Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Study Abroad

By Cara Beirne

As I begin to settle into my summer routine, the promise of Paris is an ever-present fluttering in the back of my mind.  This fall, instead of beginning my third year of college at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I will be spending the semester at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, more commonly referred to as Sciences Po.  Though my choice of Paris is thoroughly unoriginal, clichés are clichés for a reason.  The city is beautiful and historic, boasting world-renowned food, art, culture, and fashion.  It’s a train ride from dozens of other European capitals, providing opportunities for further exploration and cultural experiences.  What’s better than that?

However, I may or may not be the most qualified person to give sound advice concerning study abroad.  As an International Studies student, I took this semester-long occurrence as something of a rite of passage.  Since my resolve to study abroad was so unfaltering, I almost felt as if I did not need to take the necessary steps to prepare.  In my mind it was slated to happen regardless of my actions.  Wrong.

I have noticed that I’ve been quick to blame any glitches in my experience on the slow-moving French bureaucracy.  Nevertheless, I have a sneaking suspicion that they more to do with my lack of preparedness.  So, in light of this recent revelation, I present you with all the things not to do when preparing to study abroad:

-Don’t let your pride (or laziness) override your good judgment, i.e. apply for more than one program.  I was absolutely sure that I wanted to be in Paris for two years, obtaining my masters degree while soaking in the culture and perfecting my French… until I was waitlisted.  After I realized that the waitlist was more honorary than temporary, I was left scrambling, sending out apologetic emails to programs with past deadlines.

-Which comes to my next point… Deadlines!  Don’t forget about them!  While the Associate Director of the International Studies Program was kind enough to review my application after the deadline, it should never have come to that point.  Her kindness and understanding, (and my many eyelash wishes), should not have been what determined my study abroad fate.

-Once you have been accepted to a program, don’t get behind on visa applications.  Generally, if you’re abroad for more than three months, you’ll have to apply for a student visa.  This process can take a number of weeks or even months to complete, and will leave you without the use of your passport.  Make sure you plan in advance so that the process is complete well before your departure date.

-Don’t forget to actually buy the plane tickets.  I know this sounds like the most obvious point, but I know someone who was so focused on all the minute details that she forgot this one giant detail until a few days before she would leave.  She ended up having to spend thousands.

-And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.  Studying abroad is the chance of a lifetime, and while it’s important to apply yourself in classes, don’t forget to smell the roses (and croissants!).

Bisou bisou, Cara


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