How to Navigate Your Study Abroad Fair

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passportIt’s the beginning of fall semester, and you’re excitedly signing up for club after club after club and attending call out meetings up the wazoo. This is a new you in a new year, and you have a newfound dedication to soaking up the college student experience. What’s one more thing to check off of your bucket list? A semester of studying abroad, of course! You’ve heard rumors of experiences abroad being life changing, full of adventure, and complementary to your field of study, and have decided you need to check out this scene for yourself.

Now is the time to start thinking seriously about ways to incorporate a semester or summer abroad into your academic schedule. Where better to get a full-on taste of your options than at your university’s annual study abroad fair?

parismapIf you can’t decide between Paris or Lyon, want to know more about homestays with Mexican families, aren’t sure if you can study Journalism in China, are interested in volunteering abroad, or are looking for scholarships to study in South Africa… you’ve come to the RIGHT place.

Read on for ways to rock your university’s study abroad fair!

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

There are literally dozens of different organizations in existence whose sole purpose is to help you study abroad. They are referred to as “providers,” and depending on the size of your university, a number of these companies will be in attendance at the fair. However, be aware that the attendees of your university fair are by no means an exhaustive list of all of your options.

You can choose to dive a little deeper and conduct your own research online about different providers (including the ones who were MIA on fair day). It’s important to note that not every university approves every study abroad program for transferable credit. Make a point to discuss your intentions to study abroad early on with your academic advisors to ensure you aren’t forking over tons of money for a course that deters you from graduating on time.

You can expect other vendors to be at the fair as well – anything from travel discount companies (like Student Universe or STA Travel) to travel insurance providers (usually the Bank of Mom and Dad get really excited if you collect this type of information) and beyond. Enjoy the madness!

BEFORE THE FAIR

Get a head start on reaping the benefits of attending your college study abroad fair by doing a little pre-event prep.

1. Identify your goals

No matter if you’re seeking information about a specific program, you’re trying to compare programs or locations to figure out which is best for you, or you’re just checking out the event to get a feel for the possibilities, you should think about your goals for attending the fair prior to attending. This doesn’t need to be a formal, write-in-your-diary type thing; instead, spend afew minutes thinking seriously about your motivations. This will make the fair seem less overwhelming, more doable, and overall, more successful. Wahoo!

2. Conduct some preliminary research

Google search results for "study abroad fair."
Google search results for “study abroad!”

Try to get your hands on a list of providers attending the fair in advance. It will be worth your time to scope out your options / put your online creeping skills to work/do a little background check. Read attendees’ websites and peruse their social media accounts. Get a feel for different companies’ brands, ethos, and program.

Your time is valuable, of course, so it wouldn’t make sense for you to unknowingly chat with a provider who only hosts programs in Sydney when you’ve got your heart set on Melbourne.

3. Plan ahead

If you’ve done your homework à la tip #2, you might consider taking it a step further and making a short list of the companies that interest you. That way, when you get to the fair, you can start with your targeted providers first and stop by other booths if time allows.

study-abroad-fair-14. Overall, be prepared

Have questions ready for the people you want to meet. Avoid general queries like: “Tell me about your programs.” Instead, ask about topics that demonstrate you’re serious about studying abroad! Something along the lines of, “What does your program offer that makes it unique?” or “Tell me about the caliber of your instructors” might blow ’em out the water.

You’ll learn more about the different providers in person than you could ever learn from their websites. You’ll witness the culture of an organization firsthand. Take mental notes about which providers give you good vibes and which ones do not.

DURING THE FAIR

You’ve made it to the fair, suh-weet! If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all the noise, swag, people, inspiring photos, and smiling faces, keep these tips in mind.

1. Take your time

Don’t “stop by” the study abroad fair between classes. Plan to devote an hour or two to properly walk around and have real conversations with potential providers. Don’t shy away from asking your questions and putting your email address down so providers can follow up with more information. The providers in attendance are on campus because they want to talk to you.

Each program provider has something unique to offer, but you may need to dig around a bit to find it.

2. Grab a map

Event volunteers should be handing out maps and other helpful materials at the door (such as a master list of the booths) so you can easily navigate the fair. If you have certain providers or programs you want to check out, grabbing a map will ensure it’s easy to find.

3. Seek program alumni from your school

Your best resource for honest information about the program will be from past participants. Ask providers to introduce you to campus ambassadors or other program alumni that are also fellow {insert university mascot name}. Plan to chat with he/she in the coming weeks; they’re usually pretty eager to share their advice and experiences with newbies.

4. Say “Hi!” to your university study abroad office reps

waveYou’ll know your university’s study abroad office by the back of your hand before you head overseas. The individuals who make the study-abroad-magic-happen will be there to answer all of your questions, make sure you fill out that app juuuust right, help you traverse the nitty gritty and ensure your experience abroad is an overall success. Why not take the time to say “Hello” and introduce yourself now?

5. Go nuts with the free stuff

Your study abroad fair will be littered with all kinds of pens, squishy balls, notepads, yo-yo’s and other miscellaneous branded paraphernalia. Feel free to stock up, especially if you think it’s cool and want to remember that particular booth.

BE WARNED: If you’re “that guy,” the one who grabs too much free goodies from every table, you might end up being nominated for the next season of that reality TV show about hoarding.

6. Have fun!

The study abroad fair should be one of the least nerve-wracking parts of preparing to study abroad. Look at all of your options! Look how inspiring this great big beautiful planet is! No matter where you choose to study abroad (or with whom), you’re going to have a blast. Relish in these sweet moments of daydreaming the adventure ahead.

AVOID THESE COMMON MISTAKES

mistakeEach year thousands of students swarm the floors of study abroad fairs throughout the country searching for that perfect program. The following are the most common mistakes made by students at their university study abroad fair.

Dressing too casually. No, you don’t need to come to the fair in a three-piece suit or your prom dress, but it’s good to avoid see-through yoga pants or ripped up basketball shirts too.

Lack of pre-conference preparation. If you haven’t done your background research on participating providers, you might end up wasting a lot of time and never connecting with a suitable program provider for your goals.

Walking around with gum or candy in your mouth. This is just rude and distracting while you are trying to converse with others. Chuck it in the waste bin at the entrance.

Putting down a fake email address. These organizations have a lot of information to share. If you’re not serious about considering their programs as an option for study abroad, do everyone a favor and politely decline signing up for more info.

Throwing away your booklet of fair attendees. This will make a huge difference in helping you sort through your bag full of free stuff and brochures after the fair. If you’re a pro, you’ll be using this to take good notes and research the companies after the fair.

YOU’RE READY!

Don’t worry if you’re feeling even MORE nervous about the study abroad fair after reading this article. It’s natural to get butterflies when you care a lot about something. Rest easy knowing it will be a fun event, and you’ll meet tons of cool people who are as stoked about studying abroad as you are.

Keep an open mind throughout the process, even if that means considering a few other destinations or checking out service oriented international volunteer programs (versus a traditional study abroad experience).

What other tips would you offer students to rock their university study abroad fair?

megan-lee-headshotAbout the Author: Megan Lee is an international educator, traveler, and writer. Some might call her obsession with study abroad unhealthy – she prefers to call it passionate. Megan currently leads study abroad programs in China, New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji. Keep up with her on Twitter @peglegmeg.