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So you want to go to Europe to study? It’s not as simple as you might think. This isn’t backpacking across Europe. A serious and effective study abroad semester or year means mostly staying in one place and taking advantage of educational and cultural resources that you would never have access to in the United States. Studying on the continent is certainly a great opportunity to hop around to international cities every weekend and flash your ISIC (International Student Identity card) at the local hostels. But if you’re out of town every possible chance, you’ll never get a deeper understanding of your host country’s culture and people.
Of course you’ve heard of the Sorbonne in Paris, but what about the American University? Or maybe you know Charles University in Prague, but what about Anglo-American University? A smaller school often means more individual attention on students, smaller classroom size, and professors who are more willing to work with their students. Also, these smaller schools usually have access to the city’s larger university library and/or other resources—all you will need is your student ID.
So how do you get from here to there with the least amount of resistance?
University-organized Programs vs.Direct Enrollment
You basically have two options:
· Go through a study abroad program that is organized either by your own university (or another university that will transfer the credits back to your own school), or an entirely separate study abroad organization such as API Academic Program International http://www.academicintl.com/). The main differences will be the availability of relevant study programs and the cost.
· Direct enrollment at the university abroad, which means you have to pretty much arrange everything, from housing to visa to class schedule. This can be much less expensive, however, and quite an adventure.
Both routes have their advantages and disadvantages, but your experience as a study abroad student in Europe also has a lot to do with your own attitude toward your adopted home.
University Organized Program
There is virtually no end to the range of subjects and courses that can be studied in Europe. But it only makes sense to try and choose a subject that is best studied specifically in your host country. Otherwise, you may as well not study abroad. You can study art history in Florence, Portuguese literature in Lisbon, Soviet history in Russia or wine-making in France. The Transitions Abroad website (http://www.transitionsabroad.com/)is one of the most comprehensive sources for study abroad information, so definitely start your search there for program ideas. Even before you arrive, be proactive and try to connect with a professor or two whose courses you are enrolled in or interested in, and see if there are any research projects that you might be able to help with, to collaborate on. This is necessary, in fact, if you going the direct enrollment route.
It’s important to establish a contact person at the university or program to help you through the application process—even a professor could help you if you aren’t getting through to the admissions office. Use Skype and make some phone calls if you are not getting replies to your emails.
In some cases, if you speak the native language, the language in which your lectures will be given, your tuition could actually be free, since education for most European citizens is FREE at the university level. Your main expenses then would be (aside from airfare) room and board and books. Even books can be borrowed from the school or public library. You might have to take a language and/or subject exam as part of the university’s application process.
Since everything is in your hands, you need to be aware of deadlines, including how long it will take you to obtain a student visa, if you are staying over the 90-day limit that is allowed on a tourist visa (just your U.S. passport) within most EU and Schengen Zone countries. Go to the website of your study country’s embassy and check out their requirements for a student visa. Very often, the student visa is the simplest and cheapest (or even free) visa to obtain because the EU wants an influx of students. But you must send your application at least 2 or 3 months in advance of your departure to Europe in order to ensure the timely return of your passport with the affixed student visa.
In order to obtain a student visa, you will need to first prove to the embassy that you have been admitted to an educational institute in their country, which means you must start your university applications much in advance of the visa application. Make sure you request an official notarized original letter of admission from the program you are accepted into—you will be sending this to the embassy as part of your visa application.
The Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship and the Fulbright Grant are two of the best and more highly accessible scholarships for a year of study abroad.
The more unique your country of study, the less “in demand” your country of study, the better your chances are of being selected for the scholarship. For example, if you plan to apply to study literature or poetry some where in the U.K.—good luck with that. For both the Rotary International scholarship and Fulbright Grant, you are usually expected to be able to study in the host country’s language. There are some exceptions made for some less commonly studied languages, such as in central and eastern Europe, and in these countries, you need only to speak English but may have to show that you are making an effort to study the host country language.
“Do you speak English?” It can get embarrassing to ask this question 10 times a day when you live abroad.Unless you are enrolled in a language-oriented program (or even if you are), it can be tough to consistently practice your foreign language skills outside the classroom. But are you ready to actively soak up the local lingo? Hanging out only with the other English-speaking students or expats in your adopted city isn’t going to do you much good, or even speaking with the locals you befriend who are more than happy to use you to practice their English skills. And every time you attempt to be the good study-abroad student and order your meal in the local language, your waitress offers you a tight smile and immediately switches to English.
To combat this most common problem, there is a very effective solution—the language tandem (http://www.languagetandem.net/) or conversation exchange. You can make the most of your time abroad by considering in advance how to deal with the obstacles you will face in learning the local language. Once you are settled in your new city (or if you have time, you can arrange this while you are in the United States), post an ad on the local expats classifieds section, or on the local Craigslist, asking for help in the native language, and offering, in exchange, to teach English (or any other language you are fluent in). Also search the bulletin boards at the local universities, bookstores and student cafes for language exchange offers.
Student Travel Agencies
What kind of ticket do you get? Nowadays, you must have a return ticket when you fly most places, especially the EU. If you are only planning on a one semester study abroad program, then your ticket will be simpler to obtain. However, if you are hoping to do an entire academic year abroad, or even longer so you can do some traveling before and/or after your program, you will need to get an open ticket through a travel agency that specializes in student/youth travel or around-the-world package deals. STA Travel, a discount student and youth travel agency (http://www.statravel.com/) offers a good deal specifically for these kinds of tickets.
Suchi Rudra Vasquez is a freelance writer living in Prague.
Questions to ask when choosing a study program
· What is your reason for wanting to study abroad?
· Are your language skills strong enough so that you are able to study in the host country’s language, or do you need a program taught in English?
· Do you want to focus your studies on a foreign language or on a subject or range of subjects?
· Aside from your personal preferences, comfort level and financial situation, does your home university semester plan allow you to study abroad for one month, one semester, two semesters, a summer?
· Do you want to live in a dorm, your own flat, or with a host family? The latter option, if available, ensures a true cultural and language immersion experience, but can also pose its own problems.