“Transfer students should not study abroad.”
This was one of the first things I heard on Transfer Preview Day at Mills. This was also the exact moment I considered studying abroad. The biased thesis of this piece is that everyone who possibly can study abroad should do so, and re-evaluate the notion of what is possible.
“If there’s any way I can possibly study abroad I’m going to,” I said about two weeks before the application deadline.
The odds were stacked against me: a transfer student going into my senior year, unable to afford the travel costs, spending all my savings on emergency dental care, having tricky-to-get major requirements, etc.
On the deadline, which happened to be my birthday, I narrowed down my country choices to four, met with several study abroad advisers for the first time, and got a slew of hesitant signatures. Later I turned in a scholarship application late.
I didn’t end up studying abroad… I ended up ‘studying-a-sheila’ (recall forties slang for ‘woman’ (broad), say it with an Australian accent and you’ll know what I mean). I won the scholarship and went across the world for the first semester of my senior year.
Generally when you talk to someone who has studied abroad you are flooded with grand sweeping statements: “It changed my life,” “I came back a new person,” or “It was the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Studying abroad did change my life, it was some of the most fun I ever had. It is utterly liberating to be alone in a foreign place. The very set-up of the experience paves the way for a coming-of-age story and of course heaps of anecdotes. (My blog contains six months worth of candid Australia stories, if you’d to see a full study abroad trajectory just sort content by the tag “Australia” at: stickypsyche.blogspot.com).
While in Australia I learned to surf and to DJ, interned in a brain research lab, and fell in love. I can say I’ve done research, screened in film festivals, and won push-up/poetry/drinking contests internationally now!
Academically, study abroad has potential to expand past the classes and resources available at Mills, for instance I was able to work with neuroimaging technology that isn’t available at smaller colleges.
There are also non-academic experiences to look forward to. There are subtly referred to “party abroad” electives that students are at liberty to chose from. One story I have about this occurred on a group-meeting day with my academic adviser, who began the session: “How drunk did I get last night?” In unison the students replied, “So drunk!”
It seems the delights of studying abroad are secret: Only 1% of students in the U.S. study abroad each year, according to the Matador Pulse Network.
The most difficult part of study abroad was figuring out how I would be able to afford it. In my program I was one of the few people from a low-income background. I was lucky to squeeze in during the last semester Mills was offering study abroad scholarships, and my host institution, IFSA Butler, gave me a supplemental scholarship. For Mills students interested in studying abroad now, the scholarship hunt will be more extensive, but there are a lot of scholarships aimed specifically at those studying abroad.
The first scholarship suggestion I always hear is Fastweb, which is a good comprehensive search engine where parameters can be specified. There are also Fulbright scholarships for study abroad, which have been awarded to Mills students in the past. The scholarships that are easier to get tend to be those offered by more localized sources such as the study abroad programs themselves. Along with being an ambassador for IFSA Butler, I am experienced in the systematic study abroad/scholarship hunt and would be happy to give peer advice, I’m reachable at: firstname.lastname@example.org – I also have a stack of shiny IFSA Butler program catalogues, which I will arrange to leave at the M Center.
To sum it up, I had some unparalleled opportunities while abroad. The structure of studying in another country itself is set up to create life-changing experiences. I am a classic example of someone who had every reason not to study abroad and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, perhaps it will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make!