Paris, Florence, Madrid, Tokyo, Sydney. There are a wide variety of places for students to spend their parents' money while - at least theoretically -- enhancing their own education. Yet many American families have become wary of sending students abroad because of growing financial concerns and increased pressure to graduate on time, not to mention SARS and threats of terrorism. Fortunately, many students continue to cross borders and make their way overseas.
"I think it's something that every college student should experience," says Josh Kurz, a Gonzaga University student who studied in Florence, Italy. "This opportunity was for self-exploration."
Maybe it's the experience of another culture. Or the urge to get out on their own. Or even the desire to learn outside the classroom. Whatever it is, students are booking plane tickets left and right. So how do they avoid encountering problems in a foreign land? Or even afford getting there? It's a matter of knowing your options.
Affordable Abroad -- Students (and parents) may frown upon the expenses often associated with study abroad programs. But what many students do not realize is that the costs for spending a year or semester abroad are often the same as, or only slightly more than, the normal yearly tuition at their school of choice (not including personal expenses). And don't forget that there are many ways of maintaining a reasonable budget, such as staying at cheap youth hostels, using discount travel agencies, and obtaining an International Student ID card that allows for student prices and rates at museums, eateries and attractions across the world.
Most schools also offer students financial aid within their study abroad departments. For instance, Washington State University gave out more than $30,000 in scholarships last year to students studying overseas.
"If the cost of studying abroad is more expensive than [the tuition at] the Pullman campus, then the Financial Aid office will consider giving more financial aid to the student, if it's available," says Candace Chenoweth, assistant director of Education Abroad at WSU.
Financial aid is ultimately determined by students' own personal eligibility and needs. Students may also discover scholarships that can help them pay for the trip, by searching online or by approaching institutions other than their own schools.
"Students [at Gonzaga] can take their full financial aid with them in GU-sponsored programs," says Wanda Reynolds, director of Study Abroad at GU. "They can even take their federal aid with them in non-GU-sponsored programs."
If it's difficult finding an affordable program through one's own school, don't hesitate to contact other schools. Some schools, like GU's campus in Florence, Italy, may even have their own campuses in other countries.
Not a Waste of Time -- For college students today, completing college within four years can be an overwhelming and sometimes impossible task. Many degrees require more than the typical amount of studying and commitment, making studying abroad seem like a far-fetched dream.
But before giving up, check out the programs your school offers and seek advice from a staff member in the study abroad department. Most schools will help students figure out a way to graduate on time and still study abroad, at least for a short period of time.
"The faculty advisors [at EWU] work with students in programs abroad to integrate credits from their majors with credits completed abroad," says Chenoweth at EWU. "We're trying to help students go abroad without adding extra semesters in order to graduate. We develop ways in order to enrich the academic major or minor."
Planning early is key if you want to graduate on time. Don't wait until your last semester or quarter, when you're likely to be cramming all those other credits and obligatory courses into your schedule.
"We try to get information to students by their freshman year," says Gonzaga's Reynolds. "The majority of students here don't have a problem graduating on time."
Students should also be sure to check out the credit transfer system at their school or within a particular program. Many students probably don't realize that credits for core classes can often be completed abroad. Instead of trying to complete core classes all at once, students could save some credits for studying abroad.
Play It Safe -- One of the biggest concerns over studying abroad is trying to maintain health and safety. Pickpockets, thieves, accidents, language barriers, and cultural differences are all issues that are strong enough to keep even the most laid-back student from traveling internationally. Although there might be some anxiety connected with moving overseas, don't let it stop you.
Study abroad programs today provide students with a variety of pamphlets, booklets, Web sites and centers, as well as information from those with personal experience, to reassure the wary of how to be ready and prepared.
As for the more recent qualms over rare viruses, terrorist bombings, and war-related events, students are more than aware of situations abroad.
"I think the war situation is making students' resolve stronger, not weaker, to go abroad because they realize how important their presence is over there," says Chenoweth. "We keep in touch with our students abroad. Probably 99 percent of them keep in touch by e-mail. We keep students updated about the world situation."
Driven by a lust for adventure and a desire to see the rest of the world -- including possible political debacles -- with their own eyes, students aren't intimidated by the specters of SARS or war.
"We have very few students expressing concerns over situations abroad," says Reynolds. "I feel that the mentality of students at this point in their lives is that they won't let cautions curtail their travel."
Still, it's a good idea to peruse Web sites on travel safety and legal information before you take off. Students can also gather pamphlets and booklets that talk about dietary issues, about women traveling alone, how to behave appropriately within a particular country, and what to be on the lookout for.
Knowing the location of the nearest United States consulate, and hospitals that have English-speaking doctors, along with where to acquire foreign medical and evacuation insurance, never hurts either.
Probably one of the best ways to stay safe is to simply know the current political, economic and social situations within a country -- making it a lot easier to gauge your safety during your trip.
Students and parents can always find reasons for avoiding a trip overseas. But it's hard to find a replacement for the experience gained from a study abroad.
"Studying abroad builds something in your character and develops a view of the world that can't be duplicated anywhere else," says Kurz. "I think it enriched more than my college experience -- it's enriched my whole life."
For more information, check out www.studyabroad.com, www.studyabroadlinks.com, www.nrcsa.com (National Registration Center for Study Abroad), or www.travel.state.gov