New Page for the Blog and an Update

We’re rapidly approaching the end of the semester here in Colorado. I was reading through some of the earlier posts from this semester the other day, and it was so fun to look back at the beginning of this blog.

I realized that in my first post on this blog, I mentioned structuring these posts in two parts: an update on my life, and then a themed post. As the semester quickly became busy, the more personal sections of my posts fell to the wayside.

Life has been good. I’m a junior in college now, and this is my second semester at this particular school. Being a transfer student and attempting to study abroad is difficult. You’ve got multiple transcripts, and you’ve got way less time to work through general ed classes, let alone major requirements.

I went to some info sessions. I started a couple of applications. I chose some classes that I thought would be enjoyable to have abroad. But then, life got in the way (as it often does).

About halfway through the semester, I heard of an opportunity for a leadership position working with transfer students. As someone who is vocal about how pleasantly surprised she was at her transfer process, I was immediately torn between wanting to help other students have the same kind of experience and going abroad.

A nagging thought entered my mind: “I’m just getting settled in here…do I want to go abroad already?”

I applied for the job. I interviewed. I got it.

Study abroad is not out of the picture for me. Being a Journalism major, it is strongly encouraged for me to go abroad at some point in my undergraduate years. Its just been delayed slightly.

On another note, keep an eye out in the upcoming few weeks for a new page on the blog. I’ll be uploading a Prezi which will be examining statistics about study abroad and the current state of study abroad globally.

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How to Have It All

There are many articles on the Internet about how to have the best study abroad experience.

Seriously. So. Many. Articles.

With all of these people and companies giving you advice about something as monumental as deciding to study abroad, it can get overwhelming fast.

This is the main reason why, for my blog post this week, I decided to look at 2 different “tips for study abroad” articles, just to compare and contrast them. These articles are from different publications, written by different people, and intended for different demographics.

Teen Vogue's logo.

Teen Vogue’s logo.

The first article we’ll be looking at is from Teen Vogue, “Ten Tips on Making the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience”. The tips are as follows:

  1. Set specific goals
  2. Befriend the locals
  3. Sign up for classes that allow you to explore
  4. If you’re staying with a host family, get to know them
  5. Wait a few weeks after your arrival to travel
  6. Don’t let language barriers deter you
  7. Consider getting a job or an internship
  8. Spend wisely
  9. Avoid dangerous situations
  10. Take an active approach to fighting homesickness

The goals in this list are good. If you followed each one, you’d have a very well-rounded, enlightening experience abroad. My favorites? Sign up for classes that allow you to explore–no one wants to be studying economics in a library in Rome!

Also, this site has good options if you’re looking to find employment abroad. Make sure to also discuss this option with your advisor.

This article does a nice job of including quotes from experts on particular topics. For example, when discussing getting to know your host family, the author used a quote from Lauren Seidl, a member of GoAbroad’s Content and Outreach Team.

WeHostel's logo.

WeHostel’s logo.

The second article we’ll be discussing is from WeHostels’, “7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Study Abroad Semester”. The tips in this article are as follows:

  1. Don’t let homesickness ruin the experience
  2. Live like a local
  3. Forget about the money
  4. Practice the language
  5. Don’t be afraid to not have a plan
  6. Put studying on the back burner
  7. Step out of your comfort zone

I found it to be very interesting that the two articles share only one similarity in their lists: don’t let homesickness rule your life.

I think that the tips for WeHostels’ are perhaps for more seasoned travelers, or for those who definitely know that they’re studying abroad. The Teen Vogue article, in contrast, is for a less committed audience.

Overall, I think that both of these articles serve their purposes and audiences well. These tips are all important and, if you follow them all (or even just a few), you’re in for a rewarding experience.

Je ne sais pas: A Guide for Languages

So far on this blog, we’ve covered steps to the study abroad process that are essential to the process. This week’s post is going to change that a bit. We’re going to talk about learning a foreign language.

If you’re like me, you took 4 years of foreign language in high school (I took French). If you’re like me, you enjoyed the language a lot in high school and maybe even took a few semesters of it in college to fulfill some of those pesky gen ed credits.

If you’re like me, you’ve become slightly embarrassed at how much of this language you’ve forgotten over the years.

We’re going to discuss 2 options for learning a language fast today: Duolingo and Rosetta Stone.

DuoLingo's longo.

Duolingo’s logo.

Duolingo, founded in 2011, is a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform. Duolingo’s main goal is, as users move through lessons, they become able to help translate websites and other documents. Duolingo offers a ton of languages, including:

  • Latin American Spanish
  • French
  • German
  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Dutch
  • Irish
  • Danish
  • Swedish
  • Turkish

Duolingo also offers courses in American English for non-English speakers. When you create an account with Duolingo, you can choose which language you’d like to study. You can then either start with Basics I (if you identify yourself as a beginner) or take a placement exam.

Duolingo's homepage.

Duolingo’s homepage.

Its hard to see in the screenshot above, but Duolingo divides the language into categories, and you are meant to go through the categories in sequential order. After completing each unit (or section of categories), you test your skills. Duolingo places a lot of emphasis on written skills and dictation, with speaking being incorporated into higher level lessons.

One other interesting aspect of Duolingo is their “Language Incubator” section of their website. In this section, users can help create courses for Duolingo as well as connect with others who are passionate about similar languages as you. Duolingo has identified one of their goals with the Language Incubator program as being to preserve less popular languages like Latin, Mayan, and Basque. 

Overall, I believe that Duolingo is a great, free program for those who want to brush up their skills on a particular language. I would not recommend this for first-time learners of a language, as I’ve found that speaking practice is one of the most important aspects of first learning a language.

Duolingo also has apps for both Androids and iPhones, which are free.

Rosetta Stone

We’re going to take a more traditional route now and look at Rosetta Stone. Regardless of whether or not you’ve studied abroad or ever learned a language, you’ve probably heard of Rosetta Stone. The bright yellow boxes of software can be purchased at stores like Barnes & Noble or Target, or purchased from their website.

Rosetta Stone, like Duolingo, offers a variety of languages. Some notable choices include:

  • Arabic
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Hebrew
  • Hindi
  • Korean
  • Latin
  • Persian (Farsi)
  • Swahili
  • Urdu
  • Welsh

Rosetta Stone does an excellent job at providing unique options, and I love that they have more diverse options as opposed to just those languages spoken in Europe and North America. Study abroad programs are offering more diverse program options, and Rosetta Stone reflects that.

The main disadvantage with Rosetta Stone is the cost. A 6-month subscription for Rosetta Stone Italian, for example, would cost you $169 for both the online subscription and the app. However, Rosetta Stone does offer a demo option as well as the option to gift a program.

Duolingo and Rosetta Stone both offer programs that will give you a well-rounded education about a particular program. If you are looking to brush up your skills or interact with a larger community, I would recommend Duolingo. If you are a first-time learner or have the money to spare, I would recommend Rosetta Stone.

Travel Insurance: Do I Even Really Need It?

This week we’re going to be discussing travel insurance here on the old blog. Now, as a disclaimer, I’ve never purchased travel insurance myself, so everything I’m saying in this post is what I’m inferring from other, better researched sources.

Travel insurance can cover you while traveling in a variety of ways. As this blog post from Nomadic Matt states:

“It covers you when your camera breaks, your flight is cancelled, a family member dies and you have to come home, or if something is stolen. It is the single most important thing you should get but never hope to plan to use.”

When I first read Matt’s post, my initial thoughts were: Well, this sounds great, but how much can this possibly cost me? The answer: it depends on where you’re traveling, but usually not much.

There are a lot of companies specializing in travel insurance out there. Most of them are good. A few are not. Here are some tips for knowing if a plan is right for you:

  1. Make sure there is a high coverage limit on your medical expenses (up to $100,000 is common).
  2. Make sure your policy also covers emergency evacuation and care that is separate from your medical coverage.
  3. Check to see how your policy defines evacuation: it should be to your home country.
  4. Your policy should cover most countries in the world.
  5. Your policy should include some (it varies substantially) coverage of electronic items.
  6. Your policy should cover injury and sudden illnesses.
  7. Your policy should offer 24-hour emergency services.

In his post, Matt says that a company called World Nomads is his favorite travel insurance provider. Let me tell you, I totally get it. This website is incredibly,and I’ll be discussing it more in my post next week.

Managing Your Finances

Planning your finances when your life is relatively straightforward is difficult.

Planning your finances when you don’t really understand the currency, and you want to travel to all these fun places, and you want to have just one more croissant from the cafe down the street…is impossible.

Understanding currency exchanges can be quite difficult. Luckily, Google has a tool that can help with this. If you have a smartphone, you’ll be able to access it wherever you are.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.58.42 PM

If you just type into Google “currency exchange”, this should pop right up. You are able to choose which type of currency you need from a drop-down list. Needless to say, the choices are extensive.

The next step you should take after figuring out your country’s currency is to take a look at your “big picture” number: how much money will you have for the duration of your trip? I’m not a financial expert, but I can tell you that this amount will differ based on the length of your trip and the location.

Next, you should make a list (write it down!) of your needs. This can include anything from housing to food and transportation. Check with your program provider on this! Different programs include housing or transportation. The categories on this list should be essential aspects of your life.

Finally, perhaps consider taking a look at the International Student Identity Card, which can get you discounts in more than 130 different countries. This would also be a good way of proving your student status if necessary.

When Should I Book My Flight?

Now that we have established how to apply for a passport, next we’ll be discussing when you should book your flight. Booking flights is a shot in the dark sometimes. Should I book directly from the airline? Should I use a search engine like Expedia? When should I book?

I’m not going to guarantee answers to all of these questions in this post. But I’ll do my best.

First of all, I found this great video from Sonia’s Travels where she discusses travel tips for new graduates, specifically how to find cheap flights.

What do you think of the studies she discusses in this video? Sonia spends some time discussing the 3-7 week “perfect window” where prices for flights are about as good as they’re going to get. From my past (limited) experience, I can judge this to be true.

Secondly, I found a USA Today article which discusses steps for booking an international flight. Key highlights from this article include:

  • Applying for your passport early (which we discussed last week!)
  • Go directly to the page of the airline you wish to travel with to see if they offer international flights. As the article notes, “Many U.S. airlines offer direct international flights, or partner with other airlines that offer international flights.”
  • Using a service like Vayama (a search engine which specializes in international travel) will allow you to see a complete list of airlines that offer flights to your destination. Other international flight search engine include Fareline International, Globester, and One Travel.
  • When you decide to book a flight, make sure the name that you enter is exactly the same as how it appears on your passport. It’s too easy. Don’t get in trouble for something like this.

How to Apply for a Passport

So, we’ve covered a lot here on this old blog. How to decide which study abroad program is right for you, common myths about financial aid, and how to ask for a recommendation letter.

Today, we’re going to jump ahead a little bit to the first thing you should do post-acceptance: get a passport.

Applying for a passport is actually surprisingly easy (if you’re inside the United States). The State Department offers an eligibility wizard that will allow you to go through and establish basic information like how much a passport will cost you and which forms you will need to fill out.

Passport books are the most expensive at $110, but are valid for all international travel. You can get a passport card for $30, but this only allows you to return to the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. For $140, you can apply for both documents at the same time.

If you choose standard processing for your passport, there are no additional fees and it will be processed in 4-6 weeks. This is the method I would recommend for most people to do. However, if you are running behind schedule, with a $60 fee, you can get your passport in 2-3 weeks. There are also options for standard and overnight deliveries.

(As a note, the State Department does charge a $25 execution fee along with the above listed charges.)

When you apply for a passport, you must have “evidence of your U.S. citizenship,” which can be proven with one of the following documents:

  • Certified U.S. birth certificate
  • Previous U.S. passport (may be expired, must be undamaged)
  • Consular Report of birth abroad
  • Certificate of naturalization/citizenship

You must also submit a form of photo identification, as well as a photocopy of that document, which can be one of the following:

  • Valid driver’s license (plus a second ID if issued in a different state than where you apply)
  • Undamaged U.S. passport (if issued less than 15 years ago)
  • Certificate of naturalization
  • Valid government ID (city, state, or federal)
  • Valid military ID

There are rules for your passport photo, most notably that it must be 2×2 inches, printed on thin, photo-quality paper, and taken within the past 6 months.

There is a form–the DS-11–which you have the option of either completing by hand or completing online and printing. You then must submit your application in person at an Acceptance Facility, which you can search for here.

An example of a completed U.S. passport.

An example of a completed U.S. passport.

The Dreaded Recommendation Letter: A Guide

The recommendation letter. We all hate them. We’ve all been there.

It’s a growing trend among study abroad programs in the United States to require a letter of recommendation along with your application. The letter can be from a professor or an employer. As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea to start thinking about your recommendation letter early in the study abroad process.

There are some obvious aspects of having a strong recommendation letter: it should be written on letterhead, a maximum of one page long, and in a “normal” font (save your Comic Sans for another day).

However, there are some unique characteristics to a study abroad recommendation letter:

  • Make sure to have a long talk with your letter-writer and explain to them the gist of what you want to do. Where do you want to go? What type of program is it? This will help them to create a unique letter for your program.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring a copy of your resume to meet with your writer! This is especially true if they only know one aspect of your life (a former boss), or if you participate in extracurricular activities.
  • If there are specific goals you would like to accomplish on the program, talk about them! Share how you believe the program will help you to achieve your goals–whether it’s to learn a new language or complete an internship.
  • This bears repeating, but be sure to ask early! Personally, I would recommend asking 3-4 weeks before the application is due.
A sample format for a fairly basic recommendation letter, found via lettersofrecommendation.net

A sample format for a fairly basic recommendation letter, found via lettersofrecommendation.net

Financialphobia.

Guess who’s back.

Back again.

Mary’s back.

Tell a friend.

Not a lot has changed since the last time we spoke, it’s gotta be said. I’ve applied to a couple of jobs for over the summer. I’ve interviewed for one and I’ve submitted my application for the other so I won’t find out anything further until next week. For the summer, I could use the time to take a couple of classes and work to make some extra spending money.

Financial Aid and Studying Abroad: Top 10 Myths

 

I’ve recently discovered a wonderful website, hosted by NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, which discusses the myths of financial aid for study abroad. Over the years, a lot of false information has been thrown about on the Internet (duh), and this website does an excellent job of breaking it down.

But I’m going to put it in my own words. I’m gonna get on your level.

So for this week, I thought I’d give you the top 10 myths of financial aid for study abroad. Because I’m so generous.

  1. NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME!

 

  1. I am an independent student and I don’t need nobody (except money. I definitely need that).

 

  1. I’m going to use all the loans.

 

  1. If I go abroad, the financial aid I have now will disappear into the darkness, never to be seen again.

 

  1. I’m going to get the same amount of aid for study abroad that I would for a term at my home university. I won’t have to do any extra work to get extra aid for study abroad.

 

  1. Living in the United States means that there isn’t any additional money for me to study abroad.

 

  1. As long as I’m registered as being a student, I’m not going to have to start repaying my loans and won’t be using the grace period that precedes repayment.

 

  1. Every scholarship I receive is additional money I don’t have to pay out of pocket.

 

  1. I’ll get all of my aid ahead of time so I can pay the deposits before I leave and other fees as soon as I start my study abroad program.

 

  1. My program is cheaper than being at my home school so my parents and I won’t have to pay anything—it will all be covered by financial aid.

 

A big thank you to the people over at NAFSA for putting these ideas out there! Financial aid is stressful enough on its own without adding study abroad to it. Hope these help.

Next week, I’ll have a special edition of financial aid: FAFSA edition because I’ll finally have submitted mine…oops!

An Introduction to This Adventure/6 Resources to Find the Best Study Abroad Program for You

An Introduction to This Adventure

So. My name is Mary. I’m a junior in college. I’m studying journalism and political science. My school is in Colorado, although I’m from Massachusetts. I am a transfer student, which just adds another layer of stuff to worry about when it comes to this whole study abroad ordeal.

I’m not going to lie to you, dear reader: I started this blog because it is a class assignment. Over the course of the semester, I’m going to be coming to you live every week with the latest attempts with my attempt to apply for study abroad.

I promise to make it at least slightly interesting.

The most important thing you should know about me is that I try not to take anything too seriously.

I’m thinking about structuring these posts with a more personal update on things at the beginning before I get into more informational stuff. Otherwise, these posts will just contain my own rants about money and how much I hate the FAFSA.

(And trust me, no one wants to read that.)

Right now, things are okay. I’ve narrowed down my list of potential locations I’d be interested in and I filled out all the personal information for one of the applications. My school is hosting an event tomorrow to talk about study abroad funding but I can’t go because I have class, as usual. I think the next step will be to meet with my advisor and talk to her about classes. If she doesn’t think I can do this, it will be null and void and I’ll have to find a new topic to blog about. We’ll see.

6 Resources to Find the Best Study Abroad Program for You

1. Study abroad website

This is probably the most obvious of this list, but consult your school’s study abroad department website. This will be where you can find upcoming events like panels, featured programs, and general information about study abroad concerns. This resource will also generally have a search option that will allow you to sort programs by location, term, GPA, etc.

The search option on my school's study abroad website. A wonderful resource.

The search option on my school’s study abroad website. A wonderful resource.

2. Informational fairs

The informational fair is my personal favorite. Your study abroad office will, from time to time, host informational fairs where representatives from different programs will come to your school with brochures and will be able to talk with you about their program. I’ve only been to one of these but I thought it was a great experience. I would recommend going alone so that you have enough time to go to the tables of programs you’re interested in. Also, make sure you give yourself enough time to see everything and ask questions!

3. Informational sessions hosted by the Study Abroad office

If you can’t make it to an informational fair, not to fear! Your study abroad office will offer informational sessions—probably once or twice a week—where you can go in and hear about the logistics of study abroad for your particular institution. This can be a valuable time to ask questions about things like registering for classes and financial aid/scholarships.

4. Study abroad advisors

If you can’t make it to either an informational fair or an informational session, you have another resource! Study abroad advisors are professionals who work in the study abroad department of your school. They are usually affiliated with a specific region (South America, Western Europe, etc.) or type of program (semester, full year, summer, etc.). Most study abroad websites will allow you to view the advisors as well as their contact information. You should feel free to shoot them an email and ask whatever questions you have. This is a great resource as you start applying for specific programs or have questions about locations.

5. Request catalogs and brochures

You don’t always have to rely on your study abroad office to learn about your options. If you visit a program provider’s website (such as API), you will be able to request catalogs about the types of programs they have to offer. Some providers will let you get more specific: you can see all of the programs they offer in the summer, in Spain, etc.

The API allows you to request catalogs about their programs.

The API allows you to request catalogs about their programs.

6. Network!

Do not be afraid to talk to others about their experiences! Ask your professors or other students in your classes if they’ve ever studied abroad. Where did they go? What program did they use? Did they like it? Did they feel safe? Did they learn something? This will help you to narrow down a seemingly endless list of possible programs into a more reasonable list of those programs that truly have something to offer you.