Picking a Study Abroad Program

When it came to selecting a study abroad program, I had a little bit of a commitment issue…at first.
 Knowing that I wanted to study abroad actually played a really big role in deciding where I wanted to go to school. I fell in love with Goucher College, partially because of their dedication to global citizenship and their study abroad requirement. During my first semester of college, I longingly looked at Goucher’s program offerings and decided that I would probably spend a semester in Copenhagen.

However, after a semester at Goucher, I realized that it wasn’t the place for me. I transferred to Susquehanna University, a place where I am much happier, have incredible opportunities, and am still required to study abroad before graduation. Because all students study away from campus, the application process begins very early. Almost as soon as I started at Susquehanna, I began looking into the available study abroad programs: I only had two months to find my top two choices and apply. When it came to deciding on a program, five things carried the most weight:

1. Timing
From the time I decided I wanted to study abroad, there was no doubt regarding the length: I was definitely doing a full semester. The short ten days trips in high school were amazing, but I wanted more. My original study abroad plan was to go during the spring semester so I did not miss a season of cross country…but then I decided to ‘retire’ from running on a team. Even so, my desire to travel abroad in the spring stuck. After making that decision, wanting to go in the spring limited my choice on the year I would go; I couldn’t head abroad as a sophomore as I missed the application deadline and I clearly couldn’t spend the last semester of my senior year abroad.

2. Location
Though cliché, I desperately want to have to travel as much as I can during my time abroad. To be able to do that, economically and geographically, it meant that I would study abroad in Europe. After I made that decision, I needed to figure out the language component. While I have taken 5.5 years of Spanish, my level of understanding doesn’t quite match that. I definitely do not know enough Spanish to take classes taught in the language, which meant I needed to find a program that taught classes in English. Outside of class, however, I was willing to be surrounded by a language I didn’t speak. Italy emerged as the perfect location, due to many programs being taught in English and a (slight) familiarity with Italian due to my (slight) knowledge of Spanish. I’m going to try to learn as much Italian as I can, but being in a city will mean more people speak English when I need to fall back to my native language.

3. Living
I have friends who have had incredible homestay experiences. They loved the family they were with and truly got a taste of the culture of where they were studying. Knowing that I want to travel on the weekends made me consider the possible negative impact that could have on my relationship with a host family. In the end, the program I selected had the perfect balance: apartment living scattered throughout normal buildings (not university owned) with the ability to join Italian Family Club, which meets once a week and allows you to bond with a local family.

4. Classes
Major and double minor, undeclared until my sophomore year, transfer student, spending a semester abroad…let’s just say I need to be careful so I can graduate on time. That means that it is crucial that my classes abroad count towards graduation requirements. I need to take classes in my major while I’m abroad, which severed my budding relationship with Susquehanna’s Prague program when I was deciding my top choices. I didn’t just want classes to fill requirements though, I wanted to take some that just sounded interesting too. Enter “Pasta, an Italian Staple: From History to Table.”

5. Intuition
My instincts told me that everything was right about Prague…until it wasn’t. I realized the program didn’t really have everything I needed and wanted regarding my living situation and classes. Then, I found the Florence University of the Arts program with Global Semesters (University of Nicosia). EVERYTHING that I wanted from my study abroad experience was being offered by the program, topped with experiential learning opportunities. I fell in love with the program so much that I had a hard time picking a second choice…I wasn’t really sure how my heart would have handled being turned away from my number one. A few weeks ago, I found a Facebook message I sent a friend after I spent two short days in Florence my senior year: “I really loved Florence, I felt very comfortable and at home there. I think it’s the first place in Europe that I REALLY want to go back to. It was so beautiful, a perfect blend of old and new.”

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