe!
What was your return like?
Coming home was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. During the last couple of weeks, just realizing that time is winding down and everyone is planning their trips home can be really depressing. You feel at home abroad, and your friends there are some of the best you will ever make, so leaving is hard. Once you actually arrive home, you jump back into your old life and it almost feels like the trip was just a fantasy or dream that might never even have happened.
Do you plan to go abroad again?
I’ll definitely go abroad again, especially to see the people I befriended.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
My main advice is to not say no. Do everything you can while abroad, because you might never have the chance again. I traveled to so many places! And even though I came home with no money and had to eat pasta every day, I cannot stress how happy I was to have seen it all. From the littlest things like going out to eat to taking a road trip, do as much as you can with anyone who will do it with you! But a word of advice: make sure you manage your money well enough to be able to do this.
Joshua gives a good description of his positive experience studying abroad. Like many students arriving home, he knows he wants to go abroad again, but isn’t sure how or when he’ll go. During undergraduate studies (and the term breaks in between) is the perfect time to build cross-cultural experience, and we recommend that Joshua act soon to find his next opportunity abroad. He might also consider taking a year after graduation to go teach English in South America or South Asia. This would expose him to a new region of the world, new cultural traditions and new language skills. And, depending on what his career goals are, teaching abroad also allows proactive students to pick up side contracts and part-time work in their professional field of interest, adding to the career-boosting value of their time abroad.
- Teaching English Abroad: The General Market gives a good introduction to one of the most popular and affordable ways to spend time abroad. Learn about the general market, certifications and what it takes to succeed.
- How to Professionalize Your Working Vacation provides key tips on how to maximize the career value of a working vacation.
- Search the entire Building Experience While In School section to get ideas on how to maximize the cross-cultural value of your time as an undergraduate.
- The World Online provides an excellent selection of links to online sources, helping you to stay connected globally, whether or not you have an international trip in the pipeline.