Myth Busters: Study Abroad Edition
You may think you know what it takes to be able to study abroad during your undergraduate college career. You may also think you know that studying abroad isn’t possible for you.
You may be wrong.
I chose Franklin & Marshall College for two reasons: the research opportunities and the study abroad opportunities. Once I’d gotten to campus though, due to my major, family background, economic status, and extracurricular responsibilities, I thought that studying abroad was an opportunity I would not be able to take advantage of.
I thought wrong.
I am writing this blog post in the hopes that if you are struggling with actualizing the dream to go abroad, that this will help propel you in the right direction. Here are 4 hurdles I had to jump over to reach my goal, how I did it, and why I would do it all over again.
Hurdle 1: Being a STEM student
Probably the most formidable opponent in my journey to studying abroad. Ask anyone who has to take a lab (or two or three or 12 in their college career), they make or break your schedule. Three to four hour labs take up a huge chunk of your time! What’s more, not all institutions around the world may meet your home college’s requirements to transfer those credits back to your transcript. Enter IFSA to save the day. I have never seen a more diverse course catalog in my life than when I was looking through Macquarie University’s selection.
This university, located in Sydney, Australia, was one of the programs offered by IFSA. Right away, I began to feel much more optimistic about the process. Marine geoscience, animal behavior, genetics, anatomy, you name it and they had it! And when I had to get my courses pre-approved by F&M, it was nearly effortless. All I had to do was submit the course names & descriptions and I received approval within the month! The key to working with your major is planning ahead. Ask yourself, what specific courses do I need to take on campus and when? What credits can I earn abroad? Meet with your academic advisors and on campus study abroad office! These are resources you MUST utilize if you’re looking to ensure your academic progress stays on track.
Hurdle 2: Being a first-generation college student
I am a proud Hispanic-American woman, with ties to Puerto Rico, New York, and Miami. I’ve got a great family, whose sacrifices and support are the reason I am here writing to you today. Being the first person in my family to go to college, however, was no easy feat. Applying to schools, figuring out the financial aid process, mapping out my courses, etc. It has been a challenge with the sweetest of rewards. After tackling all these things, I thought the hardest part was over, until I realized I had to ask my parents about studying abroad… in Sydney, Australia. Needless to say that my overprotective parents from the Bronx, New York, were NOT for it at first.
It took a lot of conversations, some good some bad, to show them that this was a passion of mine. I even made a PowerPoint presentation to show them. Yes, I really did. I worked really hard to make this study abroad dream come true. Once they saw the amount of effort and thought I’d put into it, they really came around to the idea! It is difficult but so important to talk with your loved ones about your goals and how you’re achieving them. Only then can they understand and get behind you in your journey!
Hurdle 3: Being a lower-middle class kid
Hey, there’s no shame in admitting that money is a problem. It was for me! Sometimes I’ve even had to work two jobs while being a full-time student in college. It can be exhausting and frustrating that due to my economic status I am automatically ridden with the responsibility of a job. It’s essentially like taking an extra class. My advice, do your homework on study abroad programs. You’d be surprised to find that many programs actually offer scholarships and resources to help with the financial aspects of things.
IFSA offers incredible scholarships and even a work-study opportunity for students embarking on one of their programs! The application process entails some extra writing and indicating your interest in their scholarships on your application, and that’s it! Also, collaborate with your financial aid office to see how feasible studying abroad is for you. Every institution is different, but I know that F&M’s financial aid office was incredibly kind and helpful. They worked with me and my personal aid package to help me see that is was actually so possible to study abroad!
Hurdle 4: Being involved on campus
You’re reading a blog post by a girl who probably does not understand the word “no” when it comes to committing to things. I can’t help it. One minute I have a free Sunday afternoon and the next I’m running from a study group to a tutoring session to a discussion panel to office hours to a sports match and then into my sorority’s chapter meeting… it’s a lot. Especially a lot to break away from for an entire semester. It took some sacrificing on my part, and on the organizations I participate in. I decided that I wouldn’t take any leadership positions the fall of my junior year, while promising that I could come back and immediately pick up where I’d left off. It’s not ideal, but if you want to study abroad, you have to prioritize. If you’re a student athlete, I’d recommend going abroad during the semester when your sport isn’t in season, like many of my friends did! Figure out which organizations YOU want to be a leader in as opposed to just being an active member. We’re not super-humans, we can’t do it all. We can, however, pick and choose our involvements to better suit our needs and priorities!
It is an incredible opportunity to experience life in another part of the world. Personally, studying abroad taught me a new level of independence and gave me a better sense of self. I learned that biology can take me anywhere, even to the southern hemisphere of the world. I learned that I really enjoy nature hikes. I even learned how to drive a boat! Everyone’s stories are different but they typically have the same end result: a newfound joy in life. Be it in academics, hobbies, sports, or their career path, there are always new self-discoveries to be made. That’s why I would do it all over again. Without my semester abroad in Australia, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Kristen Colon is a Biology student at Franklin & Marshall College and studied abroad with IFSA at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia in Fall 2017.