Monday, June 6, 2011

Study Abroad: Weeding and Deciding on a Program

A major reason I started this blog was to chronicle my upcoming study abroad trip, since I often could not find personal resources when I was searching. This part of a series of posts leading up to my departure.

It can be hard to find programs, but once you do you've got a different problem: weeding all the ones you've discovered to leave your top choices.

Once I narrowed my focus to three countries (Japan, Germany, Spain), I agonized for days about which program was the best. Eventually, my solution (thanks to parents who are, thankfully, a bit more level-headed than I) was to set a few ultimatums when it came to the program I would do. These were:

1) It had to have the dates listed and said dates had to coincided with my availability of late May-mid August
2) It had to be $3500 or less, and
3) Courses had to be in English, and they had to be courses I could take.

"Duh," I can hear you saying. "Those are some pretty important points to ignore."

A lot of programs are done through individual universities, and sometimes their websites just aren't updated. So by December 2010, if I couldn't tell exactly when the program was, it was an automatic weeding--no matter how awesome-sounding or cheap it sounded. If they couldn't be bothered to put in basic information for a potential student, then I'm not going to waste my time.

Point two: price. I had the hardest time, and eventually had to enlist my parents to help me decided on a price. A lot of programs ran between five and seven thousand dollars. No way was I going to find the money, and the less I have to pay back, the better.

Prices can be tricky. For example, Kansas University's German program looked okay, even though the $4300 price tag was over my budget anyway...but then you see that that's just the "program fee," and tuition for the actual classes was another $2k. To be fair to KU, these prices aren't hidden, they're right there on the page together, but breaking up the fees can initially fool you into thinking this is a cheaper one.

Plus, extra expenses not covered in the program fee had to be taken into account: meals were included in some programs, but not others. Ditto with housing, transportation, etc.

And alas, the third point rings true: I got incredibly excited when I discovered a program in Trier, Germany, half an hour from where I used to live and a city I'm already semi-familiar with. Unfortunately, further examination revealed that everything was conducted in German. Since my skills aren't even at "where is the bathroom?" level, that's not an option. And lots of programs had courses that wouldn't do anything for me (business, science--as as communication major, those wouldn't add anything but electives to my transcript).

Semester at Sea should get me that much-needed Underwater Basket Weaving credit!

Essentially, what it comes down to is this: keep adding things to your list of must-haves until you only have, at most, three programs left. You want to spend a significant time abroad so you can live and not just be a studying tourist, and the Heidelberg trip is three weeks long? Weed it! You've decided you really, really have no interest in Berlin? Weed them all!

The other thing to keep in mind: these must transfer. Unless you really want to pay just for the experience, you'll want to make sure that any credits transfer back. One of the deciding factors between my top two choices CEA--Seville, Spain and USAC--Luneberg, Germany was that USAC's website was easy to navigate, with lots of info for my advisor, and we were able to determine accreditation and that credits would thus transfer without a problem.

After an entire semester of researching, evaluating, weeding, and a lot of procrastinating, I applied to USAC's summer program in Luneberg, Germany. The $300 application fee had me wondering about their credibility, but it after research it appears to be fairly standard (also, it makes sure you won't apply unless you are darn sure that you will get accepted). After being accepted, that's when the real fun began.

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