Students who choose to attend community college over a traditional four-year university do so to save money or to have greater flexibility with their classes. Just because you choose a community college, however, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a true college experience. Many community colleges are starting to offer their students the same benefits that more traditional colleges offer, including study abroad opportunities. If you are a community college student considering a study abroad program, take the time to learn the pros and cons before you make your choice.
Can Community College Students Study Abroad?
Unless you’ve already done some research, you may not know that study abroad is even an option for community college students. The fact of the matter is, however, that more community college students are taking advantage of study abroad programs than ever before. According to research, nearly 6,000 community college students participated in study abroad programs in the 2012 to 2013 school year. That was a 12% increase from the year before, and the number continues to rise. Even though there are more community college students studying abroad each year, they are still just a drop in the bucket. In terms of the total number of American students who study abroad each year, community college students only represent about 3% of the total.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad?
Before you decide to study abroad, there are many things you need to think about. It takes a lot of preparation to arrange a study abroad program and it’s not something you should decide to do on a whim. Take the time to think about the pros and the cons of studying abroad.
Pros for Studying Abroad:
- Spending time in a new country will allow you to experience a new culture and to interact with people you may have never met otherwise.
- Studying abroad means making new friends at your new school and they may be friends that you keep for the rest of your life.
- Depending on where you choose to go, you may be able to learn a new language or solidify your understanding of a language you’ve already been studying.
- You’ll be much closer to other exciting places worth visiting, depending on where you choose to complete your study abroad program.
- Some study abroad programs enable you to experience a new country and new culture at a more affordable price point than if you were to take a vacation there instead.
- Depending on your area of study, studying abroad may offer you more opportunities to learn and to get hands-on experience.
Cons for Studying Abroad:
- There is a lot of preparation that must be done for a study abroad program – you need to be accepted to the program, get a visa and/or passport, find a place to live, and make travel arrangements.
- Being in a foreign country can be a challenging experience and many students find that they become homesick.
- Making new friends can be difficult, especially if you don’t speak the language, so you may become lonely during your study abroad program.
- In some cases, studying abroad can become expensive if you don’t receive aid from your school – living costs may also be higher in the place you choose to study.
- Studying abroad can bring lots of distractions which may cause you to fall behind in your studies – it is easy to put off school work when there is traveling to be done.
As you can see, there are benefits and drawbacks associated with studying abroad. This doesn’t mean that you should write it off as not being an option, it only means that you need to think carefully before you make your choice. Keep reading to learn more about preparing for a study abroad program.
Preparing for Your Study Abroad
When you start to think about studying abroad, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement. Thinking about where you want to go and all of the things you’ll get to do can become the focus and the important details get pushed to the back burner. If you want your study abroad to go smoothly, however, you’ll need to do some preparation.
Here are some of the most important steps you’ll need to take in preparing to study abroad:
- Apply for your passport early. You are going to need a valid passport to travel internationally and you need to make sure that it doesn’t expire within 6 months of your intended return date. It can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to apply for and get a passport, so don’t put it off!
- Determine whether you need a visa. If you are doing your study abroad program over the summer or if it is under three months in length, you may not need a visa – you might be able to get by on a tourist visa. Be sure to double check, however – it is better to be safe than sorry!
- Get a physical before you go. Before you leave for your study abroad you should make sure that you get a physical exam to ensure that you are in good health. You should also bring your medical records along with you, just in case.
- Purchase travel and health insurance. Though some health insurance providers cover international travel, you shouldn’t take for granted that yours will. If your current plan doesn’t offer coverage, see if you can purchase a plan for international coverage. You should also think about getting travel insurance in case your flight is canceled, your luggage is lost, or something gets stolen while you’re abroad.
- Buy your plane ticket early. For most study abroad programs, the plane ticket is the biggest upfront expense. You can save a lot of money on plane travel, however, simply by knowing when to book. Mid-week flights tend to be cheaper and you might be able to save by picking a flexible flight date.
- Do a lot of research. Before you head to a new country, you want to do plenty of research to learn about the local culture and customs. You may be surprised to find that some of the things that are very common in American culture are either uncommon or even frowned upon in other cultures. Avoid accidentally offending someone by learning about the culture where you are going.
- Brush up on your language skills. Studying abroad is a great opportunity to improve your language skills, but it probably isn’t a good idea to go without knowing at least a little bit of the language. You should be able to handle basic phrases and plan to take a language class while you’re abroad. You should also make friends with students who are fluent so you can ask them for help.
- Talk to your bank. If you’re going to be traveling to a foreign country, you will probably have to talk to your bank about accessing your accounts while you’re abroad. You may be able to use your ATM card to get cash in the local currency, but you still need to let your bank know you’re traveling so they don’t freeze your account when they see international charges.
Studying abroad is a wonderful experience that any community college student would be lucky to have. It isn’t without its challenges, however, so you need to think carefully about the pros and cons before you decide to go and before you choose a program. Once you’ve made your decision, follow the tips provided above to make your preparations and then get ready to enjoy yourself.
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