In 2013 I took a week off of eighth grade and traveled to a small town in Ireland with my family to visit my older sister who was wrapping up her study abroad trip there.
I got to see her tiny dorm room, meet all 15 of the people living with her, and traveled around the country much of my extended family called home. My big sister was different, but not in a bad way. At 19 she was showing us how to use public transit in this unfamiliar place, showing us her favorite pubs and even introducing us to her new Irish boyfriend.
I knew when I went to college I wanted that same experience. My family pushed me to go to Ireland, but I wanted my own unique journey abroad, and Loyola had a program sitting there waiting for me — the John Felice Rome Center.
Then came the logistics. What semester would I go? Who would I room with? How am I going to speak Italian?
All of these logistics fell into place when I met a girl two doors down who would become my best friend, and travel buddy. As we wrapped up our first year at Loyola we made the leap to apply to go to Rome our first semester of Sophomore year.
I’ll get into all I got to experience while their later, but now I want to answer the question of how to figure out if studying abroad is right for you.
- How will studying abroad benefit your long-term goals?
As a journalism major, I felt tied to Chicago. My paper, The Phoenix, was here. All of the newspapers I dreamt of interning at were here, and the government I already knew how to cover was here. I struggled knowing I would have to take a break from all that to travel, but then I considered the benefits. Employers see travel abroad experience as a huge bonus, an advisor in a journalism class once told me. On top of that, there were courses in European politics waiting for me in Rome, and the chance to experience different cultures which would ultimately broaden my horizons as a reporter and writer. Eventually, I figured taking a break from writing in Chicago would only make me a better writer when I returned.
2. Can I afford to study abroad?
No one likes to talk about money, but yet it is one of the most important factors when you decide to leave your income in the U.S. and travel around Europe for a few months. In my case, I spent the entire summer before my trip working overtime at my job in my hometown. It wasn’t very glamourous waiting tables and taking every extra shift I could get but it allowed me to have confidence that I would be free to travel in Rome and experience everything I wanted to.
It is also important to really research the support your university gives you while studying abroad. I chose Rome in part because my scholarships and financial aid from Loyola would transfer over. Without the decreased tuition due to my scholarship, there is no way I could have afforded school overseas.
3. Identify your support system.
Traveling thousands of miles away from wherever you call home is scary. Lucky for me, my best friend had the same goals in mind and was with me every step of the way. However, don’t let it deter you from studying abroad if you’re the only one in your circle of friends going. You’ll have ample opportunity to meet new people there, and random roommates can often become your closest pals.
The most important support system is your loved ones and trusted mentors. I spoke about studying abroad extensively with professors and advisors I really respected to give me a truthful answer about whether or not studying abroad was right for me. I also consulted my parents, but it could be anyone who you rely on, to ensure that they would look out for me and check-in to make sure I felt safe and healthy while I was away.