AMA's Peer Panel Shares Their Adventures & Advice from Studying Abroad

January 21, 2018

Many say that studying abroad is part of the quintessential college experience, so we rounded up a few experts to give AMA members and blog readers their insights. A great presentation by the UW Study Abroad Office (shoutout to Taylor!) and learning from our peer panel's experiences on Wednesday night gave us a great rundown of just what it's like to study outside of Seattle & the U.S. 


In case you missed last week's meeting (and the delicious banh mi), here are the details.




Fun Facts from the UW Study Abroad Office:


Students can choose from more than 500 programs in 75 countries.


UW Study Abroad is on every continent but Antarctica—but some students have gone there anyway for research. There really is a study abroad opportunity for anyone, whether you want to go for academics or for more of a cultural experience. There’s also a huge range in terms of time commitment, so you can study abroad for ten days at the shortest and then the longest you can go abroad for is a year. 


Usually when students think about study abroad, students think of faculty-led programs or just going on a university exchange, but there are actually a lot of different options.


University Exchanges: when students get the opportunity to enroll at a university abroad where UW has an exchange partnership. These are usually semester-long or year-long programs, but a lot of universities abroad are becoming quarter-based.

UW Programs: academic programs abroad led by UW faculty, usually for a quarter. 

Exploration Seminars & Short-term Programs allow students to study abroad outside regular school terms. 

UW Partner Programs are more of a hybrid option for students with limited time, such as student leaders on campus or student athletes.

UW also has partner programs that can help fill the gaps in UW's own study abroad offerings, such as programs down in South America. 

UW Internships can provide a great opportunity abroad while giving you practical working experience, such as some medical interns in Fiji. 


Students can also complete independent learning abroad, such as original research, and earn regular UW residence credits for all UW-approved options. For example, if you've been doing research on sexuality in India, you can actually go to India to complete your research. 


Fees & Expenses


Study abroad can be even cheaper than UW tuition for international or out-of-state students, so don’t rule out study abroad automatically if you’re worried it’s too expensive!

  • Keep in mind you'll be paying your program fee instead of tuition. Some other universities require you to pay both, but at UW you don’t have to worry about that.

  • Of course cost varies based on location and duration, but there are many different options to help fit your budget!

  • Don’t forget to talk to your financial aid advisor. For the most part you should be able to use your scholarships and financial aid to help pay for studying abroad, but always double-check. 

  • Many additional scholarships are available for studying abroad, and you can apply scholarships in scholarship office in Mary Gates Hall. A lot of scholarships out there aren’t even being utilized, so you could have a great chance of becoming a recipient. For example, there’s a scholarship available to send students to a partnered exchange up in British Columbia that many students aren’t taking advantage of. Canada may not seem like studying abroad since it’s so close to home, but it’s a foreign country and great experience! Getting past the study abroad stereotypes can help you find a ton of new opportunities. 

Safety & Security 


UW is actively monitoring national disasters the global activity for safety and security, and we have a 24/7 emergency line here at UW your parents, friends, loved ones can call if they’re concerned while you’re abroad. Students' safety is their top priority.


Language While You're Studying Abroad


The idea of language barriers can deter a lot of people from studying abroad, but most program content is taught in English, even on university exchanges to foreign countries. UW's partner institution in Japan, for example, teaches mostly in English. So if you love a country like Iceland or France, don’t let the language stand in your way! Also, UW's language intensive programs can accommodate everyone from beginners to those who are practically fluent. 


How To Discover Programs


The UW Study Abroad site is the absolute best resource when you're searching for study abroad programs. You can do everything from making an appointment with an advisor to hunting down scholarships. 


To explore their many programs, just select the "Students" tab in the upper left, then choose "Find a Program" from the drop-down menu. You can filter options by

  • General 

  • Location

  • Term

  • Focus

  • Type

or even 

  • now accepting applications 

to find the perfect trip for you.


(An insider tip from Taylor: if a program says “deadline extended,” they're probably having a hard time getting enough students to apply to program, so chances are pretty much 99% that you’ll get in if you apply!)




Then we turned to our peer panel, who had traveled all over the world through their study abroad programs and could give us a glimpse into what the student experience was like.



What made you choose your study abroad program? Was there anything specific that drew you to it?


Macey: I chose Sydney, Australia because it was somewhere I’d wanted to go my whole life and but had never been able to justify it. I went July through November right after my freshman year and it was perfect timing, since I’d been working and interning part time that whole year. It was also the first time I’d gotten off the continent, then later on an exploration seminar I went to Ireland to see where my family came from, too. 


Sabrina: I decided to go to the Netherlands because both my parents were immigrants from Holland and I wanted to immerse myself in the culture they grew up in. I also knew I wanted to live somewhere abroad, not just go on vacation. I lived independently, took care of myself, went to class, studied—it felt much more like real life than just a trip. I also loved Europe and it was so much cheaper to travel when you have a home base there. I also got to take Foster-equivalent credits there, which was important because I needed them to transfer back. 


Kim: Going to China between my freshman and sophomore years was almost a test, seeing if I could study abroad, since I'm less than 100 miles away from home here. After that, going to Australia was like the next step, and it was a great chance to visit a whole new hemisphere. I also would say that an exchange where you’re gone for six months at a different school is very different than an exploration seminar, for example, which is three or four weeks you spend with all UW kids and faculty. 


Mikayla: I started looking sophomore year and didn’t have anywhere particular in mind, I was just browsing. The Rome option (through Foster) really caught my eye because I was a double concentration in Foster and was so stressed about getting all my credits in. It was perfect because I got to get some of my business credits out of the way and got to enjoy a lot of Europe as well, since Italy is in such a great location. 


Chandler: I came into college knowing I wanted to study abroad but not knowing where. I ended up going abroad the summer between sophomore and junior year, and I had applied to pretty much anything that was open. Then one day in my accounting class, someone came in and gave a little pitch for the Foster China program, because it was in its first year. I thought about it, and everywhere else I’d applied to was in Europe, and I felt like I could go to Europe later, but China seemed like a great opportunity now because it’s much more difficult to just visit—you need a visa, for example. That’s what really convinced me, because it would be a really unique experience. 


Is it hard to balance two classes in the shorter timeframe of a faculty program, like the Foster Rome program?

Mikayla: Because it is four and a half weeks, compared to a quarter, the professors do understand that and shorten the course to try to make it more manageable. There is a lot of balance, since you’ll still have quizzes and tests and responsibilities, but at the same time we had the opportunity to travel every weekend—we just were reading our textbooks or doing homework on the train to wherever we were going. 


Kim: I will say that you shouldn’t take any core classes abroad if that’s what you’re planning on concentrating in, just because there might be some info left out that you’ll need later on in more advanced supply chain classes, for example. 


What kind of language barriers did you run into? 

Chandler: everyone told me before I went to China that everyone speaks English, so I headed over there not even knowing how to say 'hi' in Chinese. Turns out that the whole "everyone speaks English" thing wasn't really true—it was really hard for me and I was really overwhelmed the first week I was there. It was so hard to even order food. Thankfully most people on my program did speak Chinese already, and I took it on as a chance to learn the language while I was there. When there are those barriers, as frustrating as it can be at first, you can turn it into a positive experience. 


Mikayla: I studied Italian the quarter before I studied abroad in Rome, thinking I’d need it, then when I got there literally every single person spoke English. It was cool because I could still order in Italian and use a couple other phrases, but in most of Europe they speak English. 


Sabrina: I actually do speak Dutch and in my experience abroad a lot of people do speak English and actually want to. But when I went to the grocery store, for example, there were a lot of words I didn’t know just because my parents hadn’t had to teach me what they meant, it just didn’t come up while we were living in the U.S. Sometimes it’s the small things you notice with a language barrier, even when you know the language pretty well already or they speak English. 


Macey: Even if you think you know the language, like in the predominantly English-speaking countries I studied in like Australia and Ireland, the slang can really surprise you. 


What surprised you the most?

Sabrina: I don’t know if it was necessarily a surprise, but I was really taken aback by the change in the classrooms. I’m used to Foster professors teaching a lot of information and examples not in the book, for example, whereas in the Netherlands it’s very structured and test oriented: professors are teaching you exactly what's on the slides and in the reading and exams worth 75% different way to learn. It was a big switch from the quarter system, where we have a different assignment or presentation or project due what feels like every week. I had just assumed my classes would be really similar to UW, and they weren't. It wasn’t a bad thing, it just gave me like a new perspective that how UW does things isn’t the only way to do things. 


Chandler: How much I enjoyed and got out of the program in general really surprised me. I barely knew anyone in my program, just from the orientation sessions before we left, but I kind of went in thinking I’d become casual friends with these fourteen people. But then we spent every hour of every day together and everyone there was so unique and I think we all really taught each other something. I was blown away by how deep the friendships were I made. Also, a lot of people can romanticize studying abroad, but to be honest you’re still probably going to get stressed out and want to go home. But as it turns out, you have the support system already there for you—they may have been strangers when you left but now you’re all going through these experiences together. The other thing that surprised me too was how disconnected I felt when I came back. It is really weird jumping back into your life here, and everyone I knew had been back here and had made all these memories. 

Mikayla: It’s like reverse culture shock. 

Chandler: Yeah exactly. 


Macey: During my direct exchange to Australia, my bravery surprised me the most. I bungee-jumped, I swam with sharks, I traveled the whole country. It was really cool because it was my own adventure and I got to do exactly what I wanted. During my exploration seminar in Ireland, relationships I formed with other people were a much bigger part of the experience since in Australia I was pretty much alone, and in Ireland I was with 23 other people. Something else to consider in terms of exchange compared to an exploration seminar is that in a seminar (or faculty program), the people leading that program can get you access to special places you couldn't get into on your own, and they know the area and what to do, whereas on exchange you're more independent and you make your own adventure. 


Mikayla: On the very first day, I broke my phone getting out of a taxi, which was a real surprise, and I survived the entire trip, four and a half weeks, with a flip phone that had my parents’ phone number and my trip leader’s phone number—that's it. I can’t believe I lasted that long without being able to really use my phone for communication, but I didn’t really miss it because we were doing something every moment of the day. 


If you guys could study abroad again, where would you go?

Chandler: I honestly have no idea.

Mikayla: Probably somewhere outside of Europe, since I traveled around Europe from Italy so much. 

Kim: I wish Foster had more programs in Africa, that’s definitely on my list. 

Sabrina: I wish I could go on an exploration seminar, because I think it’s such a different experience than exchange. 

Macey: Eastern Europe would be really cool. 




Whether you choose spring break in Japan, a few weeks in Barcelona, or a six-month exchange halfway across the globe, as Kim says, “studying abroad is one of the most life-changing things you can do in college.”


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