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Studying Abroad: My Process, Experience, and Advice

Studying abroad: something everyone has probably heard of, or even considered for yourself, but maybe you have no idea where to start or are feeling nervous about traveling and living in a new country. For some of you, this might be a requirement; for others, an opportunity to travel to somewhere new; and even others, something you had never even considered. Regardless of your interest or knowledge of studying abroad, this post will hopefully answer sone questions and get you excited for the study abroad experience!

The Process

I studied abroad for my entire Junior year at SDSU, and it was one of the best experiences of my life; something I will get into later in the post. To get to the point of actually jumping on a plane, however, there is a lot of preparation to be done with both the home (SDSU) and away institutions. To start, there are a few programs you can choose from, and it can easily get overwhelming or confusing. Here at San Diego State, there are a few resources you can head to if you are considering studying abroad for the first time. I recommend browsing the Aztecs Abroad Database (which I will link below), or going in person to meet with a Global Education Advisor. As I mentioned, there are many types of programs you can choose from, which range from only studying abroad, to volunteering, or global seminars. I will be discussing the three main types of study abroad programs: ISEP, CSUIP, and SDSU Exchange. Now honestly, there is not much of a difference between these three programs. All of them offer semester or yearly options for studying abroad, all pay in-state tuition, and all can earn credit for SDSU. The biggest difference are the locations each program offers; I enrolled in the SDSU exchange program, only because it offered placement in schools in locations where I wanted to study. My advice is to read up on all the types of exchange programs at SDSU, as well as explore what locations and institutions are offered by each program to find the best fit for you. This is a lot of information to work through, just remember you’re not alone in figuring this out. For each college there are Global Education Advisors that help you sort through all of the requirements you must meet. Again, this is all on the Aztec Global Education website, outlined on the “Getting Started” page, where you can find a step-by-step list of what needs to be done. After making sure you have a valid passport, your next step is to choose a program (how exciting)!

My Experience

Before I get to my actual year abroad, I will explain a bit of my experience applying to study abroad, and the lead up to leaving for a year. For me, I had always known I wanted to study abroad during university, and I feel very lucky to have gotten this opportunity. It was not, however, an easy process. For me, it felt as if my desire to studying abroad was not a priority within my college. There were a lot of unknowns- how I could get started in the process, and even after I was accepted into my program, all of the requirements I had to meet- that I had to figure out on my own. There was almost a “weeding out” feel to the entire process- only those who were pushy (like myself), managed to get through to someone that would eventually help answer questions. When it came time to get courses approved that I would be taking abroad, it took me around 10 emails and 4 meetings to get a simple signature on my papers. Not only that, but the implication that studying abroad could set me back in graduating was apparent- there were courses that I would not be able to take abroad that could only be completed at SDSU (although I’m still managing to graduate on time). Of course, this may just be my experience and I hope that no one else will experience the same- but I’m trying to remain transparent. The months leading up to studying abroad were scary, as I realized more and more that I would be leaving my family and traveling thousands of miles away. I have a background in international travel, but I was also apprehensive. I knew however, that if I didn’t do this I would regret it. So, I mustered the courage, packed my bags, and hopped on a plane to live in another country for 9 months.

Now, on to the fun stuff! As I’ve mentioned around three times already, I studied abroad for a year, at the University of Stirling in Stirling, Scotland. Here, I met some of my best friends, while also having the opportunity to travel cheaply to countries around Europe. I managed to immerse myself in Scottish culture, and experience what normal life is like for college students just like us, all the way across the world. While this ended up being one of the best years of my life, probably of my school experience, it was not always sunshine and rainbows. Even though I mentioned I had always wanted to study abroad, I had my doubts. Of course, I had the anxious thoughts of “What am I doing?” and “What if I hate this?” all the way up until I watched my mom leave me at my new housing in Scotland. And even after I was settled in at this new school, there were times when I thought I had made a big mistake, and I should have stayed in sunny San Diego where it was comfortable. Gradually though, these feelings of anxiety, worry, and loneliness faded as I accepted my new temporary life, and decided to dive in head first- which was the best decision I could have made. I joined the school’s volleyball team, where I met the majority of my friends, as well as the school choir and a few other clubs on campus. Of course you will feel homesickness at times but getting involved in any way will make a world of difference. And, even when you might feel “alone” at some new school across the globe, there are plenty of people in the same position who would happily get together. Taking the leap is the hardest part, but its rewards are immeasurable.

My Advice

Here’s my advice: if you’re considering studying abroad, even just curious, do some research and look more into it. You do not have to do an entire year like me, you could do a semester, or even a few weeks in the summer. The point is not how long you go for or even where, it’s about immersing yourself in a new culture that’s different from your own; experiencing new places and making memories. I’m not going to lie, it can be scary, but sometimes it’s good to step out of your comfort zone. But here’s the catch: it’s all on you. You have to be the one motivated enough to study abroad, and you have to be the one to make the most out of wherever you end up. My last piece of advice if you do end up studying abroad (or maybe are already on track to) is to get involved. I wholeheartedly believe that if I had not forced myself to get involved with the university I would have had a very different, maybe even an unpleasant, experience. I hope this post finds you well and has encouraged you to think about an opportunity that could be life changing. If you have any other questions or would like to know more about my experience feel free to email me

I hope you have a wonderful day!

Alex :)

Some pictures of my time in Scotland & other countries :)!

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