Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Year in the Life of a Study Abroad Applicant - Part III: Preparing for the Study Abroad Fair

Phew! Welcome back to my series on applying for study abroad! 

This week has been crazy! I’ve been wrapping up mid-terms and getting ready to head back home for Fall Break. In the office, we’ve been busy preparing for International Education Week which, for me, means making a LOT of flyers to advertise all the different events that are going to take place after we all come back to campus. Even with everything that I’ve been doing, I managed to find the time to meet with a study abroad advisor to help me understand all of my options for study abroad. I wanted to make sure that I knew what to look for and who to talk to when I get to the Study Abroad Fair next Wednesday!

Like I said in my previous post, I really wanted to figure out which programs I am qualified for so I know what my options are. I made an appointment with my advisor, Ghazi, just by going onto the study abroad website. You just click on his name and send him a message and even see all the times that he’s available. I filled out an advising application, too, it helped us a lot in our meeting. He was able to do a little research about some of the questions I had before we met, so we were able to make the most out of our thirty minutes. In the advising application, I made it clear that one of my main goals was to become fluent in Spanish, and that on top of fluency, I wanted to make sure I was taking Environmental Studies classes that could possibly count towards my major back at Tulane. If I could also take International Development or SISE courses (my minors), that would just be icing on the cake.

When I met with Ghazi (at the study abroad office right by Willow PJs), one of the first things we talked about was the importance of taking classes in Spanish alongside local students at the university. If fluency is my main goal, he said that being around native Spanish speakers as much as possible, using the language to take tests, listen to lectures, write papers and make friends, is the absolute best way to become fluent. For me, I think that means I will probably look at one of the programs that either lets me directly enroll at a university – like at the Universidad San Francisco de Quitoin Ecuador – or one of the program providers like CIEE in Valparaiso, Chile, where they offer a few classes in Spanish for American students but then help you directly enroll at the local university, too. I think programs like this help students who are a little unsure about taking all their classes at the foreign university because they can take one or two classes that are very similar to the Spanish classes we take at Tulane.

Once I had that figured out, I realized I had a problem – I still have a LOT of options for study abroad. I know, it’s a good problem to have! So, Ghazi and I brainstormed about how to narrow down my options even further so that I could decide where I should apply. I love a good list of action items!

Step 1: Make a list of the programs I should consider.

When I made the list, I knew:
  •     The courses should be all in Spanish.
  •     The program should be in Latin America ideally.

I made this list as soon as I left the study abroad office!

My options - I made this list as soon as I left the office

Step 2: Research the program websites.

Ghazi gave me some tips about how to look at the program websites…they are filled with lots of information, so he explained what exactly I should be looking for:
  •         What courses are available? Both, at the study center run by the program and at the local university? I’ll be able to use this list when I go to talk to my major advisor…
  •         What are the housing options that are available? We talked about the benefits of living with a host family (here’s a Tulane student’s blog about her host family) and so he encouraged me to look for student perspectives about the accommodations.
  •         What are the start and end dates of the program? I hadn’t even considered the fact that universities in South America start their academic year in February and end in late November or early December. So, Ghazi encouraged me to think about what I plan to do over the summer before I go, because many of those programs begin in July instead of late August. If I need my summer free for an internship or job, I might need to look at the programs in Mexico or even Spain, instead.
  •         What is the city like?! This question was probably the one I had thought about the least! But, Ghazi explained that I would be living in the city for 5 or 6 months, and so it would be important that I would be comfortable there… New Orleans is a relatively small city, so it would be a transition to go from a place like NOLA to a huge city like Quito or Buenos Aires! He encouraged me to read about city life in the places I was considering to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually live there.

Step 3: Talk to people!

Lastly, I need to go talk to as many people as I can who have some experience with these different programs!
  • The Study Abroad Fair is on October 19. Representatives of all the different programs will be there so I will be sure to go and chat with them. And then, Tulane students who have already gone on the program will also be there, so they can give me the skinny on what it’s like for a student!
  • Since many of the faculty members in the Spanish department have some experience in one or more of these places, I think I’ll talk to them, too, because they might have some insight.
  • After I get an idea of all of the different programs and locations, and a list of classes I can take, then I’ll probably meet up with my major advisor to talk about the nitty gritty of not falling behind while I’m abroad.

Basically, meeting with a study abroad advisor helped me focus on my options and figure out what, exactly, I need to do over the next few months to select the best option for me! I’m going to spend some time over fall break perusing the websites and then, hit the study abroad fair running. Or, at least, with a list of questions…