How to Decide Where to Spend a Semester Abroad

How to Decide Where to Spend a Semester Abroad

Back in university I made what turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I decided I was going to spend a semester abroad. After trying and failing to keep my wanderlust at bay during university I finally pulled the trigger and applied to study abroad right before the application deadline two days after my boyfriend broke up with me (typical right?).

Since I only had two days to fill in the application, I was confronted with the overwhelming question of, ‘Where should I study abroad?’ Here’s how I made that decision and ended up spending a semester abroad in the beautiful country of Chile.

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Getting Around: RENTAL CARS

Questions to Ask Yourself to Help You Decide Where to Spend a Semester Abroad

Below are some questions I would suggest you ask yourself as you plan where you will study abroad.

1. What are you Studying or Hoping to Study?

If you’re studying another language (like I was), then I would highly suggest spending a semester abroad in a place where you can be fully immersed in that language. This will help you really excel in classes when you return to your home university. It will also look great on your resume to say that you are fluent or have studied another language in a country where it is spoken.

If you’re studying biology, by all means, look into countries you’d love to visit but remember to see what the biology programs are like in other universities. You don’t just want to go for the fun of traveling (although let’s be real, that’s the main reason), you also want to make sure your time abroad will be good for you academically. So be sure to pick a partner university that has a good program for your field.

2. Am I Choosing this Because I Want To, or Because Someone Else Wants Me To?

Make sure that the place you choose to go is where YOU really want to go. Don’t pick somewhere that your parents are pushing you to go to, or that you feel pressured to go to for any reason. Go where YOU want. It’s YOUR semester abroad and you should feel good about your decision.

3. Where can I Afford to do a Semester Abroad?

This is an important one to consider as well. One of the places I originally considered studying abroad was Norway because my grandmother is from there and I’ve always wanted to go. However, life in Norway is extremely expensive. Europe in general can be pretty pricey, and I ended up saving quite a lot of money on food and rent while I was in Chile. Of course, prices are all relative to where you’re from and what kind of currency you will be exchanging, but there are some places where you might just not be able to afford to live. You can use this website to find out what the approximate cost of living is like in different countries around the world. 

4. What Kind of Weather do You Like?

I know this question seems a bit like ‘duh’, but hear me out. While I love winter and skiing, I also crave vitamin D. Since I struggle with anxiety and depression, I like to be somewhere where the sun is shining and I really prefer warm weather over cold. It makes me feel a lot happier. Even if you don’t have the same struggles I do, it would suck to go somewhere absolutely freezing when you really thrive and prefer heat. Although this shouldn’t be the most important decision, make sure you take it into consideration as well.

How to Get Ready to Study Abroad

semester abroad / El Tatio Geyser, Chile

For some reason, I assumed that my classes at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile would be starting in September simply because classes in Canada always start then. I should have remembered that different countries start school at different times. So instead of starting class in September I actually started classes on August 4th. My orientation to the school was on August 1st and so I left for my semester around July 20th.

Getting a Student Visa for your Semester Abroad

When I originally wrote this blog post it was just as I found out I was going to study abroad, way back in March of 2014. Afterward, I had to go through the overwhelming process of getting a student visa. In order to find out what is needed in order to obtain a student visa, you must visit the government website of the country you plan to go to and see what their requirements are. If you are planning to study abroad in Chile, you can check out this link on how to apply for a Chilean student visa.

Figuring out Where to Live

I also had to figure out where I was going to live during my time abroad. The best piece advice I can give you on finding out where to live is to send out a few emails. See if your partner university has student housing available as that is usually the easiest way to plan where to live when you’re not yet in the country.

If they don’t (my partner university didn’t have student housing), or if the student housing is too expensive, email the country’s government consulate and see if they have any advice on where to stay.

semester abroad dorm room

I found a place to stay with a Chilean family online but I made sure to email my consulate before sending the deposit just to make sure I wasn’t getting scammed. The worst thing would have been to show up and find out that the place I had paid to stay at didn’t exist.

The third way to find out where to stay is to book a hostel in your country of choice for a few weeks so you can ask people once you get there for advice, or go check some places out before you decide on anything. I know quite a few other people who have done this and it can definitely work out well. Just make sure you arrive to the country well before classes start so you can find accommodation before having to deal with your schoolwork.

Other Long Term Travel Logistics

To plan the other logistics of my trip, I had to make sure I had insurance, an updated passport, vaccines, and more. If you want more help and tips preparing for long-term travel, especially as a study abroad student, I suggest you read this article

My Personal Semester Abroad Experience

UBC’s Go Global Study Abroad Program

Go Global is a program that students from the University of British Columbia and other universities can partake in via exchange programs in partner universities across the world. In order to apply, you have to pick the top three partner universities that you would like to be paired with.

Next, you apply to each of these via essays, transcripts, and proposed study plans along with other information about yourself.

With two days to apply, I panicked a bit but managed to throw together a list of three universities and hope that whichever university the program placed me in would lead me to an incredible experience.

The Top Three Partner Universities I Chose and Why

semester abroad / Atacama Desert Chile

Chile was My ‘Personal’ First Choice

I wasn’t originally wasn’t planning on studying abroad which is why I only had two days to apply. I was in my third year at university, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Spanish. Since I was minoring in Spanish, I decided to pick a place where Spanish is the main spoken language. I didn’t want to go to Mexico because I had been there before and although Spain would have been interesting I’ve always been much more interested in Latin American culture. So then a university in Santiago, Chile became my personal first choice.

Why I Put Scotland as My Actual First Choice on the Application (Don’t Do What I Did!)

However, on my application, I put down Scotland as my first choice. This is mainly because I have family in Scotland and wasn’t sure I was ready to be totally on my own in a foreign country. My grandfather grew up in Scotland and his father was a professor at the University of Edinburgh. I’ve wanted to go back to reconnect with my family there for a while now. Scotland was my first choice because it was more comfortable for me as I’d be near family.

As much as I probably would have loved to be in Scotland, I should have stuck with my gut feeling and gone with Chile as my first choice on my application. I had a bit of family pressure to go to Scotland (my parents wanted me to be close to the family too) yet ultimately I’m very happy I ended up in Chile. When you’re thinking, ‘Where should I study abroad?’ make sure you pick somewhere YOU really want to go, not where your family wants you to go. 

Why Malaysia was My Third Choice

My third choice was Malaysia. To be honest, I picked a university there simply because I had no idea what to put down as a third choice and I was running out of time to decide. I thought it would be cool to go to a place that I honestly don’t know a whole lot about. These days, I really do find myself hoping that I can visit Malaysia one day soon. I have many friends who have been and it looks beautiful!

The results came in a few weeks later and I was delighted and anxious and excited to have been placed in Santiago, Chile. This option, even though it was second on my application, really made the most sense for me. I mean I was studying Anthropology and Spanish. Not only would all my Anthropology classes be taught in Spanish, but I would also get to learn a ton about Chile’s unique history, Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous influences on the type of Spanish spoken in Chile (which is quite different from Spanish spoken in Mexico, Spain, Peru, and other Spanish speaking countries). I knew this trip would be a great adventure but also great for me academically. 

How My Semester Abroad Inspired this Blog & Opened Doors for Me

I was so excited to go study in Chile, that as soon as I found out I was accepted, I started this blog. Originally it was a creative way for me to keep my family and friends up to date on my travels. Since then it has transformed into a thriving website full of information for trip planners, wanderlusters, sustainable explorers, and expats alike.

My semester abroad in Chile turned me into the biggest travel bug ever. While I was studying there I also managed to visit Peru, Argentina, and various places within Chile such as the Atacama Desert, Patagonia, and Pucón. I wrote about most of the places I visited and helped some of my friends plan trips to Latin America as well.

my semester abroad in chile with penguins
Visiting the locals at Isla Magdalena in southern Chile

I now make a bit of extra money through this blog and I have been able to write for various other publications as well. A few years after I returned from my time abroad, I met my husband Arturo, we moved to Mexico City (where he’s from), and now I write a lot of posts for travelers to Mexico and expats alike.

Aside from travel writing, I am also an online ESL teacher. Studying abroad in Chile was hands down one the best things I’ve ever done. It opened a ton of doors for me, helped me learn a language, meet amazing people, and allowed me to find my passion for travel writing.

Semester Abroad FAQ

Can I spend just one semester abroad?

Yes, you can spend a single semester abroad. You don’t have to commit to a full year or multiple years. All programs are different and many have different options too. I personally only spent one single semester abroad when I studied abroad in Chile.

Can I study abroad for a full year?

Yes, you can! Again, every program is different so if you would rather spend a full year studying abroad rather than just a semester, you can do that too. You just need to find a program that offers a year abroad.

How can I study abroad for free or for cheap?

saving money for travel, study abroad scholarships

There are plenty of study abroad scholarships you can apply for. You may be able to get tuition or housing costs covered, or simply get a lump sum of money to put towards your semester.

Make sure you check the government website of the country you want to study in to see if they offer financial aid to international students.

Another tip is to check with your university to see if they offer study abroad scholarships as well.

Finally, you can browse through this list of study abroad scholarships and apply for the ones you’re eligible for.

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