Having just finished studying abroad in Argentina, I think now that it probably would have been nice to know what to expect from what my study abroad program was describing to me during the application process.
I remember looking at a lot of programs, and they all seemed to, for the most part, be saying the same things. There are likely to be the options of living with a homestay family, excursions, internships, and-or even an independent study project in what these programs have to offer you. They all may seem pretty self-explanatory, but after having gone through it, I feel like it is important to stress what to expect from some of these parts of a studying abroad program.
The study abroad program can be really involved or it can be relatively hands-free, and what you may want your program to provide for you really depends on what you actually want to get on a personal level out of your study abroad experience.
For some, the homestay component of a study abroad program is probably one of the more nerve-racking things to think about when going into studying abroad. If you want to learn more about the culture or language of the country that you will be studying in, then living with a homestay family has the potential helping you out on a lot of levels. Personally, I feel like the homestay setting alone helped my Spanish improve tenfold compared to how I had been before, but I will admit there were a few things I would have liked to have been told before I went into it.
Just remember that if you live with a family in that foreign country, you follow their rules as you are living in their house. It was the first time I had regularly lived day-by-day with a family since high school, and even then it was much different because it was not my actual family. As a result, in a lot of ways it felt like high school again in that I had to do things like be home for dinner at a specific time, could not go out very late on weeknights, and had to call to see if it was all right if I brought someone home.
Usually host families do not mind you going out at night, you are in college, but you may have to take into account whether or not they would mind you coming back in the wee hours of the morning sometimes, or if you are going out too many days of the week in general. Not that these are that big of inconveniences, but every family is different, and it is important to think about the implications of living with host parents instead of other students your age.
Also, it is not like you cannot learn a foreign language without the homestay experience. As far as learning outside of the classroom goes, I probably learned more when I made friends with people closer to my age simply because it was easier to relate to them.
Having said that, if you want to learn more about people, the culture, and-or the language outside of the classroom, then traveling around the area is probably more suited toward those goals. However, if you want to travel, I highly recommend that you not enroll into a program that requires you to spend a lot of time participating in the activities of the program, such as classes and field trips. Excursions are a good way to travel, and sometimes they are even included in the program cost, but just know that you would have to go with the entire group under the program’s rules rather than just your new friends who you would otherwise go with alone with your own prerogative.
For me at least, personal freedom was a big issue during my study abroad semester. You are still a college student, but try not to take it too hard if you are not getting all the freedom that you had before while living on campus.
Some programs are more regulatory than others, and you may even need to get the permission of your program directors to travel occasionally. Depending on where you are, traveling outside of the country may be more difficult, and the program may be less inclined to allow you to actually do so.
Also, please remember that if you are traveling to a country with a foreign language you plan on learning, in a lot of ways it can be like baptism by fire, but ultimately it is worth going through.
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