About 600 Brown students go abroad every year. Between researching, applying, and preparing, the process can be daunting. In order to help combat some of the confusion and give students a realistic look into the study abroad experience, an info session called “What I Wish I Knew: Students Perspectives on Studying Abroad” was held last week.
The program started with upperclassmen saying where they went abroad, what they wished the OIP helped more with, and what piece of advice they could give. Keep reading to find some pieces of advice that kept coming up, for any stage of the process you’re in.
Figuring out where you want to go:
No matter where you want to go or what you want to do, you have options. Maybe too many options. There are so many programs to choose from (or petition for) that you’re going to have to do some digging to find the one that fits right. One suggestion for narrowing it down is setting two goals that you want out of your abroad experience. Weigh all the programs based on those two basic criteria to start. So you want to learn a language? So you want to be fully immersed in a place without other American students? So you want to get a better understanding of foreign political systems first hand? Figure out where best you can do just that.
If you only speak English, don’t feel limited to the UK. Look for programs that focus specifically on what you study and see if they have any offerings in English classes around the world. There are several Brown Approved programs that will send you to places like Budapest, Grenada, and Hong Kong without threatening your monolingual identity. While you’re researching programs, be mindful of the cities they’re in as much as the countries. Learn what each city’s feel is and what it has to offer. Ask the people who have been on the programs you’re considering what their honest experience was.
Getting ready to go:
The most common piece of advice offered was find out who else is going with you. Many students lamented the OIP didn’t provide this information upfront, and that it can become crucial to know when you get there. If you’re going in the fall, get to know the people who are going in the spring after you too. You may be able to split an apartment or help them out by leaving supplies. Before you go, ask the OIP, or others who have gone through the program, what is exactly is and isn’t provided. You’re going to want to know ahead of time if you should be packing pots and pans for that kitchen in your flat.
Be sure to do a little research into student employment opportunities for while you’re abroad and be ready to spend more money than you expected. Try to get as many classes as possible pre-approved if you’re intending to use them for concentration requirements. While you’re planning, schedule a buffer time before coming back to Brown. If you’re going abroad in the spring, you have the summer to readjust but if you’re going in the fall, be mindful that you will want to decompress and unpack your time abroad before getting thrown back into the buzz of a new semester in Providence.
Another reality students had wished the OIP was more upfront about was what it’s like for a person of color to go abroad. Fewer students of color at Brown go abroad, and many who do experience harsher spaces to navigate. Racially charged cat calls and surprising cultural dynamics caused one upperclassman to feel “disillusioned” and far from the more inclusive communities at Brown.
Before you go, know exactly what’s going to happen when you get there. It may seem obvious, but figuring out transportation on the fly in a country you’ve never been to with a semester’s worth of clothes on your back is practically an Amazing Race challenge. Get those logistics down pat before you board the plane.
While you’re there:
Figure out what role you want social media to have in your experience. Some suggested forgoing an international plan and enjoying the semester mostly unplugged. Some countered that by saying Google Maps and apps like “Stay” are your best friend for navigating city streets. Both sides agreed that social media was the biggest contributor to FOMO while abroad. The consensus was seeing friends tagged in photos partying on campus made Brown seem further than ever.
Many people expressed how they spent a lot more time alone abroad than they would have at Brown. Enjoy that time gaining independence and immersion in a totally new place. Learn to navigate your city. See what programming the Universities nearby offer, but when in doubt, use Timeout Guides or just wander.
Study from new departments and feel encouraged to take courses that relate to where you are. Don’t expect every class to be the same caliber as a class at Brown, but don’t go into anything with a closed or judgmental mindset.
Lastly, if you’re ever homesick, just read BlogDH for a little slice of home. [Ed’s note: Duh.]