A guide to studying abroad
Three students answer common questions about the study abroad experience.
According to Brandeis’ website, around 40% of each junior class will study abroad during the academic year. With 200 hundred programs offered in over 60 countries, students are given the opportunity to become immersed in a new language, fulfill University requirements and learn in a novel context. This past week, the Office of Study Abroad hosted “Study Abroad Week,” holding informational events throughout campus and featuring student experiences on social media. The Justice emailed several students who have completed a program abroad in order to learn about some of the benefits and challenges that may accompany the decision to study in a different country.
-Melissa Rothenberg ’21: Summer 2018 in Copenhagen
-Roman Loper ’20: Spring 2019 in Chile
-Rolonda Donelson ’20: Spring 2019 in China
Why did you decide to study abroad?
MR: I decided to study abroad for a couple reasons. First of all, I had never left the country before so I knew that studying abroad was a good opportunity. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, so going to a foreign place and living on my own was the perfect chance to do this. In particular, I really liked the Brandeis in Copenhagen program because it was a summer program (which I needed because I am an athlete at school), it fit in well with my major track, and I liked the idea of having a Brandeis teacher come with.
RL: I decided to study abroad because, while there are tons of great learning opportunities here at Brandeis, I think it’s also important to supplement learning with experience. Studying abroad in college is a unique opportunity that wouldn’t be as available in any other time in my life, so I felt like it was important to take advantage of the opportunity while I had the chance. I also felt like going abroad would give me a new perspective on everything I’d learned here at Brandeis.
RD: I am currently an International and Global Studies major so as a requirement for my major I had to partake in an international experience. I wanted to be a part of the global classroom and learn about things while actually being there. For example, while abroad I was able to enroll in a Shanghai History course and I was able to explore the sites of the city because I was actually there.
What are some things students should consider before selecting a program?
MR: Picking a program can be tricky, but there’s one out there for everyone! Personally, I picked a program based on language since I knew I needed a country that spoke English. It is important to keep in mind that many programs have a language requirement. Students should also keep weather in mind, as this can help guide when they want to actually go abroad. Finally, it is important to see how a program fits into your academic plan at Brandeis, which the study abroad office is really good at helping you with.
RL: Before selecting a program, I advise students to think about why they want to go abroad and what they hope to get from that experience. Each study abroad program is unique and offers a different experience, so it is important to check in with your own priorities so you know what you’re looking for. That being said, you’re not alone in this process! The Study Abroad advisors really helped me get a sense of my goals for abroad, and helped me narrow down my decision to find the perfect program.
RD: Some things students should consider when choosing a program are location and housing preference. There are all types of program in different regions around the world and the climate is completely different. For example, the weather in Boston during February is totally different than the weather in Australia during the same time. Also, choosing a housing style is very important when choosing where to go abroad. Do you want to live with a host family? In a dorm? Do you want to cook your own meals? Or do you want an on-campus meal plan?
What are some of the challenges you faced leaving and/or coming back?
MR: I was beyond nervous before I left! There were so many unknowns, but I was ready to face them. Coming back, I immediately realized that I needed to travel more, so I had a hard time being realistic about this. A lot of people have such a great time abroad that they have a hard time leaving. Adjusting once I got back was a challenge at first academically, but once I got into a routine I figured it out.
RL: Leaving my friends at Brandeis and my family back home was challenging. However, once I was abroad I met a bunch of wonderful people who made me feel at home in Chile. The distance from friends and family can be hard at first, but I was still able to stay in touch with people. It was a bit unnerving to not really know what to expect once I arrived in Chile (as I usually like to plan every detail). But I soon found that facing and navigating these challenges is the most important part of going abroad because it forces you to step out of your comfort zone and grow. Honestly, the biggest challenge I faced when I got back to the States was missing my time abroad!
RD: One challenge I faced when leaving for abroad was going from living in a city like DC with less than 1 million people to Shanghai which is one of the most populous cities in the world. So my first few days were a time of cultural adjustment or me. This cultural adjustment was something I also had to face when coming home. I was no longer drinking soy milk for breakfast everyday or living with a roommate. So I had to readjust back to my life at home.
What advice would you give someone thinking of studying abroad?
MR: If someone is on the fence about studying abroad, I would definitely encourage them to do it! You rarely will get the chance to temporarily live in another country. Studying abroad was so important for my personal growth, and everyone I speak to who has studied abroad has felt similarly. I know it can seem ridiculously overwhelming, but it’s worth it!
RL: First, if you are even slightly considering studying abroad you should schedule an appointment with our Study Abroad Advisors or come to drop-in hours Monday-Friday from 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.! I also advise students to make a list of what qualities they are looking for in a study abroad experience (everything from the region, language and course material to the general lessons they hope to learn). That’s what I did when I was considering studying abroad, and my list made it very clear to me that studying abroad was an essential part of my education at Brandeis. It also helped take away a lot of the uncertainty involved in making that decision.
RD: Some advice I would give to someone thinking about studying abroad is to do a lot of research. Gather all the information you can about potential programs you may want to attend as well as information about your potential host country. This program and your host country will be your home for however long you decide to study abroad. This information can be helpful in deciding where to go.