5 Steps for International Students to Take Before Studying Abroad

Studying abroad can be a great idea for international students, and it's a topic that's been covered before in the International Student Counsel blog. In addition to this previous advice, I'd like to discuss some tips on what to do before your study abroad trip to get the most out of this wonderful experience.

[ Consider a study abroad program as an international student.]

1. Spend a few years in the U.S. first: I usually advise my fellow international student friends not to study abroad until at least the second semester of their sophomore year. I chose to study abroad at the Maastricht University in the Netherlands during the second semester of my junior year.

As an international student, you need to settle in at your U.S. school and overcome culture shock before thinking about going somewhere else. The good news is that by then, you will have done it once before and have a much easier time adapting to another culture!

[See how you can use an exchange program to prepare for U.S. study.]

2. Solicit advice from the international student office: As soon as studying abroad becomes a real possibility, you should go talk to many people, since you will need a lot of support and advice in this process.

Your first stop should be the international student services office at your college, where you can find out about visa requirements should you choose to travel in different areas of the world. In many schools, the international student services office also serves as the study abroad office, so you can also discuss which program is most appropriate for your interests and circumstances.

3. Find out how it will affect your academics: Your next stop is your academic adviser's office. It is important for you to discuss your intentions with your adviser to ensure that studying abroad will not delay your graduation. Your adviser can also help you pick a program that can fulfill certain credits, either general ones or for your major.

[Learn about more campus resources for international students.]

4. Ask the financial aid office about funding: Finally, you should go talk to someone at the financial aid office of your school, especially if you are on any kind of scholarship or receiving financial aid. Study abroad programs might cost more or less than tuition and room and board at your school. Talking to someone will give you a good idea of whether you will need more money, or will have extra for travelling.

I found out that the financial package I had from Colorado College not only covered my expense for my program in the Netherlands, but also gave me an extra $200 per month for other expenses. It took all I had to not hug the financial officer who delivered the good news.

5. Start applications early: As an international student, you might need extra paperwork for the program, as well as extra time to obtain a visa to the destination country. In some cases, students might also need to return to their home country to obtain a visa back to the U.S.

This is why you should talk to the international student service office at your school to find out exactly what needs to be done, and start the process early to make sure that you gather everything in time to start the program.

Also, it doesn't hurt to book the flights very early. That money saved could later be spent on a weekend trip to somewhere like Brussels for some unforgettably delicious chocolate.

Tra Ho, from Vietnam, received full financial aid to attend Colorado College in 2004. She graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with a degree in mathematics and is currently working as an actuary for a consulting company Washington, D.C.

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