By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
The deadline to apply to study abroad during next year’s fall and spring semesters is Feb. 20, and while it may seem like there is plenty of time, crunch time will be here before you know it. For those who are in the process or are considering applying in the future, experienced students and staff have plenty of tips on how to ensure your study abroad experience goes as smooth as possible.
One of the most important things that an applying student can do is be punctual and on top of deadlines and requirements. Dr. Kate McCleary, director of the Global Education Office, said, “Don’t wait until the last minute to get started. Also, make sure to apply for or renew your passport.” Getting all of your letters of recommendation, paperwork, and fees processed can take time, so make sure you know your deadlines and are thinking ahead.
If you are in the earlier stages of planning a study abroad trip and aren’t sure which program would best fit you, there are some excellent resources at Washington College that can help you decide. Dr. McCleary said, “There are many international students studying at WC who are from the country and cultures where we have programs. WC students who studied abroad, faculty advisors for the exchange programs, and others who are familiar with a particular country or region are all wonderful resources.”
Once the basics of applying are understood, it is time to make your application stand out. Senior Dominic Lathos, who studied abroad at Rhodes University in South Africa, said, “The one thing that I feel helped me the most with my application was the strength of my recommendations. I had developed a strong relationship with each professor that I had asked to write recommendations for me, and I know that had a major impact.”
Junior Charlotte Cugnini, who studied at the Universita Cattolica in Italy, also noted the importance of making your passion for the culture and program clear in your essays. “I poured my heart out into my essays. Going abroad was something that I wanted to do for a very long time, and I did my best to make that clear. It’s called a personal essay for a reason. Make it personal,” she said.
Once you get selected to a program, more specific tips could be helpful. “Study abroad isn’t all fun and games,” said Cugnini. “The Italian legal system had so many requirements and time limits on my visa and permit of stay (that I had to get once I was in the country), that I was running around the city like a madman afraid that they would deport me. So check out this process before you go. I don’t think that would have changed my decision to go to Italy, but it is definitely something to consider when picking a school to apply to.” Make sure you know what your personal responsibilities are during the planning process, as well as once you get there.
It is vital to make sure that you are doing your research on the culture and lifestyle of the country you are going to be living in. “Reading online newspapers and watching TV shows or movies from your future host country will enable you to be familiar with current events and pop culture,” said Dr. McCleary. “Senior Courtney Agar has created an awesome Pinterest page on places to visit around our exchange partner institutions as well as to familiarize yourself with culture.” This page can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/geowashcoll/.
It is also important to remember that as much work as this process is, it is also an extremely rewarding and life-changing experience. Lathos said, “Maybe it was because I was so excited to go, but I didn’t feel as if it [the application] was too much of a burden.”
Cugnini had a similar sentiment and said, “Don’t stress over it. Studying abroad has been one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences that I have ever done. It’s not for everyone. A semester may not seem like a long time to be away, but it really does add up. I cannot explain how difficult it was for me, but my experience made me a better and stronger person, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”
In the end, everyone will have a different study abroad experience, so it is important to be true to yourself and your interests when filling out your application. All of the hard work will pay off when you end up in the perfect program for you. Just do not forget to take care of housekeeping things like fees and paperwork. If you have any questions regarding the process, feel free to contact Dr. McCleary or students, including Cugnini and Lathos, who work in the Global Education Office.