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How to Choose a Study Abroad Program


waterside landscape with quaint white cottageToday’s post is by campus correspondent Connie Ip, a junior at Mount Holyoke College, currently studying abroad in France. Find out how you can become a campus correspondent, too!

Studying abroad in college was always on my horizon. After all, I had spent half of my high school career traveling overseas and participating in exchange programs.

Being a veteran of several study abroad programs, I started exploring my options early on during my freshman year. It was rather easy to narrow down the country choices because I was a French major and I knew my reasons for studying abroad: to obtain fluency and immersion in the French language and culture. Language study was the most important factor in my decision to choose the program that I did.

Why Do I Want to Study Abroad?

In order to get the most out of your time abroad, you must examine why you want to travel abroad and what you wish to extract from the summer, semester or year-long experience. You must determine the benefits of studying in the desired region and ask yourself these questions: will I study a second language and culture? Does the university offer a strong curriculum in my area of studies? Wherever you plan to study abroad, you must decide what your motivations and priorities are.

Narrowing Down Study Abroad Programs: Factors to Consider

Obviously, as a French student with the goal of attaining fluency in French, I would not have chosen to go to a country like England or New Zealand. The program had to be a Francophone, be it in Europe or in Africa.

I attended the campus international fair and collected brochures on various study abroad programs and did research on my school’s international studies website. After extensive research, I narrowed down my program options to three that were located in France and one in Switzerland: one of them was a direct exchange between my college and the Institut des Études Sciences Politiques in Paris; another was one of the oldest junior year in France programs, also located in Paris; and the third was my school’s program in Montpellier, a city in the south. The program in Switzerland was located in Geneva.

I had to apply through my school’s international studies office, so be sure to check out the application process your university requires you to go through.

Financial Considerations

I had narrowed down the programs that fit within the French-speaking country criterion. Then I had to examine what each program had to offer.

My first choice was the Geneva program. First of all, Switzerland is a country where much fewer college students study than in France, and I wanted to choose a less-taken road. Also, the program offers program tracks and field study opportunities, where you can either focus on university studies in French and/or work at international organizations such as the International Labor Organization or the UN Committee for Refugees.

However, since the Geneva program is not affiliated with my college and because I am a financial aid student, study abroad funding is given preference to our own programs. So Geneva was out. When considering study abroad programs, you must ask yourself if you are able to fund it and through what means (loans, grants, family support, etc.) and whether it is worth it to shell out a few more thousand dollars to study with the program of your choice.

Coursework and Field of Study

Another matter to look into is whether the program offers coursework in your major.

I fiddled with the idea of studying at Institut des Études Sciences Politiques in Paris. It is an excellent school, a grande école, which is the French equivalent of the Ivy League. However, Sciences Po only offers courses in economics, international relations, politics and sociology. I am a humanities student who takes language, history and literature classes, which are not offered at this institution. Thus, it did not make sense for me to go there. Another program crossed out.

Making a Decision

So it came down to the Paris program and my college’s Montpellier program.

Both programs made it possible to take the humanities courses I wanted, and the credits were transferable. They were both established programs and have had positive testimonials. I preferred Paris because of its location and the prospect of studying at the Sorbonne.

In the end though, I ended up with the Montpellier program. It was rather disappointing after the long deliberation process, but the study abroad experience is ultimately what you make of it and it is up to you to get the most out of the program. As such, I am enjoying my time in the south of France at the moment in the City of Sun!

Connie Ip is a French and European Studies double major at Mount Holyoke College. She is currently spending her junior year in the south of France. Her interests include English literature, classic films, and international travel.



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