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!

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