Guest Authors: Bailey West and Gustav Anderson
Studying abroad is a big decision. Spending an entire semester, or even more, in a foreign country takes careful planning and willful commitment, and it may even seem too complex and daunting of a process in the beginning. You may be worried about higher tuition costs, falling behind on classes or simply fear the unknown. While these are all understandable concerns that even us study abroad advisors thought about early on, there is truly no need to overthink them. Going abroad is an incredible experience no matter what country and program you decide on, and it is totally feasible for any student with early enough planning. There are abundant resources both on and off campus to support you in your journey to make studying abroad happen.
So where do you even begin? First and foremost, take a breath — start exploring and planning early, and know that you can submit your study abroad application to the Office of International Programs up to a year in advance, so take advantage of getting ahead on things (looking at you, first-years). Narrow down your options to countries you really want to live in, not just visit. Once you have a solid idea of where you want to go, next you should decide on how you want to get there.
For this, it is easiest to understand the study abroad process as two different paths. The first path is through what is called direct exchange. Direct exchanges are programs run by the University of Maine and a sister university abroad. Students from UMaine are directly swapped with international students and the whole application process is within the University of Maine System. The second path is through recommended programs. Recommended programs are third-party study abroad organizations that offer programs in many different countries that university students can apply for.
As they are separate institutions from UMaine, the application processes for these recommended programs are completed outside of the University of Maine System. However, the university has partnerships and works very closely with several of these recommended programs, so the applications are very streamlined. Whether you choose a direct exchange or a recommended program, it all depends on what works best for you academically, financially and logistically, and both provide the exact same amazing experiences!
Once you have thought about where you might want to go and what your goals are for studying abroad, a good first step is to check-in with your academic advisor and get a sense of your curriculum. Your advisor will help you find out what courses you need to take and when you need to take them, and this will help determine what semester makes the most sense academically to study abroad.
Next, the UMaine Abroad Office site is the go-to place for all things study abroad. This site has all of the information about direct exchange programs, recommended programs, scholarships and more. You will want to make an account on the Abroad Office website since that is where all the study-abroad information and paperwork is located.
Once you are planning to study abroad, your next stop should be a meeting with a peer advisor. The peer advising hours for next semester will be announced via Instagram and the study abroad email list, and they will also be posted on the Abroad Office website. Peer advisors have extensive knowledge of the various study abroad programs available and will be able to help you determine what plan makes the most sense for your particular situation. They will advise you on the location, coursework, application timelines, funding and other essential considerations. Once you have met with a peer advisor, you can then meet with Study Abroad Advisor Erika Clement who will further guide you on the details of your choices and the process.
A common concern about study abroad is funding. There are many scholarships available for study abroad through UMaine, including scholarships for direct exchanges, recommended programs and specific countries. The full list of scholarships and information can be found here. Again, it really helps to start planning early so you can make the most of these funding resources!
Also, we as Study Abroad Ambassadors are here to support you through this process. We went through it ourselves recently, and we are happy to answer any of your questions or tell you about our experiences with the process. Please do not hesitate to reach out!
While most of the resources you will ever need are found on campus, there are still some off-campus resources to be aware of. If the recommended program path feels like the best fit for you, exploring the websites of different providers is always a good idea to get an idea of their costs, program offerings and application processes. UMaine works closely with five recommended program organizations: the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), the Center for International Studies (CIS), Academic Programs International (API), the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and the School for International Training (SIT).
Beyond simply researching various third-party program providers, it is also a good idea to look into scholarship opportunities outside of UMaine. There are a tremendous number of scholarships available specifically for college students studying abroad, so do your best to hunt down these opportunities. Most recommended program institutions also offer scholarships, so once accepted into one of them, be sure to research what kind of potential extra funding is available to you.
Finally, YouTube videos are a great resource. Watching former abroad students talk about their experiences is extremely helpful to get an understanding of the small things you may have never thought about, especially in regards to culture, fashion, living conditions, etiquette and travel tips.