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A Guide to Study Abroad Programs

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By Volunteer Forever
Guest Author Contribution
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Updated for 2023-2024: Studying abroad is back! At Volunteer Forever, we’ve been updating our articles to ensure readers have the latest and best information. In this updated Guide to Study Abroad Programs, you’ll find the best study abroad programs for 2023-2024 and beyond. 

Searching for a study abroad program? Now’s as good a time as ever to apply and go on an overseas learning adventure. 

While COVID-19 pandemic led to a huge decline in studying abroad, with a 91% decline in students going abroad during the 2020-2021 year, it’s now making a huge comeback. As a spring 2023 survey found, 72% of university students wish to study abroad now or in the near future. 

If you’re reading this article, you undoubtedly have interest in studying abroad. We’re here to help you find the right program. After all, with so many study abroad programs for high school and college students, narrowing down to just one can present a challenge.

Read on to learn more about studying abroad and how to choose the right program.

Frequently Asked Questions about Studying Abroad

If you intend to spend a semester or more abroad as part of your education, you may be asking yourself a number of things, such as:

  1. Is studying abroad worth it?
  2. Why should you study abroad?
  3. Which program is best for your needs?
  4. How much will a study abroad program cost?
  5. What scholarships are available for studying abroad?
  6. How can you best prepare for your study abroad trip?
  7. What about safety?
  8. Will you have time to travel outside your study abroad area?

Selecting a program may seem overwhelming at first. Not to worry! Let us be your go-to resource.

In this guide, we’ll help you uncover scholarships and financial aid and determine the best study abroad program for your specific educational goals. We’ll also assist with preparation for going overseas.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Why Study Abroad?

First, consider these statistics:

Globally, the number of international students rose more than 3x from the early 2000s to the 2020s, going from 2 million to 6.3 million students, according to the Migration Data Portal.

Nearly 90% of students who study abroad say the experience influences their subsequent educational and life experiences (data from the Institute for the International Education of Students).

A 2023 survey of Fortune 500 companies found that 81% of employers believe cross-cultural competence is an increasingly important skill to have. 

  • Takeaway: Studying abroad can set you apart in the job market. An international education experience improves your cultural intelligence, which makes you more capable than others at operating effectively in a globalized economy.

As Dr. Allan E. Goodman, the sixth president of the Institute of International Education, asserts, studying abroad “teaches students to appreciate difference and diversity firsthand,” and “learning how to interact with people from other countries and cultures equips future leaders in all sectors to address urgent issues.”

To conclude, a study abroad trip exposes you to other cultures and viewpoints. Many who study abroad come home changed and with deeper understanding and empathy for those around them. Altogether, the experience can enrich you personally, professionally, and spiritually.

So, is joining a study abroad program worth it?

Absolutely!

How to Choose the Right Study Abroad Program

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Each student carves a different path. Only you can truly decide which study abroad program is best for you.

As a Georgetown University article states, you should consider the logistics, choose a place where you can pursue your passions and academic interests, and decide what kind of study abroad experience you want. Once you know these things, you should be able to select a study abroad program that will deliver the experience you seek. 

To find the right study abroad program for your needs, you can think about questions like:

  1. How far do you want to travel? You can find wonderful programs on every continent. Whether you want to study abroad in China, Italy, or Kenya, you have lots of high-quality options.
  2. How long do you want to study abroad? You can go for a few weeks, a whole semester, or even an entire year.
  3. Which country is best tailored to your field of study? For example, if you aspire to work in environmental conservation, Costa Rica has lots of great programs.
  4. Do you know any other languages? And would you like to learn a new language? For instance, if you want to learn or master French, consider a French language immersion trip.
  5. How easy would you like it to be to communicate with your family or friends at home? With modern technology, this won’t be an issue in most places. But do check if you’re heading to a remote destination.
  6. What’s your budget? Not only do study abroad programs vary in price, but the cost of living can also impact how much you spend. If your budget is tight, consider more affordable locations and programs.

Answering these questions will allow you to filter out unsuitable study abroad programs and destinations. From there, you can begin researching programs that match your interests and goals. And you can choose a program that will bring you a powerful experience.

How Much Does A Study Abroad Trip Cost?

Costs vary greatly, and have risen in the 2020s due to post-pandemic inflation. Expect to pay more flights, goods and services. 

Overall, cost depends on the study abroad program price and cost of living in the host country. The average price to study abroad, according to the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE), is $18,861. 

Before you get sticker shock, realize this price doesn’t paint the whole picture. These three points should ease the financial stress: 

  1. Many universities, such as the University of Nevada, Reno, offer low-cost study abroad programs. These universities actively connect students to study abroad opportunities that cost less than a semester on their home campus.
  2. You can find affordable study abroad programs through a variety of reputable organizations. For instance, Maximo Nivel offers accredited study abroad programs in Latin America with tuition fees starting at $4,995 per semester and only $2,395 per summer session. 
  3. You can apply for scholarships and financial aid. See the next section for details.

The point is this: Be resourceful. An amazing study abroad experience doesn’t have to break the bank.

What Scholarships Or Financial Aid Are Available For Studying Abroad?

There are tons of scholarships available to fund your study abroad. You may even qualify for other forms of financial aid.

To get started, look into our list of 200 study abroad scholarships and grants. Learn about scholarships like:

  1. Freeman Awards for Study in Asia: Going to Asia? Earn a scholarship of $3,000 (summer), $5,000 (semester), or $7,000 (full academic year).
  2. Tortuga Backpacks Study Abroad Scholarship: Earn $1,000 for your semester overseas, plus a travel backpack (that will come in handy).
  3. Volunteer Forever Travel Scholarship: Each quarter, we award a $500 and $1,000 scholarship.

Also, check what’s listed at the International Education Financial Aid Center (IEFA). As a partner resource for college aid, scholarships, and grants, you’ll find a current and comprehensive list of funding opportunities for study abroad.

Additionally, you can run a fundraiser for your semester abroad. At Volunteer Forever, we offer fundraising tools. Simply set up a Volunteer Forever account to get started. To learn how that process works, see our tutorial and read over some fundraising success stories.

Preparing for Your Study Abroad Program

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Organize your finances before anything else. In addition to finding a study abroad program within budget and applying for scholarships and grants, calculate how much money you’ll need in your host country.

For your calculation, analyze the cost of living in your destination. For example, Numbeo has a solid cost of living by country index that breaks down the price of everything, such as groceries, rent, dining, and entertainment.

Next, get all your important documents and materials in order (paper and digital). The list should include:

  1. Passport and other ID (leave a copy home with friends/family)
  2. Travel and health insurance card/info
  3. Prescriptions to cover you the whole time
  4. Credit and debit cards
  5. Cash in the form of local currency and/or USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, etc (if you plan to exchange there)
  6. Contact info of the nearest embassy or consulate

While abroad, you require a cell phone plan. Oftentimes, buying a phone and plan at your destination is most affordable. But also inquire with your provider about costs and data plans.

Next, research your destination thoroughly. Read travel guides so you can learn about habits, customs, and traditions. And pick up words and phrases in the local language (if you don’t know it yet). This way, you can feel like a local right away!

Above all, prepare yourself emotionally for study abroad. Living in a foreign country can be a major adjustment for some, and you may not have access to all the luxuries you’re used to back home.

Be mindful and take time to acclimate yourself when you arrive. Walk around your new neighborhood to get familiar with everything. Form a network of friends and people you can trust, like classmates, teachers, and your host family. This will make the transition smooth and allow you to truly enjoy life overseas.

Also, get advice from those who’ve studied overseas before. They’ll tell you about the importance of having an open mind and entering the experience without expectations. They’ll remind you to be flexible and adaptive. And they’ll offer unique tips for your host destination that other guides can’t teach you.

Lastly, pack and go!

Staying Safe While Studying Abroad

While there may be some inherent risk in studying abroad in a foreign country, programs take measures to keep their students safe. By having a tangible plan yourself, you can also lessen the likelihood of something bad happening.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Check travel warnings. As the College of William and Mary notes to their students, pay attention to any risks outlined by the Department of State.
  2. Research common dangers and scams. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet detail what you should know.
  3. Ask your program coordinator and local staff about safety. They’ll inform you about anything you should be aware of.

Also, learn about customs and habits, like how locals dress and correct etiquette. You don’t want to do anything or wear anything that could come off as disrespectful.

Finally, use common sense. Don’t carry a bunch of cash around. Travel in groups when possible. Try to blend in and not look like a tourist. And learn a bit of the language so you don’t get ripped off and can ask for directions and help.

What Are the Best Study Abroad Programs?

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1. International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

Established in 2007, IVHQ, a leading study and volunteer abroad organization, has successfully placed more than 129,000 folks in overseas programs. From Italy to Tanzania to Cambodia, IVHQ has lots of learning opportunities around the world

One course worth checking is their Spanish Service Learning Course, which is accredited by California State University, Monterey Bay. Not only can you improve your Spanish, but you can also give back through volunteering. Earn college credit in your choice of these three destinations:

  1. San Jose, Costa Rica 
  2. Antigua, Guatemala 
  3. Cusco, Peru 

Read more about IVHQ’s study abroad programs here

2. Maximo Nivel

Maximo Nivel specializes in international internships and volunteer and study abroad programs in Latin America, namely Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru. To best serve those looking for study abroad opportunities, Maximo Nivel offers the following:

  1. University courses: Maximo Nivel’s university courses vary from Spanish to medical studies to conservation and science. You can earn university credit through these classes.
  2. Study at partner universities: Maximo Nivel partners with Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru. Through an agreement, you can take courses in life sciences at the university and earn credit.
  3. International internships: Whether you’re interested in a micro-business internship in San Jose, Costa Rica or a hospitality internship in Antigua, Guatemala, Maximo can connect you to a position where you can gain experience and school credit.

Note: Maximo Nivel’s fees vary by course and location. See a full price chart here.

3. Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad features study abroad opportunities across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific. Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad sends more than 130,000 students and volunteers abroad. They have an excellent reputation, and that’s reflected in the quality of their study abroad programs and internships.

Through Projects Abroad, you could:

  • Do a Human Rights Internship in Argentina. This is a great program for aspiring lawyers, humanitarian workers, social workers, psychologists and more. You’ll get to do a lot of good as you help raise awareness in Argentina about basic rights.
  • Learn Spanish in Mexico. Take professional language courses in a city such as Guadalajara, while experiencing local life and culture. If you to improve your Spanish quickly, this study abroad program is a great choice. 

4. GoEco

A top-rated voluntourism company, GoEco is known for their affordability and commitment to sustainability. They feature 150+ programs across 40+ countries, which means you have a wide range of choices. Since GoEco’s programs aim to benefit host communities, most experiences combine volunteering with learning.

If you want to boost your academic career, consider the following GoEco programs:

  1. Sustainable Community Development in Samraong, Cambodia if you’re a humanities student
  2. Pre-Vet Wildlife Internship in Chintsa, South Africa if you plan to be a veterinarian 
  3. Medical Internship in Antigua, Guatemala if you want to learn Spanish and work in healthcare

5. International TEFL Academy (ITA)

Do you want to teach English abroad and travel the world? 

If yes, then consider a study abroad program that offers you Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification. 

International TEFL Academy (ITA) was founded in 2010 and offers the gold standard in TEFL certification. Each year, they certify 5,000 people to teach English abroad. ITA offers high-quality accredited TEFL courses both online and in-person at 20+ locations across the world, from Chicago to Madrid to Chiang Mai. 

All ITA TEFL classes, including online courses, are taught by experienced instructors who use a state-of-the-art curriculum. You’ll get personalized guidance and live practice teaching to help you become a great teacher. 

Once you complete TEFL certification, ITA provides lifetime job placement assistance. To learn more about ITA and begin your journey, download your free TEFL guide today.

6. African Impact

Founded in 2004, African Impact has been offering volunteers and students of all ages, including teens and high school students ages 16 and up, the chance to volunteer and study in Africa. The organization takes great care to ensure the health and safety of volunteers and students. Dedicated to creating real, measurable change, African Impact has a variety of great internship programs that may allow you to earn academic credit.

  • Public Health Internship in Zambia: Do innovative medical work in a low-income area that includes launching and running initiatives, determining the health of individual patients, and addressing context-specific barriers to effective healthcare. The program lasts 4 weeks. 
  • Wildlife Photography Internship in South Africa: Gain practical experience alongside a professional photographer and other students as you capture wildlife in the Greater Kruger Area. Through your wildlife photography internship, you’ll help support conservation initiatives and learn what it takes to be a nature photographer. 

7. Global Vision International (GVI)

Global Vision International offers six-week study abroad programs throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. The study abroad groups are limited to 20 participants, making GVI an ideal option if you like to learn in smaller groups.

One well-regarded study abroad program hosted by GVI is the Conservation and Community project in Chiang Mai, Thailand . Help save Thailand’s elephants by contributing to preservation efforts. You’ll work alongside villagers as you learn about the plight of Asian elephants and put practical conservation strategies into action. This program suits those studying zoology, ecology, and related fields. Scholarships are available.

8. The Intern Group

The Intern Group offers international internship opportunities across more than 25 areas of study. You’ll surely find an internship that aligns with your chosen major in an exciting new country.

With The Intern Group, you can arrange everything from finance internships in global hubs like London and Hong Kong to foreign language internships in Toronto, Canada and Medellín, Colombia. Recommended by major organizations, such as Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, internships through The Intern Group will promote your academic growth and development.

9. Intern Abroad HQ

Experts in planning and delivering internships overseas, Intern Abroad HQ provides intern abroad opportunities in Bali, Costa Rica, Greece, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zanzibar.

Internships, much like studying abroad, offer the chance to gain more in-depth knowledge and explore a new culture. They also enhance your CV by giving you practical experience. And you can potentially earn academic credit (check with your university).

Intern Abroad HQ can get you a position in a range of fields, including engineering and design, physical education, and marketing and communications. Some popular programs include:

  1. Business internship in Tokyo, Japan 
  2. Marine conservation internship on Samos Island, Greece 
  3. Law and human rights internship in Cape Town, South Africa 

Ready For Your Study Abroad Trip?

Studying abroad is back to what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. If you put off travel due to the pandemic, don’t any longer. Studying abroad can be a transformative experience. 

We hope this article provides you with all the essential info and advice you need. Now, it’s time to select a program and apply. Start with the programs and resources we’ve listed in this guide. You’ll find a program that fits you perfectly before you know it.

If you’re looking for more inspiration for your study abroad experience, read these articles:

And if you want to lower the costs of studying abroad, create an account with Volunteer Forever so you can apply for our scholarships, crowdfund your trip, and stay updated on the latest study abroad news.