Studying abroad: what you need to know

Professor Patrick Chapman and student Melissa Saiz-Matheny in New Zealand on the 2013 winter quarter study abroad trip. Provided by Tawny Mayer

Professor Patrick Chapman and student Melissa Saiz-Matheny in New Zealand on the 2013 winter quarter study abroad trip. Provided by Tawny Mayer

Studying abroad is the opportunity for students to earn credits by traveling to a different country for a period of time and participating in experience-based learning. South Puget Sound Community College has many opportunities and available scholarships for students interested in studying abroad in the upcoming years.

Studying abroad is a priceless experience according to Sherrie Buendel, SPSCC’s study abroad advisor. It’s an opportunity for students to experience the world, become global citizens, and gain a better understanding of who they are, she said.

Buendel has been guiding students through the study abroad process for over 10 years.

The most important thing when going through the study abroad process is to plan ahead, Buendel said. A student should start planning at least six months in advance, she said, however, the farther ahead you plan, the smoother your trip is likely to go.

According to Buendel, as soon as an SPSCC student starts to entertain the idea of studying abroad he or she should come and talk to her.

Or, if a students want to travel abroad at a different college or university, they should go online, look at that college’s program and see what needs to be done, she said. They should also go to that college’s study abroad advisor and get acquainted with the study abroad program, she said.

Micah Killian, a former SPSCC student who studied abroad in Japan during fall 2011, said he chose SPSCC because he thought it had the best study abroad program out of his prospective college choices.

According to Killian, as soon as he arrived, he went to Sherrie Buendel and sought out additional information on studying abroad in Japan.

The financial aspect of the trip is what usually holds students back from studying abroad, said Buendel. But with advanced planning, the cost of traveling abroad can be reduced through scholarships and financial aid, plus it gives students time to save up money, she said.

There are so many scholarships out there for studying abroad, students just need to do some research, said Buendel. Students can find numerous study abroad scholarships on SPSCC’s website; just go to programs, and then click on ‘Study Abroad.’

Killian said the most important thing in getting awarded a scholarship is to simply apply.

In the mandatory essay, students need to focus on why they deserve to get money to study abroad, he said.

Killian was awarded $4,000 from the Gilman Scholarship program. In his essay for the scholarship, he highlighted personal experiences with Japanese students that had come to America and emphasized his dream of becoming an English teacher in Japan, he said.

According to Buendel, students should try to link what they’ll be doing abroad to their career plans when applying for scholarships for some extra edge.

When writing your essay don’t write it last minute and don’t do it alone, said Killian. Become friends with your English teacher, the writing center, and Sherrie Buendel, Killian said; they can guide you through the writing process and help you really get your point across, he said.

The cost of studying abroad can vary depending on how long you’re traveling and where you plan to go; however, the cost of studying abroad is almost always in the thousands, said Buendel.

A good approximation for calculating the cost of your trip is to multiply the number of weeks you plan on being abroad by $1,000, she said.

Of course, there are always paid internships, volunteer opportunities, and work abroads that can significantly lower that price and possibly give you a steady flow of cash while you’re away from your job at home, said Buendel.

If students have a lot of responsibilities at home that they can’t be away from for an extended period of time, they can do a short program which ranges from two to four weeks, said Buendel. This is a less intrusive and less expensive option, but you still get to travel and experience the world, she said.

Students also need to fit their time abroad into their academic calender, said Buendel. Most studying abroad credits fit into electives, social sciences, humanities, and occasionally the natural sciences so students need to save those types of credits, she said.

SPSCC student Amanda Kalin went to Costa Rica for a four-week spanish-immersion program. She said learning abroad is an “extremely intimate and tailored experience.”

“The classes were really small, four to five students, so the instructors could really focus on the specific needs of the students and each student got lots of one-on-one attention,” she said.

Students should get to know the country where they want to go in advance, especially because it shows initiative, something people giving out scholarships look for when choosing their scholarship recipients, said Killian.

Killian said he showed his interest in Japan by taking courses on Southeast and East Asia culture and history, taking Japanese language classes, and interacting with Japanese students studying abroad in America.

He also practiced his Japanese on a site called lang-8.com which is a place where people write diary entries in a language they’re learning and native speakers correct it, and you do the same for others.

While responsibilities at home and traveling expenses can stand in the way, studying abroad is a truly magical experience that every student should consider, said Buendel.

Plus, students learn so many life skills when traveling abroad, such as self-confidence, how to troubleshoot problems, and putting themselves out there, said Buendel.

Studying abroad is like a launching pad for travel, said Kalin. You meet other like-minded people who love to travel, and you can plan future trips with them, even visit them where they live, she said.