So, you want to study abroad? Tips for diving into the great unknown

Are you currently trying to decide if, when and where to study abroad? Are you enchanted by the idea of leaving Mac for a semester to explore the great unknown? Do you feel overwhelmed by this seemingly colossal decision and want to know more? If so, this article and the ones that will follow were created just for you in order to help you make some key study abroad-related decisions. Even if you don’t identify with any of those categories, I encourage you to read along anyways—you might learn something fun about study abroad!

Before going any further, I should clarify that I am writing this article about study abroad because I have studied abroad myself and I’d love to share some of the unique firsthand experiences that I’ve attained. Last semester I participated in the IFSA-Butler Program at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia and I had an absolutely amazing time. Before I went I agonized over selecting that program out of a slew of other options. I found the entire process to be quite time-consuming and overwhelming, and so I’d love to be able to share my experiences if it helps someone else be able to navigate the waters of study abroad just a little bit more easily.

That said, I am not part of the International Center at Macalester, nor do I pretend to possess their admirable amount of expertise when it comes to this subject. It is basically their whole job to help you with the study abroad process, so if you have any questions at all, they are the best source to turn to. It is my goal to be an extra source of firsthand experience that is hopefully useful to your decision-making when it comes to study abroad.

One of the first questions you have probably asked yourself about study abroad is if you indeed want to do it or not. Some people simply aren’t interested in study abroad, and that is a perfectly fine opinion to have. Don’t feel pressured into studying abroad just because everyone else is doing it. That said, the majority of Macalester students (about 60 percent according to the Macalester website) do decide to make study abroad a part of their undergraduate experience, and for good reason. Personally, I found that study abroad was a great opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and explore the world outside of the Mac bubble. I had experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life, such as snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef or watching the setting sun paint the sails of the iconic Sydney Opera House. I made friends from all over the world and fell in love with travelling. Each person’s study abroad experience is different, but I’m willing to bet that if you choose to study abroad you will grow in ways that you can’t possibly imagine and have experiences that will shape you for the rest of your life. In my opinion, study abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ready for the taking.

So if you’ve decided that you do want to study abroad, one of the first decisions you have to make is when you’d like to go. When you study abroad might be dependent on the particular program that you decide to study with, since curriculum and availability can change throughout the school year. Also keep in mind that Macalester tends to push for students to study abroad in the fall, so if this is something that works for you, perhaps select a fall semester to study away, if only to make the fate of your Macalester application a little more secure. At Macalester, most students choose to study away either in the fall or spring of their junior year, although it is technically possible to go abroad during the second semester of your sophomore year or during your senior year. Studying away during J-term or the summer is also possible, but since Macalester generally does not provide financial support for these programs, studying during these breaks may be infeasible to some people, as it was for myself.

I will be sure to talk more about Macalester’s financial aid policies in a forthcoming article, so stay tuned! Next week, I hope to talk more about things to consider when choosing a study away program. Until then, make sure to thoroughly consider why and when you want to go abroad to help you plan how to choose the perfect program for you.