Here are Melibee’s Top 5 Tips on How to Get the Most Out of your Study Abroad Office:
1) Know where your study abroad office is located. And I don’t just mean “on-line.”
Depending on the size and set up of your school, you may have a study abroad office that consists of a large team of people OR you may have to search high and low for the “one person office” on campus who “handles that study abroad stuff.” This one person could be your campus registrar or someone on the faculty (who is often given release time from teaching a class or two to take on this additional responsibility.) Visit the office or “person” to find out how information about study abroad processes, financial aid/scholarships/grants, etc is disbursed. Make a personal connection with the adviser and/or office. The relationship that you forge with your study abroad adviser is very important as we are the ones who will guide you in carving a path toward one of the most, if not the MOST, profound academic and personal experience of time in college. You do not want to be a face in the crowd to us.
2) Take time to reflect on why you want to go abroad. Ask yourself the hard questions.
Are you interested in going abroad because you think it will be a rewarding experience? Or has it entered space in your mind because you want to get away from something (or someone)? Study abroad is easily the best experience that one can have in college, but it must be pursued with a healthy mindset. Running away to study abroad is not always a good idea, unless you have the right resources to support you abroad. So ask yourself the question: Why do you REALLY want to go abroad? And think about how useful this information can be to helping your adviser work WITH you to plan for a great experience.
3) Show us that you are serious and will follow through.
You want the adviser to know that you have done your research and that you are motivated to go abroad and to find the “right” match for your academic and personal needs. A good study abroad adviser will not just give you a brochure and tell you to apply. Strong study abroad offices/advisers will typically meet with you, discuss options, hear your interests and ideas…and then they will give you “action steps” or “to dos.” These involve things like being asked to go to a website to review program details, meeting with past participants, talking with your academic adviser about your interest in going abroad, meeting with financial aid, attending a study abroad fair or event, filling out forms, etc. You will serve yourself well, and your adviser will take you more seriously (and therefore return calls/emails more quickly), if you follow these steps and advice with urgency and maturity.
4) Be organized, bring a pen, mark your calendar and be flexible.
Your study abroad adviser is a busy person. He or she often is working with hundreds of students in a given academic year and has to know about multiple academic programs abroad, visa requirements, internal policies and practices, various deadlines for financial aid and program applications, group flight arrangements, housing details, currency fluctuations and more. You will work more effectively with us if you write down your questions in advance of our meeting, take notes as needed and mark application deadlines in your calendar (manual or digital). It helps us if you apply early, as we get a tidal wave of applications the day of a deadline. And when you are flexible, it is really appreciated. Sometimes we cannot tell you if a program will run until we reach the application deadline (due to the pattern of students waiting until the final day to apply.) This sometimes means that we have to cancel programs, despite our best efforts. It helps us a lot if you have discussed a Plan B option with us in case of a program cancellation. And it helps you too as there is less stress if/when things do change!
5) Be HONEST on your application.
You may be asked about your physical and mental health on the study abroad application form(s). To work effectively with your study abroad adviser, it is absolutely NECESSARY that you be candid about your physical and mental health diagnoses. Study abroad advisers are people too; we are not on this planet to judge you. We are here to advise and support you. If there is something about your health situation that requires additional research and support, we need to know very early on so that we can plan. There is almost nothing you can do to mess up a great relationship with a study abroad program adviser than to indicate, at the 11th hour, that you need to be housed on the lower floor of your homestay due to asthma, or that you have to take a medication that needs to be refrigerated in a place that may not have consistent electricity – as each piece of your program takes months in advance to plan. We are your advocate, so please help us do a great job for you by sharing information that will help us to do so!
Take the time to schedule an appointment or attend a study abroad workshop at your university/college NOW! And feel free to bring this post with you to make sure that your adviser agrees with Melibee’s top 5 list; some schools will have nuances that may not exactly work with this list, so be sure to ask what works best for YOUR study abroad office/adviser.
Best of luck to you in your study abroad endeavor!