At first, the decision to study abroad may seem like an easy one. Who doesn’t want the opportunity to explore an entirely different city and country while meeting new international friends along the way?
However, upon further reflection, many prospective study abroad students tend to formulate doubts about whether or not they are ready to take their studies overseas, as there are many things to consider before committing to the decision to move abroad.
That being said, we have compiled eight questions to consider before making your final decision.
1) Have I chosen a country or city that is suited to me?
If you have never been abroad before, perhaps all you know about a foreign country is what you have seen in movies or read in magazines. Although this is a good start, before making your decision to move abroad, it’s important to have a deeper understanding of your new study destination.
Take Italy, for example. Most people relate Italy to romantic cobblestone streets, amazing pizza, and great wine. However, there is more than meets the eye concerning the culture and the people. As in any country, the pace of life, cultural norms, or local cuisine can vary widely. Therefore, it’s important to research what to expect before your arrival to avoid any uncomfortable situations.
It’s also important to be both interested and curious about a prospective city or country. It can be the language, the environment, or the cultural tradition. You will find your experience much easier if you are getting pleasure from wholly immersing yourself into your new setting.
2) Have I researched schools and programs that match my interests?
While some students prefer to research a country or city first, others prioritize the program or school in which they will be entering. Therefore, it’s important to do your research.
Depending on the length of your stay, you may want to consider a prospective university’s student demographic, cost, student employability, and extracurricular activities on offer. Additionally, if know you will want to take advantage of your position abroad and travel as much as possible, you may also want to consider a program's workload.
Ask students and program advisers about their experiences. Some programs allow for more flexibility and time for travel and socializing than others. On the contrary, if travel is not your aim, a program that offers internships or work opportunities might be more suitable.
3) Am I ready to move away from my friends and family?
After you have decided on a possible location or program, it’s time to start thinking about how your move abroad will affect your life at home. Whether or not it is your first time away from home, the decision to travel abroad and study on your own is a challenging one.
Although the opportunities to meet new people are limitless and many schools offer support networks for international students, at times it may still be lonely, especially in the beginning. Luckily, in today’s technologically advanced world, staying in touch has never been easier.
Before you leave, talk to family and friends about how you plan to communicate with them and how frequently. Parents of students who have not left home yet may be especially concerned. Offer to video chat or call a pre-determined amount of times a week to ease their fears.
4) Do I have the financial support I need?
Although there are often many discounts and special offers available to students, studying abroad can still be expensive. It is important to consider all of your expenses beforehand, especially if you do not plan on working while abroad.
You will need to consider the cost of tuition, housing, food, and extracurricular activities, among other things. If you plan your budget in advance, you will be better prepared upon arrival to make sure you are living within your means.
If you are unsure if you have enough money, or if you would feel better if you had just a little more, consider applying for scholarships. Research which scholarships you are eligible for and pay attention to due dates.
5) Have I considered how I will find a place to live?
Many students who are already studying abroad have cited finding accommodation as one of the toughest challenges. Housing may be scarce and is often quite expensive in big cities. Furthermore, it may be hard to navigate the housing market of another country, especially if listings are frequently in a language that is not your own.
Although challenging, finding accommodation is not impossible. It is worth inquiring with universities to see if they offer international students accommodation, and if not, if they have a housing office willing to assist students in the search.
Furthermore, it’s important to consider in what kind of accommodation you are willing to live. Are you comfortable living on your own? Or would you prefer to live with roommates? It’s important to consider this in advance as, depending on your current living situation, your new situation may be a big adjustment.
6) Can I be adaptable to meeting new people from different cultures?
On the other hand, many study abroad students consider meeting new people from around the world to be one of the most rewarding aspects of their international experience. Not only do you get to show others your own culture and way of life but you are also exposed to the world view of others.
Generally, this cultural exchange is both gratifying and meaningful for all involved. However, because it is so personal, it is important to consider if you are ready to have your own values and traditions questioned or challenged. Just like you will have questions about other people or places, other international students may have questions or preconceived notions about you.
To some extent, you must be prepared to become a representative of your country. Likewise, you have to approach others with an open mind, all the while understanding that a single person in no way represents an entire group, just like you do not represent the views and opinions of all your fellow citizens.
7) Will I need to secure a Visa?
On a practical note, before applying to a program abroad, you need to know the logistics of moving to that country.
If you are studying through a university in your home country, the school will often sort out the details of obtaining a Visa. However, if you are studying an entire program abroad, this step is often left to you. It’s vital to research in advance as some countries have strict requirements. Similarly, depending on the country you are from, you may not be eligible to travel to certain countries.
Before deciding to study abroad, make sure you will be able to move to the country where your chosen school is located.
8) What are the personal and professional benefits I expect to receive from my experience?
If you haven’t already, it’s important to mentally prepare for your upcoming study abroad experience by setting your expectations in advance.
Most students report having a positive experience abroad, which tells us that anyone can gain something from their involvement in an international study program. Yet, the experience can be even richer if you set specific goals and expectations about what it is you want to accomplish.
Some people are trying to gather skills to market themselves professionally, while others are seeking to establish an international network of connections. No matter what your goal, simply by having one you are setting yourself up for success.
Therefore, this mental preparation is the key step in determining if you are ready to study abroad. Perhaps you have already considered the above questions, in which case, that is a good sign you are ready to take on the challenge of studying abroad.
But, don’t be discouraged if you haven’t. No matter how prepared you try to be, one thing is guaranteed, your study abroad experience will be full of surprises—which is one of the most exciting parts! That means there will never be a dull day.
If you are still not sure if you are ready, head over to our Articles and Advice section to learn more about preparing for the study abroad experience. Or, read our Student Stories to hear about the international experience directly from the students who lived them.