Studying abroad while in university is becoming a very popular option for university students. The benefits are plentiful: students get to experience a new culture, see the world, gain a new perspective, improve in a different language through immersion, have an international network, among many others.
According to the U.S. Department of State, in the academic year of 2015/16, a total 325,339 U.S. students studied abroad for academic credit, with 38 percent of students choosing to do so during the summer.
As an international student in the United States, all of these benefits and data are not that surprising. We, as international students, understand all the benefits of studying abroad, but many of us ignore that even while enrolled in an American University, we can study even more abroad. Under the F visa, international students can apply for a different program as long as they are still enrolled for credit at the university that issued their form I-20.
In short—yes, you can study abroad while abroad, you just have to keep a few things in mind.
Even before I applied to come to the U.S., I knew that I wanted to do at least one semester in London. Now, having graduated, I can proudly say that in my four years in the United States I was able to take part in three education abroad experiences: two sponsored by my university, Seattle University, and one through a different program. In fact, prior to applying to Seattle University, I looked at their study abroad office’s website and researched their options for my major. These options were large influencers in my decision to even apply to this specific university. So, if like me, you are interested in studying more abroad, I recommend starting your research early.
But, first of all, what is this about university sponsored and not sponsored programs?
Studying Abroad Through Your University
University-sponsored programs tend to make the process a lot easier for students. Firstly, because professors lead a lot of university-sponsored programs, so you will probably send your application to a faculty member and you can ask questions in person. Secondly, because if you need to get a visa, it is easy to ask whoever is organizing this experience to write you a letter and give you any documents that your visa application may require regarding the program.
Are there any complications?
In my experience, there was only one: Because international students tend to be a minority in their American universities, there is an assumption that most, if not all people in this program will be American.
This becomes an issue only because you have to keep in mind that, as an international student, you may need to follow a slightly different timeline than what your professor might say. For example, your professor may remind everyone a month before the trip that they should bring their passports or get their tickets. At this point, it would be too rushed for you to start thinking about that paperwork. You would have had to do your research at least two months prior so you don’t have to rush through any visa-processes.
Moreover, specifically with summer study abroad programs, you may be flying in from your own country, so buy your tickets in time and make sure to check not the day that you’re supposed to travel, but the date and time that you’re supposed to arrive. It really makes a difference depending on where in the world you’re traveling from.
Studying Abroad Through a Different Provider
Of course, no university in the United States or in the world will have all the options that students may want. For example, while I could go to London in the summer with my university, there was no option for a whole semester, so I had to go to the Study Abroad Office and ask them to please refer me to any other organizations that would help me. From there, they gave me a book and a few websites of providers that basically work as the mediators between you and the university to which you want to apply in another country.
The way that works is usually instead of having to talk directly to the university abroad, you pay the fee and send the application to this organization and they process it all for you. It is also common that after your study abroad experience is done, this organization would send your transcript back to your home university.
In theory, this sounds easier, right?
Well, only in part.
Because this is not a program that is in any way connected to your university, it is extremely important that you keep your university informed, especially your international advisors and your university’s education abroad office. The reason is that your F visa will only remain valid as long as you are taking a full course load in the university that signs your I-20 document. If you do not keep your international office informed, they may not know why you didn’t sign up for classes and then the whole time that you are abroad, you could lose your status as a student.
Another complication may be housing. Programs sponsored by your university will usually arrange that for you, as you’d probably stay with the other students from your university who sign up for that same trip. However, when you are working through an organization, you have to do the research on whether housing is something that students have to find independently once accepted or if that requires a separate application.
Luckily, this type of information is usually easily found in the organization’s website.
So... A Last Note on Visas!
Once again, and I cannot stress this enough, any visa processes that you have to go through are your responsibility. American students don’t talk about this as much because their passport lets them in a lot of countries for short term programs. But as international students, we can’t expect these programs to know what paperwork we need to submit, so we need to make sure to do proper research because every country’s passport has different benefits. Every international student’s situation regarding visas will be different.
Just make sure you take your time!
When I went to London, my summer program was only four weeks, so I could attend on a tourist visa. However, my fall semester program was for a lot longer, so I had to apply for a short-term student visa. I had to apply for two separate visas to the same place in the same year! Imagine the stress that I would have had if I realized I needed a different visa a week before my semester began.
Every trip and every program has different requirements, so remember: communication and research are two of your best friends.
But, the most important thing of all—don’t let any of these deter you from studying abroad more.
While my time as an international student in the U.S. has helped me grow and learn a lot, studying abroad had a completely different impact. It was a different culture, and it required different parts of my personality to develop more so I would make the most of specific situations.
While we’re students, I like to think the world is ours. So, to the best of your abilities, make it yours. Travel. Have fun.