I knew long before I came to college that I wanted to study abroad. It started way back when my older sister, now long graduated (from UMass as well), was going on college visits during her last few years in high school. I tagged along on a lot of these visits and was always blown away by the stories people told about their study abroad experiences. That, coupled with my love of travel, meant that I had made up my mind long before I even had to think about college: I was going to study abroad. So when the time came, and I was finally going off to college, that was something always in the back of my mind.
This readiness clashed, however, with my chronic procrastination. Study abroad seemed so far off still, why would I need to start preparing as a freshman? I know I wasn’t alone in that line of thinking either. But in the end my excitement overruled my propensity to delay. So in my first semester I visited the International Programs Office. As a younger student, things like this can be nerve-racking, it’s only natural. There’s always a sense that you might not be in the right place, or perhaps that you should just wait until next year, when you’ve had more experience. But the moment you sit down with an advisor, all of those feelings wash away. I found that most of them had gone abroad when they were in college, and sincerely wanted me to have as much fun as they did.
Going to IPO early also gave me a huge edge when it came to studying abroad, because there is a lot of work that goes into it, I’m not going to sugar-coat things. There’s paperwork, letters of recommendation, financial aid, and that’s not counting the fact that you have to figure out where you want to go in the first place (although that can be the fun part). Your major also comes into play. As a political science major, studying abroad is easy in terms of scheduling, but that’s not to say you can’t study abroad if you’re in another major. I have close friends in the sciences and in engineering that are in various countries around the world right now. The key to making your experience as enjoyable as possible is starting early, and not being afraid to pester your advisor with emails at 2 in the morning.
Inevitably, there will be stress when the deadlines start approaching. Again, that’s only natural. And you can still study abroad if you start late, I know people who pulled it off. But believe me, your life will be so much easier if you get a head start. At the end of the day, you’ll find yourself thousands of miles away, immersed in a new culture, meeting new friends, and enjoying the wonders of whatever paradise you decide to… “study” in.