This past summer, I co-led a study abroad trip that brought sixteen students from an American university to the Nanjing University of Science and Technology. The students took a Chinese language class from NUST, and my co-leader and I taught a travel writing class. It was an amazing journey, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. And I learned a lot along the way.
But I also learned that not all study abroad excursions are created equal. I never studied abroad as an undergrad (too expensive). Sometimes, I wish I had–and sometimes, I’m glad I didn’t. If you’re thinking of going on a study abroad trip, here are a few things to consider when choosing a trip:
1. Cost: Find out exactly what you’re paying for. How much money is going toward faculty support? Housing? Transportation? Study abroad can be an amazing, life-changing adventure–but so can “regular” travel. Make sure you feel that the additional costs (such as faculty per diem, etc.) are worth it for you. For instance, what does this study abroad program offer you that you couldn’t get on your own as a traveler? Access to classes you would normally not be able to take? Group rates for lodging? Educational experiences not available to ordinary travelers?
Remember that the more expensive a country is for you, the more you will pay for a faculty member to escort you there. For example, the per diem my co-leader and I got for taking students to China was a fraction of what we would have been paid to take them to France–it’s far cheaper to live in China than in France, so we naturally needed much less. Those costs are often covered by students.
I believe that study abroad is an amazing experience, but I also know that the cost of those trips can be astronomical–and I’m not 100% convinced that every study abroad trip is worth the cost. Many programs do offer experiences you simply couldn’t replicate on your own, or they make travel to otherwise-difficult locales a lot easier (especially for first-time travelers). But make sure you select a solid program that will be worth the money.
2. Length of Stay: Do you want to do a summer program? A full semester abroad? Or a short-term trip (some are offered over spring break, or for the first two weeks of summer break).
3. Classes Offered: How will credits apply to your degree program once you’re back? Is there a benefit to studying XYZ abroad, rather than at your home university?
4. Housing: Where will you be staying abroad? With a local host family? In university housing? Hotels or hostels?
US News & World Report: U.S. Falls Short in Studying Abroad, by Allie Bidwell
Forbes: 6 Ways to Cut the Costs of Your Study Abroad Program, by Alexa Davis