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How to study abroad in college

Study abroad is a passport to life-changing adventure and truly global education

Visiting new places, learning new languages and experiencing new cultures: It’s all part of the study abroad experience. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students choose to take classes in foreign countries through study abroad programs, achieving their academic goals while gaining incredible global perspective. 

At Central Michigan University, Study Abroad offers 150 programs in more than 50 different countries.

Explore Study Abroad


What is study abroad?

Simply put, study abroad is an opportunity to go to school and take classes overseas. You’ll travel to a new country and take classes in a new setting, learning from instructors and classmates in new places. For most people, though, study abroad is so much more: It’s truly a passport to adventure, and it can be a life-changing experience. 

According to the U.S. Department of State’s USA Study Abroad site, more than 300,000 American students study, intern or volunteer abroad every year! Study abroad programs vary in length; some last for just a few short weeks, others can last a year or more. Several dozen countries offer study abroad experiences, making it possible to explore nearly every corner of the globe.

Why should I study abroad?

The internet allows us to be more connected with people and organizations beyond borders and around the globe. To take full advantage of those connections, it’s important to grow our understanding of the world around us.   

Studying abroad allows students to deeply engage with new communities, gaining a richer understanding of people, languages, cultures and history. Some students choose to study abroad to learn a new language, or to strengthen their existing foreign language skills. Other students choose to study abroad in predominantly English-speaking countries because they want to see more of the world and experience life in another land. Students choose to study abroad for many reasons, but all reap the benefits of the life-changing experience.

What are the benefits of study abroad?

  1. You’ll build valuable professional skills. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, there are certain career readiness skills that employers want to see in job candidates. These include communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, and teamwork. Study abroad will help you develop and strengthen them all.
  2. You’ll learn more about yourself and grow personally. Stepping outside your comfort zone will place you in new places and situations. Study abroad will require you to adapt to new environments, find creative solutions for unique challenges, and handle the unexpected. You’ll be amazed to learn how well-suited and well-prepared you are to navigate these new experiences!
  3. You’ll learn to see things from a new perspective. Learning to navigate a new way of living forces us to see things differently. During your study abroad experience, you’ll step outside your comfort zone and learn how to adapt to living in a new environment, attending classes in a new setting, hearing and speaking new languages, and participating in totally new activities. Living as a foreigner will truly change your point of view!  
  4. You’ll become a true global citizen. Travel helps us connect with new communities and their cultures. Living in a new place helps you deeply engage in that community’s history, traditions, values, art and language. It also helps you build your cultural competence, your ability to appreciate and engage with people whose lives and experiences are different from your own.  You’ll become more aware of the wider world and your place within it.
  5. You’ll build amazing friendships and connections. Students from many countries participate in study abroad – your classes may include students from the United States, the host country and other countries as well. You will study with new instructors and build relationships with members of the local community. Your study abroad experience might even include living with a local host family and participating in their day-to-day activities. 
  6. You’ll learn a new language or strengthen current foreign language skills. Research suggests that total immersion is the best – and most authentic — way to learn a new language. When you study abroad, you’ll be surrounded by native speakers every day. You’ll be hearing, speaking and learning the language every day!
  7. You’ll have amazing adventures. Study abroad programs will take you beyond the classroom to experience your host country. This can include visiting national historic sites, engaging in cultural activities, living with local families, eating traditional foods, and exploring the surrounding area. 
  8. You’ll advance your academic goals. You will continue to earn credit toward your degree by completing classes during your study abroad experience. Depending on your program, these classes might fulfill general education requirements, help you complete your major, or even enable you to add a second major or minor.  
  9. You’ll stand out to future employers. Study abroad can be a real resume booster. Multiple studies demonstrate that employers see value in the study abroad experience and that students who complete study abroad experiences have a high probability of being employed very soon after graduation.  

How does study abroad work?

There are several forms of study abroad – it’s important to pick the type of program that best fits your academic and personal goal:

Faculty-led programs

Instructors from a U.S. college or university take students to a foreign country for classes related to their area of expertise and interest. For example, a foreign language teacher might take their students to a country where that language is commonly spoken for a totally immersive experience, or a history class might visit the location of an important historical event. 

Exchange programs

Students enrolled at a university in the U.S. can explore classes available at their school’s partner institutions abroad. Your university may have “memorandums of understanding” with schools in several countries that allow you to enroll (and pay tuition) at your U.S. “home” school while taking classes at a school overseas as a visiting student.

Direct enrollment programs

These are programs that allow U.S. students to enroll directly at a host university in another country. For the length of your program, you truly will be a student of that institution – you’ll pay tuition and fees for that school, and you’ll be supported by their faculty and staff.   

Third-party programs

Some stand-alone organizations offer programs for U.S. students to study abroad. It is important to work with your school’s study abroad office to find out if you will be able to receive academic credit for classes you take in these programs. 

There may also be opportunities to volunteer or complete an internship abroad. Talk to your school’s study abroad office to learn which kinds of programs are available. 

How do I find study abroad programs?

Most colleges and universities have a study abroad program office that will help you explore opportunities to study abroad, and some academic programs offer their own unique study abroad experiences. For example, Central Michigan University offers 150 programs in 50 countries on six continents!

Your school may have unique partnership programs with universities in other countries, or they may work with an international study abroad agency to place students in programs around the world. Dozens of countries offer study abroad opportunities; some of the most popular countries for study abroad include the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica and Japan.

Paying for study abroad

Each study abroad experience is a little different, and that means each program may have different associated costs. Your current financial aid package may cover some of the expenses related to study abroad, and there also are numerous scholarships for study abroad that you may wish to explore. Talk to your school’s study abroad office to learn about scholarships and grants that may help to offset the cost of your chosen program.

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Author: by Ari Harris | Categories: University Communications
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