A few weeks ago, we did a blog post on the process we sometimes see in which students coming to the U.S. want to choose a specific region of the country or a specific state for their high school exchange experience. We also get a broader question sometimes from students thinking about studying abroad, asking “where should I go?” So … here are our thoughts.
I’m looking to study abroad next Fall and I’m deciding between the United States, England, and Germany. Where is the best place to study?
The nutshell summary? Only YOU can answer this question. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. They can both taste good, but whether you like one or the other is an individual taste. The best choice for you depends on your personal circumstances, your academic situation, your motivations and goals, and perhaps your age.
College students generally can choose a particular country for a study abroad program from a menu of options offered by their university. They will still need to think about the questions raised above. Are you hoping to study a particular subject area based on your major field of study? Are you more interested in cultural immersion and local life rather than specific classroom subjects? Do you need to get credit at your home university (which might constrain your choices based on available classes)? Are you hoping to become more fluent in a particular language, or do you hope that you can take classes in your own language? The answers to these questions might direct a student to a different country based on what is offered at his or her university.
High school students looking to study abroad may have choices about which country, or they may not. Language capability plays a significant role, as students generally need to be able to get by in the language of the host country. The host country may have specific regulations governing high school aged international students and schools in the country may have criteria for student admission. There may be visa requirements that could affect a student’s country choice. Students wishing to live with a host family and become truly immersed in the local culture may face different choices than students who wish to live in a dormitory and who are more interested in academics. Students wishing to attend private schools and live in a dorm may face significant competition for admission.
For any student, personal choice also matters. What one person considers a disadvantage might not be something that another student would even notice. Cost factors can affect country choice as well.
We recommend trying to take a problem-solving approach to the choice. Take a piece of paper (or do it on a computer, whichever works best for you). Make two columns for each country on your list. List all the benefits for each opportunity, and list the downsides for each opportunity. Be honest with yourself; the process doesn’t work if you don’t write down truthfully what you would like and dislike, what is an advantage and disadvantage. After you have finished, look at the list and think to yourself what’s really important. What do you hope to gain from the overall experience? You might decide that particular benefits and particular negatives need to be weighted more (or less) heavily. You might realize that certain items require more information. Do you really know what the language requirements are? Do you really know how much it will cost? Do you really know if your grades are sufficient?
In the end, you should have enough information to make a reasonable decision. Perhaps you have figured out that you are dealing with completely different options and one truly stands out. You may also have found out that you are dealing with apples and oranges, and that both seem pretty tasty. Wherever you end up, you can throw yourself into the experience, gain new understanding of another culture, learn new things from taking classes from a different cultural point of view, and teach the people you meet something about your own country and culture. It’s a win-win.
This is timely as my high school freshman mentioned the various trips that will be available to her over the next few years. I guess she’ll be picking which Spanish speaking country to visit. Or, save up her $ for a college semester abroad!