How to start thinking about study abroad

Carmen Rising

Studying abroad may seem far away, but getting a head start on scholarship searches, visa applications and a list of must-try foods will help make your life easier when it comes time to actually go abroad. Living in a foreign country is an amazing experience, but life still happens, so start planning early. 

Studying abroad may seem like something you’ll get around to do doing later in college, but it’s never too early to start planning. Upon graduating high school, I knew I wanted to study abroad during the spring of my sophomore year. I began doing research on programs, scholarships and best food locations about a year and a half before my anticipated departure. Though you may not study abroad until later in college, planning early will allow time for you to argue about credit transfers, buy a new wardrobe to face months of freezing weather and create a bucket list so you can hit the ground running with activities for your new life. 

Given the amount of amazing countries to study in, it can be difficult to narrow it down to just one. To make life easier, think about what you want out of studying abroad and whether there is a specific academic subject on which you’d want to focus. I knew that I wanted to strengthen my French skills, so I chose to study from the self-proclaimed French language authorities at La Sorbonne in Paris, France. Heather Thompson, interim director of Study Abroad at UT, explained that many students start with a subject that interests them and then choose a country that has the best program for their interests.  

“If they don’t know where they want to go, it’s a whole different conversation. It’s more subject driven,” said Thompson. “They may know they want to study math. Well, what kind of math? Applied mathematics? There are simple elements that help students figure out where to go.” 

After perusing the UT study abroad website for programs that interest you, talking to your regular academic advisor is usually the first step students should take when they start planning. Your advisor can refer you to the study abroad office to meet with one of their student advisors or to attend one of their regular programs.

As amazing as studying in another country is, finding a way to fund tuition, plane tickets and a pastry addiction can be daunting. The best thing to do is to look for scholarships as soon as possible. UT offers many scholarships strictly for studying abroad, some of which are exclusively available to freshman. In addition to scholarships, I picked up extra shifts at my part-time job, cut back on frivolous spending and asked for only money and rain gear at Christmas. 

During my time abroad, I spent hours getting lost in freezing rain, staying in questionable hostels and even started fanticizing about cheeseburgers out of home sickness. But my French skills improved exponentially, I am now confident enough to explore a new place on my own, and I made lifelong friends. Life still happens while you’re abroad. Sometimes it feels even more difficult because you’re in a new place and you’ve never had to navigate a metro system before, but planning way in advanced will definitely help ease you into life overseas.