Bon Voyage! How to Successfully Study Abroad
Studying abroad can be one of the most life-changing experiences for the typical adventurous college student, with proven research showing it has real benefits. According to data provided by the University of California, Merced, 96 to 97% said they had an increase in self-confidence and maturity as a result of studying abroad. Studying abroad is also proven to improve a student’s retention and increase their GPA which makes them more likely to transfer and get into grad school, according to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.
Living in a foreign country is rewarding for most students studying abroad as they are fully immersed in the country’s culture, lifestyle and people for a semester away from home. Although most study abroad programs are usually available in four-year universities, it is not talked about enough that junior college students can also study across the globe. Fullerton College launched its study abroad program in 2018, although the program unofficially existed long prior to its actual debut, using third-party sites to fund the trip. The program was put on hiatus not long after it started when the pandemic began in 2020. Now it’s back in full force with trips in 2023 and 2024, including Ireland (summer 2023), Italy (fall 2023), France (spring 2024), and Japan (2024)– just to name a few.
While it’s great that these opportunities exist, it can be hard to know where to start. Planning your dream semester overseas doesn’t have to be so difficult. The Study Abroad Office at Fullerton College offers informational sessions about a year prior to the start of the program and can help you begin the process by reviewing your transcripts and guiding you on the right path to plan in advance. To be a candidate for study abroad, you must complete a set of requirements. Applicants should be at least 18 years old by the beginning of the program and must have completed at least 12 units of college credit before applying. A minimum 2.5 GPA is also required, and applicants should have completed English 100 or equivalent with a “C” or better.
Every trip has a selective number of classes available. These Fullerton College courses fulfill any major/general education requirements for transfer but also count as elective credit for others who may not need to take them. The Spring 2023 Seville, Spain trip is currently offering anthropology and business classes while the Fall 2023 Rome, Italy trip plans to offer business, earth science, and art history classes. Students are not allowed to take other online courses while abroad as attendance to all excursions is mandatory. Students also cannot work.
Studying abroad can get expensive quickly, but there are ways to make your semester away from home more affordable. A study abroad program at Fullerton College can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $9,000 per semester (excluding airfare), depending on the location. A summer program runs at about $4,500 (excluding airfare). These costs include housing, excursions, tuition and books. Students are encouraged to book their own flight to accommodate their budget. Scheduling a flight months ahead of time and using mileage cards can also come in handy for a pricey flight.
But what about everyday expenses? How much money does it cost to have fun while living in a foreign country?
“I tell students, think about what you spend here, what are your monthly expenses? Tabulate that and then add on, do you want to travel? Do you want to shop? So it can be anywhere like $1,000 a month, it can be $1,500 a month, it kind of depends,” says Angela Henderson, Study Abroad Coordinator. “We had a student go to London, and he didn’t have a lot of extra cash. So he never left London for three months, but instead, he got connected with a local soccer team. He’d walk into a pub, and everyone knew him. He just found all the free things to do,” says Henderson.
There are scholarships and financial assistance available as well, including the Fund for Education Abroad award that gives study-abroad students $2,500 in the summer or $5,000 for a fall semester. Students compete nationally in hopes of receiving the scholarship, and 867 students have been honored with the award since the organization’s start in 2010. If you receive a Pell Grant, you are also eligible for the Benjamin A. Gilman international scholarship, which awards students with up to half of their fees covered (average award of about $4,000).
Making a budget and saving money with sufficient time in advance will help make your travels smooth sailing. Start picking up those extra shifts at work, do some freelancing, or start fundraisers to raise enough money for your travel fund. Heavyn Agu, a 21-year-old sociology major currently on the Seville, Spain trip, says that teaching herself how to save and budget was essential to make her dream trip to Seville a reality. “When I first was hired in high school, I would tend to go out and spend a lot of money just because I had it, but I really had to learn discipline and obedience– to just know I’m saving my money for a bigger purpose and this purpose is gonna pay off in the long run,” says Agu.
With such a high price tag, is studying abroad really worth it? Are the benefits from this experience worth the money? Henderson says that studying abroad and putting it on your resume can be the key to standing out from the crowd when transferring. Only a select number of students nationwide study abroad, and the number of community college students is even smaller. “What’s crazy is, in the United States, less than 10% of students in all universities and colleges study abroad. And of that population, community colleges make up less than 3%,” says Henderson. “It opens doors because now you’re putting something on a transfer application. You’re putting something on a resume that 97% of others don’t have.”
Kathy Standen, a business professor currently on the Spain trip, says that her love for traveling and fascination with Hispanic culture is what motivated her to be one of the two professors in Seville. Standen also thinks that studying abroad gives students the opportunity to soak everything in without being on limited time.
“What I’m finding is– I’ve traveled, but not for three months in one place before. And so I’m really seeing the culture and I’m not as pressed, I have to go see these fine things today. It’s like, oh, let’s just go have lunch in the park and just enjoy the day, which is what I did today,” she says.
Living in a new country you’ve never been to before can be scary and nerve-wracking, but being surrounded by your fellow peers can help make this new adjustment feel homey in no time. Celeste Rodriguez, a 21-year-old anthropology major currently studying abroad in Spain, says Seville instantly felt like home after experiencing a weekend getaway to Madrid during the group’s early weeks in Spain. “One of the girls had mentioned that she was feeling homesick, and we all immediately knew that she was referring to Seville, not home in the States. We all understood each other. We all knew collectively as a group that we missed Seville,” says Rodriguez.
Stepping into a new environment like an unfamiliar country allows you to open your perspective of the world in a number of different ways. With proven research to show it really works, why not pack your bags next semester for the trip of a lifetime? Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience you’ll treasure forever– and sharing this once-in-a-lifetime moment with other like-minded students is sure to create memorable bonds you’ll hold dear to your heart for the rest of your life.