Hey everyone, today's blog post is all about Studying Abroad! These past few weeks I've been sharing all about my experience and now I wanted to share information to help others study abroad as well. I hope that my past blogs have inspired others to travel! If you are thinking about possibly studying abroad I'm sharing my experience on the process and I hope that its helpful and interesting.
This blog covers: Why should you study abroad, how do you do it, how to pay for it, how to prepare, the overall experience and Q&A.
1. Why should you study abroad?
Studying abroad is a great opportunity to learn a new culture and open your mind to a different part of the world. If you're studying a language, traveling to a different country and practicing the language is a great way to improve your language skills. Also, you never know when you'll have the opportunity to travel, so it's a good idea to take advantage of study abroad programs while you're a student.
Finally, it's fun! College can be so stressful so by taking a semester or summer abroad you can have a great time while still receiving credits towards your degree.
2. How do you study abroad?
So you've decided that you want to study abroad....what next? I think step one is to find your program. There are several different types of program:
Semester Abroad- spending an entire academic semester abroad
Short Term- the program I did, these are shorter programs and can be over summer, winter, or even spring break
Exchanges- directly enrolling in a foreign university
There are also affiliate programs which means that your university has partners with an outside program....as you can see there's a lot of options. I suggest taking the time to find what's best for you.
You can find your program in a couple different ways:
1. Word of Mouth
I found out about my program when the program director visited my French class one day and gave out flyers about "Maryland-in-Montpellier". You could find out about great programs by talking to students who previously did that program or by the teachers who lead them. Start talking to your peers and talk to your language teacher or the teacher of the subject you would want to study, this is a great way to get an honest opinion on the programs.
2. Study Abroad Fair
The University of Maryland hosts a study abroad fair in Stamp each year and I highly suggest checking it out. They have booths on all types of programs from semester abroad to short term to volunteer programs. They are hosted all over the world from Europe to Asia to the Caribbean. At each booth was a person who could answer any questions you had.
study abroad fair 2017 - image from globalmaryland.umd.edu
3. Study Abroad Website
The University of Maryland's study abroad website is https://globalmaryland.umd.edu/offices/education-abroad
I found that this website was very useful! You can search for programs and find information on the costs, the academics, program dates, and more. I also suggest going into the Study Abroad office (it's located in HJP), there you can meet with a study abroad advisor and learn even more about your programs.
3. Finding the right time/Planning
I started college not even thinking that I would study abroad, it wasn't something that I had planned to do instead I found out about the program and it just really worked out. Other people might need to plan out doing a study abroad program for a specific time. If you're conflicted on when to do it, I suggest sooner than later. There is no such thing as a "perfect time" for anything in life, things will always be changing and happening.
As long as you are responsible I don't think that "being too young" is an issue. I went after my Freshman year at only 18. In fact they have programs available for students right after high school!
Everyone's path in college is different, think about when could be the right time for you!
Once you know when you want to study abroad you can start planning ahead of time in order to have a successful trip. Start meeting with your advisors, plan which classes you would take, and start to save!
4. Paying for it....is it worth it?
Everyone's financial situation in college is different and this could determine whether studying abroad could be affordable for you. In my situation, I have a full four year scholarship. If I chose to study abroad for a semester my scholarship would cover all the costs, which is amazing! Unfortunately, as a science major and a pre-med student, studying abroad in France for a whole semester didn't fit into my four year plan. This lead me to look into short-term programs which were perfect except for the fact that my scholarship wouldn't cover it.
I think a big difference between the short term and semester programs is the cost. My program was about $5000, this included tuition, fees, housing, and my plane ticket.
The semester abroad program comparable to mine is called Maryland-in-Nice with a cost of about $18,000. $11,000 of that cost included the fees, tuition and housing which is comparable to a semester at UMD. The rest of the cost included air fare, course materials, meals, and additional expenses.
Your financial aid and scholarships could be applied to your study abroad costs. Additionally, there are outside scholarships that you can apply for.
There is the Gilman National Scholarship which is given out to students receiving the pell grant. I applied to this scholarship, unfortunately I didn't receive it but I'm glad I applied....applying is always better! This scholarship is very competitive but they give up to $5000 which could cover a whole short term trip!
The Education Abroad office also gives out smaller scholarships and you can apply for it when you fill out your application. I was awarded a scholarship that covered my housing fee! In addition, there are many outside scholarships that you can find with a simple google. When looking at these be sure to look at the legitimacy of the organization. Next, look at the requirements; some were only eligible to students studying in specific countries. Make a list of the scholarships available to you then start applying, you never know what money you could get!
So...is it worth the price tag?
In my opinion...yes! I think that the experience that I had was priceless, I was able to see so many different cities and villages, improve my french, and see sites I never dreamed of seeing. Studying abroad is like being on vacation while still receiving credits towards your degree. I think that if you go through these steps (finding the right program, right time to go, planning and saving ahead) then you can make the experience the most worth it for you.
5. You decided to go...what next?
Once I committed to my program I was given a checklist of things to do, had some educational modules to complete, and had to attend an orientation. These things all helped me to prepare for my trip, but there are some things you can do on your own to help prepare:
Research the country
Learn about the area you will be living in and find things to do during your free time. Look up some information about your country that you don't already know. Find out their cultural norms. Are there any dress codes or behaviors that are considered rude? By doing this you can avoid some cultural mistakes while you're there.
Contacting your host family
If you will be staying with a host family I suggest contacting them. I talked to my host mom via email. It was a great way to introduce myself and help her prepare for my stay at her house. I took this time to explain to her my level in French and if you had any dietary concerns this would be a great time to explain those as well.
Other ways to prepare
Other things you want to think about include your cell phone plan, will you buy a phone there or do an international plan? I did both, I used data on my smart phone and also bought a phone for just 30 euros to use for calls.
You also want to think about money; will you exchange your dollars into the countries currency or will you use your credit card? Find the plan that works best for you.
6. Finding the courage to go
If you feel scared about studying abroad that is totally understandable. I was really nervous in the days leading up to my trip! It can be very intimidating to go to a different country on your own. This was my first time traveling on my own and I was going to be miles away from my family. With all the nerves I was feeling, I decided to stay focused on the amazing opportunity that I was about to experience. I found that once I was on the flight my nerves went away and I was only excited for what was to come! I had such an amazing time and I am so glad that I was able to find the courage to study abroad! Don't let your nerves or doubts get the best of you, we all feel them! Trust me, if I could do it...you can do it too!
7. Overall Experience and Q&A
I got a lot of questions about my overall experience. I honestly have no bad things to say about my study abroad experience! I was able to do many things and see so much of South of France. I loved my classes, my peers, my program, and everything about my trip!
To share my experience in the most helpful way I asked you all to send in questions:
How was the workload?
I think that every program's workload will be different. My program was a 3 week course in which I got 3 credits towards my French minor. I thought that was a really great deal because I received the credits in three weeks which replaced a three hundred level French course that I would have had to take for the whole semester.
So what work did I do to get those 3 credits? Well I had French class from 9-12 every day at the Institute Linguistic Adenet. In these classes we did speaking, grammar, we had short timed writes and skits, and were given a little bit of homework every night. The class was so fun! It never felt like a four hour class and I always enjoyed it. I was able to learn a lot of new things!
I also had conversation class two times a week, during this time we would meet at a café or in the park and we talked in French for two hours. These "classes" were a great opportunity for me to practice my French with my peers.
Next, I had to complete a journal each week which was three pages long in French. Also, we each had to write two blogs on our program's webpage: Le Maryland Montpelliérain. Feel free to check it out! Finally, we had our final research project which was about 2-3 pages long. So in total I wrote about 15 pages in French throughout the course. I think the workload was fine, as you saw in my blogs I still had plenty of time to go on excursions and explore the cities!
Were there any cultural difference?
Yes and No...I'll explain. There were cultural differences between France and the US. However, I was already accustomed to French culture because I'm French and am from St. Martin. Some things that were different for others could be the fact that French people kiss on the cheeks to greet which is really different than how Americans greet. Also, I found that Americans are more likely to strike up conversations with others. While in France I never had someone just start taking to me on the tram or other public spaces. Also Americans will often smile at each other when in public, but that's not as common in France. I think that there were probably more cultural differences that my peers would have noticed versus me who lived in a French-island for more than half my life.
Did the visit build your confidence in speaking the language?
Yes and no again! The trip definitely improved my skills 100%, being surrounded by only French for three weeks really helped my brain to think, write, and speak in French. At the start of my trip I could barely understand my host-mom but by the end of my trip we were able to have more fluent conversations. I found myself thinking and even dreaming in French. My understanding skills really improved and I learned a lot of new vocabulary.
However the trip also showed me how much more French I have left to learn. Sometimes I felt frustrated because I couldn't talk as much as I wanted simply because I didn't have to vocabulary or know how to phrase it correctly. This trip also exposed to "les mots familiers" or familiar words. These were kinda like slang words and it made it harder to understand. They would also cut some words out...for example many French locals would not say "ne". So instead of "je ne mange pas" they would say "je mange pas".
Things like this made me see that I had a lot to learn in order to be fluent in French and it also showed me that classroom settings are not enough to learn the language. As a French minor, I will be taking just one French class each semester and while I'm excited to continue to better my language skills I also now know that I need to practice my French every single day in order to have better fluency.
I hope that I addressed any questions that you had about studying abroad, I really could go on and on so if you have any more questions reach out anytime. If you are a French student at UMD I highly suggest the Maryland-in-Montpellier program and you can reach out to me about that anytime as well.
I hope you all enjoyed the blog and the video combination on this topic!