How to Make Study Abroad Part of Your Story
Deciding to study abroad is a big decision that doesn’t come easily to everyone and I wanted to share some of my experiences to help educate others who are considering studying abroad.
There’s a program for every major: I wanted to study abroad because I was drawn by the sense of adventure and intrigue to immerse myself in another culture. I had also done a short exchange in high school and I wanted to make sure I could visit my host family again. That being said, once I got to RIT and saw my course flowchart (the sequence of courses to take), I didn’t see much space for a semester abroad. I initially put studying abroad on the back burner thinking that I could do some unrelated summer study abroad in my senior year. But then I saw a poster in Golisano advertising the Universität Osnabrück opportunity. After seeing this, I started to research and saw that there’s actually a ton of opportunities for every major to go abroad. Although I found a lot of exciting possibilities, I ultimately stuck with my initial instinct and went to Osnabrück, Germany, a program through SUNY Oswego (one of RIT’s partners). I knew that I wanted to study somewhere in Germany. I studied German throughout middle and high school so the language wasn’t a huge hurdle and had learned about German culture which excited me. Not everyone will have a location in mind though, and that’s completely OK. There’s tons of opportunities all over the world, so you can think about what you’re looking for in your experience abroad and find an opportunity to match.
Studying Abroad is Affordable: Affording to study abroad is another important consideration for all prospective students. My program at Universität Osnabrück was actually through a RIT affiliate program at SUNY Oswego. This meant that my tuition was actually lower than a typical RIT semester. Additionally, if you talk to your financial advisor you can see how your scholarships could apply to make sure you can get all the aid possible. If you are looking at the numbers and don’t like what you see, I’d suggest looking for opportunities in areas of the world where the cost of living is lower. The RIT Education Abroad office can be a great resource here! There are also some things that you can do once you’re there to limit costs. Eating out is great, but it can also be expensive. For weekend trips, you can also consider taking overnight buses. I found that these would be less than a third of the price of other types of transportation, and offer a safe place to rest (disclaimer: please be careful and make sure the company is trustworthy. I had a great experience with overnight busses but others may not.)
Learn about the country and get involved: Once you’ve decided to study abroad and are in-country, you may sometimes feel lonely and or like you don’t fit in. This can happen to anyone, but is avoidable. Before your travel begins, do some research on your host culture. Sometimes it can feel as if someone you meet is being cold or unfriendly, however in some cases that could simply be a culture or language barrier.
There are a multitude of opportunities to get involved with other students. Most study abroad programs will have activities to help students get acquainted with one another and kick-start the process of meeting new people and making friends. I would encourage everyone to attend these, they’re fun and you can make some great new friends that you can lean on in tough times. Chances are other study abroad students may be going through the same thing you are.
Finally, join clubs! Just like RIT, other universities all have many clubs and recreational teams for all interests that are open and welcoming. During the fourth week of my stay in Osnabrück I was on the bus and one of the British students I had met got on. I asked him how he was doing and he told me he was headed to play some Frisbee, so after a short conversation I ended up joining him and playing with the recreational Frisbee team at the university. There ended up being three international students at the practice, and although I was the only one who spoke German, everyone could still communicate through Frisbee. Ultimately, I started playing every week and eventually joined them for a tournament in Marburg. These kinds of activities can be fun, engaging, and give you a chance to make friends while doing something you enjoy.
Practice Self Care While Abroad: Staying healthy while abroad is very important, especially your mental health. Even though everything I’ve talked about above focused on getting out and getting involved, a simple fact still remains: it’s tiring. A day abroad is more mentally taxing than those at home because of the different language and culture. And for some, interacting with people takes a lot of mental effort. For this reason, I would suggest making sure you have something that you enjoy doing that is familiar and can provide relaxation and respite and allow you to mentally recharge. For me, this was hiking. Some weekends I would just hop on a train, hike for the day, and then take the train home. This allowed me some time to slow down, enjoy nature, and mentally recharge. I also met another American student from USF who ended up joining me for my hikes. It was always nice to fall back on a familiar activity from home that would always make me feel ready to tackle the world again by the time we got back to Osnabrück.
Alex Levie is a 5th year Computer Science major in the College of Computing and Information Sciences and studied abroad at Osnabruck University in Germany.