Much like asking someone when they are planning to get married, there is no “right” time to study abroad. One may decide to spend their first summer taking classes in another country, while another would prefer to finish their college career with an internship abroad. An “optimal” time to embark on an international experience will vary by student, but identifying your academic goals and what type of experience you are in search of will be valuable steps in determining an appropriate time frame.
I decided to study abroad early in my college career with a six-week CEA program in Italy, during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. Choosing this particular semester provided several advantages to choosing a fall or winter term; summer term is a little more affordable, shorter, and would not interfere with one’s host institution’s academic plans in the traditional school year. Personally, I saw the semester as a chance to complete required credits for my engineering major without sacrificing the opportunity to take non-major classes (during the fall and winter semesters) that interested me. For others, this can work conversely, as studying abroad in summer is also a great time to explore courses outside one’s field of study without interfering with core classes during the school year.
Enjoying the view from Florence’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
Exploring Rome early in my college career provided me with not only an early international perspective, but also outlined goals for my future career aspirations. From Texas Tech to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a variety of undergraduate and graduate students from around the country took part in the program and enriched it with their diverse experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. Instances such as listening to a classmate’s internship involvement or sharing opinions with a fellow student about studying abroad as a minority were commonplace. As many individuals were upperclassmen looking to fulfill degree requirements, their knowledge of their engineering discipline and the general college experience was helpful in determining my focus for my upcoming classes in the fall.
We had the wonderful opportunity to go on excursions (this time, to the Villa of Hadrian) during our Art and Archaeology of Ancient Rome course.
Nonetheless, choosing my first collegiate summer for my international academic venture (hopefully) does not guarantee my last. If anything, I have not seen people more enthusiastic about studying abroad than those who have already embarked on such an experience. Doing so will undoubtedly create memories that will remain for the rest of my college career and beyond – the nuances of the language, the sounds of bicycles treading on cobblestone streets, the laughter that would rise from the patios of bars after dark, and, most notably, the people with whom I shared this venture. Studying abroad at the starting line of one’s college career may appear daunting, but it will most certainly give you a running start.
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