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 Sinclairification by Grant Sinclair

Study Abroad Programs and Why You Should Try One

01 May 2008

If you’re in college and are interested in taking pictures of faraway places, there are fewer opportunities to really get involved in a culture than a Study Abroad trip.

Depending on your university, Study Abroad trips can range from a couple of weeks to many months and can cover the globe.  Despite the many opportunities Study Abroad trips offer, surprisingly few students take advantage of them.  I went on two during my college years, the first to Oaxaca, Mexico.  I enjoyed myself so much, I went to Cuba the following year.

Why You Should Go

1) It’s different.

2) It’s fun.

3) You’ll get to try new food, meet interesting people and come home with stories to make your friends jealous.

4) International experience looks good on a resume.

5) Just because you can.

Why You Won’t

1) It’s different.

2) It’s unfamiliar and intimidating.

3) You’re not sure if you can handle the food, water and daily obstacles.

4) You may not be able to afford it.

5) It might not be safe.

6) You don’t want to leave behind your family/pets/boyfriend/girlfriend.

Why the Above Reasons Are Not Valid

1) The fact that an experience like this is different should be exciting.  You’ll learn more about yourself when you are in a different part of the world than you may think.  If you’re lucky, you may also learn about that part of the world, too.

2) When an opportunity like this comes along, it is certainly unfamiliar and intimidating.  But once you get there, the unfamiliar becomes familiar and even comfortable.  Once you learn a little bit of the language and culture, you’ll really begin to enjoy yourself. 

I should also mention that you’ll have an excellent resource; your International Studies department.  They aren’t going to send students to another country without a great deal of research and preparation. 

Before you go, you’ll probably have at least one meeting with the professors and other students going on the trip.  You should have a list of questions and concerns, to make sure you know all you need to know before you leave.

3)  To get a heads up on the food, try that country’s food at a local restaurant before you leave.  At the meetings, as about the water and food situation in that country, but be prepared for a potential adjustment period when you arrive.  Bring some over-the-counter medications from your local pharmacy as a preventative measure.  You may also have an adjustment period when you return home.

4) If you think you can’t afford to go, but want to go badly enough, talk to your International Studies department.  Ask about applying for grants or loans. Since grants are basically free money, applying is the very least you can do (aside from doing absolutely nothing).  It is rumored that there are many, many grants that go wasted annually, simply because people don’t ask about or apply for them.

5) Safety is a key concern everywhere you go.  You are right to be concerned for your safety in a foreign country, but remember, your school wouldn’t send you someplace that is dangerous.

The most important thing to remember is that YOU are responsible for your safety, no one else.  But we’ll get into that later.

6) I understand not wanting to leave people behind, especially for months, but how you handle that is up to you.  Being away from each other for a few weeks, depending on the relationship, shouldn’t be an issue.  But that’s as far as I’m going with this.

Restrictions and Requirements

Before you set off on your international academic journey, you’re going to need a few things:

1) A valid passport.  If you don’t have one, begin the process immediately.

2) Room in your academic schedule for the classes offered.  If you have some electives, that helps.

3) Time to go on the trip.

4) You may need to be a junior or senior to qualify.

5) A decent GPA is also recommended.

Do you have all these things?  Good.  Let’s continue.

What to Do Next

You’ve decided to attend a Study Abroad course.  Excellent.  The following steps should help.

1) Go to your university’s International Studies office and inquire about programs.  See what’s available, how long the program lasts, where it is, what the academic concentration is and how much it costs.

Pick at least two programs, but make sure they are countries you feel comfortable visiting.  Rest assured, the school is not going to send you to a dangerous place.  For more information, visit the US State Department’s Web site ( for that country’s information.

Visit the International Studies office sooner rather than later, as spots can fill up quickly.

2) Meet with your Academic Advisor and review your situation to decide which program best suits you and your major.  Depending on the curriculum, you may be restricted to a certain place or length of time.  For example, a two-month long arts and architecture trip to Spain may not be useful if you’re a business major.

Having lots of electives helps, as you’re less restricted to which classes you can take.

3) Once you have decided which program to attend, talk to the International Studies Office.  Find out as much information as you can, like how much money is due (usually not all at once) and when the meetings are being held. 

This is also a good time to inquire about grants and due dates.

4) If you do not have a passport, begin the process immediately.

5) The school should provide you with all the necessary information on where you are going, including, but not limited to, health and safety precautions (including recommended to mandatory vaccinations or medications), local sights, etcetera.  Even with all that information, go to the school library and pick up a book or two on the areas you plan to see.

6) Keep in mind that even though you will be in another country, you’ll still be in school, attending classes, reading books and completing assignments.  Hopefully, you’ll have some time to see the local sights but you’ll still be expected to have your work done.

Are you a good fit for a Study Abroad program? 
This chart will help you decide.

You like adventure, experiencing new things, meeting new people and seeing life from a different angle.


You like to get drunk, blast your music and be obnoxious.


You’ve thought about living in another country, just to see what it’s like.


You’re tired of your regular routine and need a temporary change.


You took a look at your surroundings and thought “There has to be more to life than this.”


You would like to have a positive international experience to add to your resume.


You totally want to get drunk and hook up with as many chicks as possible, then pass out on the beach.  They do Study Abroad trips to South Padre, right?


“Paaaarty!  Wooooooo! (Blechechech).  Ugh.  I don’t remember eating that.”

No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.

Because when you get older and have responsibilities like a job, spouse, children and a mortgage, you’d rather look at photo albums of places you’ve been with pictures you’ve taken, than picture book of places you wish you had seen when you had the chance.





A Short Story
Because you have the time

Just after I returned from a month in south Mexico, I went back to work.  I was employed at a chain Gringo-Mexican restaurant (Rio Bravo, for those of you who are interested). I was sweeping up one afternoon after my lunch shift when a fellow employee asked me about the trip.

“So, how was Mexico?” she asked politely.

“It was a cool, a good time.  I learned a lot,” I said.  I tried to play the trip down a little.  Not everyone can just take month off and leave the country.

“No, really,” she insisted, “How was it?  I want to know.”

“It was a lot of studying, but it was a good experience,” I said, trying to continue to sound modest.

She stopped sweeping and looked at me and said, “You don’t get it, do you?  Guys have mid-life crisiss because they didn’t do what you just did.”

The whole time I spent preparing for the trip, working longer shifts to make the money I needed, reading and studying and getting everything in order, I never once considered how much I would regret this if I didn’t do it.  

That’s something you should consider when you’re trying to figure it all out for yourself.  Not “what does it mean now?”  Consider what it will mean later, when the opportunity is gone.

Just for fun:
Onion articles here
Report: U.S. Foreign Policy Hurting American Students' Chances Of Getting Laid Abroad

Semester Abroad Spent Drinking With Other American Students

Backpack-Laden Student Trudges Slack-Jawed Past Wonders Of Ancient World

European Men Are So Much More Romantic Than American Men vs. American Women Studying In Europe Are Unbelievably Easy

That Trip To Canada Really Broadened My Horizons

Below is from a separate article entitled “Preparing to Study Abroad”, which I’ve included to keep all the Study Abroad information together. You’ll find it by itself on, but it’s the same information.

Preparing To Study Abroad

1) Laptop safety (Leave it at the house/where you sleep.  You don’t need to bring it with you every day!)

2) Bring your camera with you everywhere, all the time.  You may not get many chances to take pictures and you never know what you’re going to see.

3) Passport-size photos (link to article)

4) Before you leave, get a map and guide book of where you’re going, in order to learn a little about your surroundings.

5) When you arrive and get settled, ask the locals the following questions:
- Is it safe to walk alone at night?
- Where are the bad parts of town?
- Where are the good bars/pubs/restaurants?
- What do you do for fun?
- Where are good places to take pictures?

People will generally be pretty honest when answering those questions.

6) Get an ISTC (International Student Travel Confederation) card! (

7) Insure all your items: Camera, laptop, etcetera.  Contact who ever provides your auto insurance and ask if they cover personal articles.  Also inquire if renter’s insurance covers personal articles if outside the apartment, or outside the country.  You may also be able to add your things to your parents’ home owner’s insurance, but be sure to ask them first.

8) Scan – do not photocopy – the first page of your passport.  Save it as a jpg and E-mail it to yourself or store it online.  Now you have a clean, color, portable, back up of your passport page should you need it.  Print out at least two copies to travel with, separate from the original.

9) Before you leave home, empty your laptop of all non-essential information, especially personal and/or financial information.  Do not keep the scan from your passport on your laptop.

10) Bring blank CDs and DVDs (depending on your laptop) and/or a portable hard drive to back up your pictures EVERY NIGHT.  To be extra safe, make two of each disc AND keep the images on your computer.  Give the extra discs to a friend.  If you have time, E-mail your favorite pictures – even if only to yourself – as additional security.

11) Pack appropriately.  Don’t bring ghetto or slutty clothes.  You’re in a foreign country and you stand out already.  That should be enough.

Things to Know

You’ll probably find this information in other articles on this site, but it’s pretty important, so I’ve included it here, with modifications for Study Abroad students.

Remember, above all things, you are responsible for your own well being.  Not your host family, professors or fellow students.  You.  Sure, you should look out for one another, but in the end, you are responsible for you.  If you have a problem, by all means report it to the proper authorities.  But don’t be surprised if the local police won’t do anything about your problem and the US embassy won’t either.

If you stay alert, sober and aware of your surroundings, you should be fine.  But if you get drunk, lost and/or stupid, you’re more likely to run into problems.

If you’re living with a host family (in their house), you’ll want to behave appropriately.  Remember, you are representing yourself, your country and your school.

To help ease your transition overseas, read the following checklist:


- Blast your music.
- Smoke in the house.
- Walk around the house in your pajamas/shirtless, etcetera.
- Walk around the house talking on your cell phone.
- Come home drunk and/or late.

If your host family includes someone who is your age and wants to show you around, then by all means, go for it.  Have fun; see what the town is about.  But don’t be stupid.  This is someone’s home, not a frat house.


- Offer to help with cooking, meal preparation, etcetera.
- Bring a gift from home for your host family.
- Take a photo with your family, then print it and give it to them as a gift.
- Go with them on family trips if you are invited.
- Try to be part of the family.
- Relax and enjoy yourself.  You’re having the experience of a lifetime.  Have fun with it.


United States Department of State
World Health Organization
International Student Travel Confederation
Study Abroad
Study Abroad Directory
Go Abroad
Study Abroad Links

© 2008

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