College Q&A: How Long Should I Study Abroad?

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I really, reaaaaally want to study abroad in Spain next year. (I’ll be a Junior.) I’m just not sure if I should go for one semester or a whole year. Most students only go for one semester, but is there a reason they don’t do a whole year? Would you go for a whole year? I’m not sure if that’s an awesome idea (how else do you really experience the culture??) or if it’s a terrible idea (people are going to forget about me/I will miss out on a lot).

What would you do?

Party Girl:
Do the entire year. Trust me, by the end of the semester, you’ll be getting into your comfort zone, really picking up the language and connecting with new people every day. The only reason I would assume people don’t do the full year is because of money or that their graduation requirements won’t be filled in time. To truly experience your time abroad, you need the full year. I mean, would you rather have four months of drinking, partying, and flirting in another language, or nine months?? You are right about the culture – you’ll need as much time as possible for it to fully sink in. And no, nobody is going to forget about you (your friends aren’t goldfish, are they??). I can’t stress enough how epic an entire year in a foreign country is – get your butt over there and stay for as long as possible!!!

Busy Bee:
I like that you want to stay there longer, because you’re right – you can’t really experience the culture after 1 semester. Instead of going a full year, why don’t you do two semesters? How about going for summer and fall semester only? That’s definitely longer, but not too long and you won’t miss out on a full year of on-campus time. Also, keep in mind that yes, you will miss out on a lot, but with the invention of Facebook, there is no way people will forget about you.

The one thing you want to make sure to consider is any obligations you may have here in the States (your job, an internship, club President). Usually you can schedule a single semester around student group positions or internships, but it’s not as easy to get out of those same things for a full year and expect to have the positions open for you when you return. The longer you stay, the more risk you are at for losing those jobs (which is probably why I may not be able to study abroad…).

Either way, it’s your college experience and if you want to study abroad for longer than a semester, then go for it!

GPA Girl:
Great question. It’s awesome that you want to study abroad. I went to China for a semester during my junior year and I think it may have been the best academic and personal decision I made through all of my college career. As for considering the question of being there for a semester or a full year, you should think about several things.

Does the program you want even offer a full year of study? Many don’t, and sometimes full-year credits don’t transfer in the same way as semester credits do. Also, if you like your campus and your friends it can be tough to be away for a whole year. Toward the end of my semester in China, I started missing my family hardcore and really wanted to go home (despite still loving it there). Finally, think about money. Spain isn’t cheap, and you might end up spending a lot if you’re there for a year.

It sounds a little bit as if you think a semester isn’t a long time. That may be, but it’s probably not as short as you think it is. There are tons of people who go on one- or two-week vacations to global destinations and think they’ve “experienced the culture” of those places, so just think about all the things you’d be able to discover in a semester’s worth of time! All in all, I don’t really see a clear winner here. A semester or a year would be great as long as you can line up your priorities and figure out what’s most important to you. Some programs even offer the flex option of being there for a semester and then letting you decide to extend your stay to a year, so if you can do something like that, go for it!



  1. exchangestudentinspa says:

    I'm studying abroad in Spain right now, and let me tell you, this is NOT an experience you want to miss out on. I've been here eight months and am staying for a year, and I'm having the time of my life. Because of Facebook and Skype, none of my friends have forgotten about me, and in fact pay MORE attention to me via the internet due to all the crazy European partying pics I've been uploading lately. The culture here is amazing and if you come here, you'll truly fall in love with this place. I've known people who only came for three months, and they didn't go back to the states with the same experience that I will come July. The only thing I recommend is that you go to Madrid or Salamanca, because I'm in Andalucia and it turns out I have horrible pronunciation because the dialect here is so distinct. The best Castilian is spoken in Salamanca, and it's just about the most beautiful city in the world. Don't even think about it twice, just do it! It's the best decision I've ever made.

  2. Jenna says:

    You should go for it! My friend studied in Granada, Spain for a semester and he had the best experience of his life. My other friend is still in Ireland(whole year) and having the best time as well.Get Skype for ya friends and family. It's hard but worth it. When will you get to experience something like that again, ya know?

  3. lia says:

    i actually AM spanish and it's an insanely cool country. i would stay there as long as possible

  4. Mandy says:

    Hi! I'm a study abroad counselor at a large university, so I've spoken with many students considering the same things you are. Generally, I recommend go for as long as possible.

    Yes, most students study abroad for only a semester, but many of these students come to me later saying they wish they could have stayed longer. It takes a while to really settle in and get a feel for your adopted home. Also, if you're going to Spain, it would be best for your Spanish skills to stay longer. You'll make more Spanish friends and be put in many more situations where you need to use the language.

    Of course, make sure to really talk to your academic counselors, study abroad counselors and family to see if staying for a long time will be an option for you. It can be hard for certain majors.

    Lastly, I myself studied abroad for a year in England. I was afraid of the things you mentioned — that everyone would forget me or that I'd miss out on something big. Nope. That doesn't seem to happen. Everything tends to be the same when you come back. And even if I did miss out on a friend's 21st bday party or a big game, I was doing something cool like hanging out at a cafe in Paris or exploring tiny towns in the Czech Republic. Really, really worth it.

    Good luck with your decision! You'll love it! :)

  5. Alicia says:

    Stay a year! I'm in Australia now and after 2 months I'm in love, I never want to leave. The first month was hard, and I was sure I couldn't do the whole year, but it's such a great experience and I am so thankful I stuck through it.

    A couple people I know were planning on only staying a semester and all of them wish they could stay the year or actually are going to stay now.

  6. felicia says:

    like who pays for clothes,food, housing, etc like you have to pay for it..

  7. andy says:

    hii I'm just wondering if anyone has gone study abroad for 2 years? like in two different places?! that's what I want to do but I'm not sure if most colleges/unis allow you to do that and if I'll have problems catching up with course work and everything?

  8. abby says:

    I have a similar question.. I am debating going for a summer session or a semester. I would be going to Italy and while I think it would be great to go for the whole semester I am really nervous that it may be too long for me. I think I am more comfortable with just going for the month and a half in the summer, but im not entirely sure. Will I totally regret not going for longer or can people just be happy with going for a month and a half? thats still a long time! (at least in my mind)

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