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Globetrotting & Grades: How to Study Abroad [Even As A Professional]

If pursuing education is in your foreseeable future, and you are trying to figure out if international living is a fit for you, then studying abroad might be a option. Whether it’s a short-term or a  more than a year, education abroad is a great gateway to get a taste of international living while working on your professional development. In this post, we’ll explain what exactly it means to study abroad, how you can do it and share resources on how to prepare. 

What is Study Abroad & Why Does it Matter?

Let’s start with the basics. What  does it mean to study abroad? Study abroad is the opportunity to take educational courses in another country. These courses can be part of a degree program or for specialized training. The main goal is to  further your own educational knowledge but there are additional benefits  including the development of language skills, expanding professional networks and building cultural knowledge and competency.   If you’ve listened to our podcast, the Global Chatter, you will know that several guests including Kory Saunders, Jim Stenman and Dr. Neeta Ramkumar all highlighted how studying abroad influenced their eventual long-term plans to become expats.

Studying abroad is typically associated with young adults between the ages of 14 and 25, who might be in high school or university. But in reality, students can be any age and if you’re enrolled in an academic program, you may be qualified to go. In addition, there are programs that are available to those who are in graduate school or pursuing professional development programs.   Regardless of your age, this can be a great way to determine if living abroad for the long term is for you.  

What are my study abroad options?

Option 1: Apply for study abroad from your home institution

If you are currently enrolled in a  university, study abroad programs run from a few weeks to a year.  The main expectation is that you are attending classes that will transfer academic credit to your home institution. 

The process generally begins with your study abroad office at your university. Sometimes, this office may be standalone or it might be part of a bigger international education unit. Either way, the office is staffed with professionals who can work with you to put together a study abroad plan. They will have information on study abroad programs that are offered through your institution. 

You can expect to fill out an application based on a short stint (a few weeks), a semester/quarter or a full academic year.  The type of program that might fit your needs will most likely be based on a few key factors— your course of study, the transferability of academic credit, your personal geographical interests as well as cost. If your institution does not have a direct partnership with an institution in your location of interest, they may be able to help you find a match through their third party study abroad providers (professional study abroad organizations that institutions have partnerships with) or another academic institution.

As mentioned earlier, study abroad is not limited to the traditional age student (18-24) or undergraduate students. If you can find a program that meets your academic needs and interests, you can make this work. As a graduate student, sommelier Cha McCoy traded in her part-time MBA program in the US, for her school’s campus in Rome.  The key is to find the programs that are directly related or beneficial to your course of graduate study.

How to pay for it:

Many schools offer financial aid assistance which can help reduce your out of pocket cost. In some cases, the cost of your program (if done through your institution) might be comparable to your tuition and fees at home. Study abroad offices are also able to guide qualified students through financial resources, including scholarships, that can help offset cost. If you receive governmental or institutional financial aid it might be applied to your cost of going abroad.

You may want to consider financial aid assistance from:

Explore funding sources available at your university including study abroad and financial aid offices. 

Research scholarships opportunities from the host institutions you will be attending* (if you are eligible as an international student).

Identify scholarships specifically for students of color including  Go Overseas Resources for BIPOC Students and Diversity Abroad Scholarship Resources.

Option 2: Become an international student

Another possibility is to complete scrap the idea of attending college education at home and pursue your diploma or degree abroad instead. In this scenario, you identify your overseas schools of your choice, and apply directly to the institution. Many schools have specific applications that might be for international or foreign students. You will need to follow the school’s appropriate guidelines in order to apply. 

Christa Wathen did just that. When she decided to pursue her Phd in archaeology, Sweden was an easy choice given one key benefit that as a doctorate student she is considered an employee. As a result, she receives a stipend that covers her needs while she is completing her studies and research, which is typically a 4-5 year program.  For her, as someone who doesn’t have dependents, it meets her living needs. 

However, be mindful, this might not be the case everywhere. There may be limits to your visa [ status in the country]. Depending on the status, it might prohibit your ability to work in the country or place a cap on how many hours you can work. Remember your primary purpose for being in the country is to study and you have to be mindful.

How to pay for it:

Explore institutional financial resources if they are available for international/foreign students.

Research if financial aid options in your home country can be used in a different location.

Identify private scholarships and grants that help support your studies.

Black Muslim female taking notes while attending a class at lecture hall as a study abroad student
Image: iStock

Option 3: Find a specialized training program

Studying abroad isn’t just limited to completing a degree.  There might be specialized training that just makes sense for you to live abroad — even for a short stint. Karen Ricks and her family moved to Italy so that she could get specialized training in the culinary arts. In the same way, there may be a particular skill or training that you would like to obtain either for your own interest or professional growth that might lead you overseas. 

Another big reason to study abroad could be to strengthen your language skills. While you can learn a language at home, there’s nothing like an immersion program where you have to use the learned language every day in the community. One way to do that is to enroll in an immersion language program. These programs are often geared towards professionals who want to improve their mastery of the language. As you can understand, your main purpose is to learn a language and programs can vary from a few weeks to six months or longer. Programs such as EducationFirst and Concordia Language Villages can offer residential programs to help you build your skills. 

Because you are most likely researching programs on your own, make sure the programs you are considering are reputable. You may want to seek word of mouth referrals from people you trust,read reviews from trusted sources and talk to the programs directly to get your questions answered. If possible, you might want to consider talking to a current or past participant so you have an idea of what to expect. 

How to pay for it:

Explore if your employer will cover it as professional development/training [if you can demonstrate it directly impacts and has relevance to your job].

Research funding options with the organization you are seeking to use.

Identify relevant grants to your course of study.

Tips and Reminders for Study Abroad

Plan the legal status logistics: Part of your preparation will be securing the proper legal documentation to stay in your host country. Start doing your research early so you have enough time to arrive before classes start. Depending on the country, you may need to show admissions to your program before a visa will be issued. 

Make a budget: You need a budget. Anticipate that you will have some out of pocket costs to pay, even if tuition and housing are covered by other sources. You may need to cover for insurance, transportation, visa applications, living expenses and more. Now it’s a good time to figure out how much you need to make your life financially comfortable. 

Find the discounts: As a student, you might be eligible for discounted services — such as insurance and airline tickets that target student travelers. It may cost you less money to engage in activities that you would have to pay full price in different circumstances.

While study abroad may only be seen for young adults, if you’re a professional you can take advantage of the opportunity. The great part is that you will be in your adopted home for a short stint and it’s a great way to test drive if living abroad is right for you.   You know you have a guaranteed end date. If being an expat isn’t right for you, you can definitely return home. In the same way, if it is, you may have just found your new home location. 

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