Education

College involves many transitions. You go from the most exciting time of your life to monotonous routine. It’s easy to take this time of your life for granted. Of course, for the first week, everything seems new and your eyes are peeled at all times to avoid missing out on even one thing. However, as time goes on, predictable days tend to take over and when you’ve made your group of friends, college can almost start to feel like high school. You are given more liberty to spend your time as you wish, you are bombarded with different ideas, and the friends you make are purely your choice, and well, quite frankly, they are probably the friends you will never get tired of as they are often the ones you make for life.

The Chosen Ones

Your friends are your chosen family members. In college, you are exposed to a variety of people, and in a place where nobody knows you, you are free to do as you wish and choose the people you want to be surrounded by. It is an amazing thing to become the best of yourself when surrounded by those who have the power to do just that. Do not take this chosen family for granted! They will serve as your support system, your body guards, your moral guides, your constructive criticizers, your educators, your motivators, and your inspiration. Treasure these people, as they are likely to stick around for life.

Moments

Memories, pictures, and journaling are all great ways to record moments. However, a moment will forever just be a blip in your life, no matter how many pictures or stories you keep and tell. A moment will be just that – a moment in time – so prize them because they are what make life worth living. College is also the place where these special moments are prone to occur. It is the first place (for many) where one is away from their parents, free to do as they wish, and studying what (hopefully) their passion is. College is a place of realization, self-discovery, and exploration. It is a place inviting you to constantly try new things, and saying “yes” to new opportunities is encouraged. Moments that will be remembered until your last hour will occur. Make the best of them!

Professors

Sometimes professors serve as more than just an academic instructor, but you must seek it out. Visit your professors during their office hours, make conversation before or after class, ask questions – these are all great ways to get to know your professors a little more. “Why would I want to do that?,” you may ask. Professors can be a great guide to your academic success as they provide many connections, can guide you in the school system as they have been in the institution longer than you have, and they can even give you a few life tips! Who would want to miss out on that?

Excuses

Excuses are the simple result of college. For example, ordering 2:00 a.m. pizza seems to be the customary post-dinner norm. You have the excuse to say “hi” to anyone on campus with the goal of socializing, you have the excuse to find yourself and be totally strange in that process, you have the excuse to impulsively decide to take a road trip with friends, you have the excuse to go to sleep at 4:00 a.m. and wake at 12:00 p.m. or worse, peel those eyes open for that 8:30 class. You even have the excuse to try extra hard to understand Toni Morrison or analyze Camus to the very core. Either way, college gives you the excuse to do things you don’t get a chance to do once you get into “the real world.” Embrace these fabulous little things and bring them with you (hopefully the good healthy habits) into your life after college.

Location

You may have been in your college town or city for four years or one month, either way, I can almost guarantee you that you do not know every square inch of your college town. Do not take the shortcut to class. Do not take the road most traveled. Do take the long way. Do take the so-called “sketchy” route. Do walk for two hours instead of driving for one. Do make endless turns without a GPS. Cover the ins-and-outs of your location. Observe the people around you, enter shops that you might not be interested in, and do whatever it takes to absorb every little bit of your location. Just last week, I took a walk down a road across my university and ended up in the depths of a forest trail. Over 500 pictures were taken.

“I’m in college” is one of the most fortunate sentences one can say. Don’t miss out on everything that can come with that. This means you must take full advantage of the opportunity to meet people, make connections and do things that might seem bizarre. College has a lot to offer. Don’t miss out on these experiences!

Image: Paola Sierra

Education

Deciding what college to attend can seem nearly impossible when there are so many options out there. Of course factors like what major you want come into play, but what if you’re not sure what that is yet? Here are some things to consider to make the process of choosing the best school for you a little easier.

1. Distance

A lot of us think we want to be as far away from home as possible when going to school, but make sure you seriously consider this. Being close to home may mean being close to family, but it also means being close to friends. Decide how far you want to be from the people you’ll miss. Also, consider if you plan on staying on campus or commuting, as this definitely plays a huge role in the schools you can choose from.

2. Cost

Unfortunately, college is ridiculously expensive. Check out the tuition and room and board costs for schools that you’re considering! Make sure to talk to your parents to see if they can help you with school financially. That conversation will help you figure out the amount you’re able and willing to spend on college.

3. Size

Personally, I find the idea of lecture halls pretty intimidating, so when I was looking for a school I knew I didn’t want a huge campus. Consider whether you’d rather have small classes and individual attention from teachers, or if you feel you would do better in a larger class like a lecture hall! It’s all personal preference and up to your learning style.

4. Location

Where the school is located is very important. Is it in the city, country, or a suburban area? Whatever you prefer, be sure to check out the area outside of your school. It’s always nice to be in a place where there are things to do, and especially where it’s safe when you’re off campus.

5. Extracurricular Activities

Check out the sports and clubs that campuses offer. If you’re interested in Greek Life, make sure they have chapters and houses. Also research about other activities like the school newspaper or a lacrosse team. You never know what you’ll feel like doing!

When you narrow down your options, make sure the check out the school for yourself. One of the most important things is making sure you feel at home when you actually step foot on campus.

Happy college hunting!

Image: Stephan Dann, Flickr

CultureEducationTravel

Studying abroad is a big, fantastic, life-changing decision. Kudos to you for making the choice to do it, but now you’ve got a question to answer for yourself: where will I go?

During my junior year of college, I left my little North Carolina university for a semester as an exchange student at a university in Singapore, where I knew no one, about as far across the globe as I could possibly go. Choosing such an unfamiliar location was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but it wasn’t the easiest.

Some people, like me, are all over the map with potential locations and take a little time to choose the right place. I’ve compiled a list of 10 questions that I consider important to ask about each potential location when making the decision on where you’ll spend the next mini chapter of your life:

1. What is my goal? What do I want to get out of this experience?

Do you want to learn a language or discover new cultures? Escape your comfort zone? Explore incredible nightlife? Meet new people, or remain with current classmates/close friends? Volunteer? Travel easily? While the questions below will guide you in determining the program that meets your academic, social, travel and financial needs, answering them is no use without first having an idea of what you truly want to gain from your experience, and how far out of your comfort zone you’d like to go.

2. What are the potential host countries’ official language(s)?

Do you speak it/them? Do the universities or programs you’re considering offer classes in English, or only the host language? Can you enroll in language lessons?

3. How  are the potential host countries’ political climate?

Is the country and its region fairly stable and safe, particularly for people of your nationality? People are people no matter where you go, and no matter the situation. Danger is not alwaysas imminent as the media likes us to believe (don’t tell your parents I said that). However, safety is vital, political climates can change quickly, and even if they don’t necessarily affect safety, they can affect your ability to do things such as travel, stay out late, etc. The UN and your country’s embassy sites are informative in these situations.  

4. How are the social dynamics?

Is the country LGBTQIA friendly? Are gender roles significantly different there than in your home country? Is it safe and respectful to openly practice your religion there? How are people from  your country generally treated? Is partying and/or drinking normal or frowned upon?

5. What about cost of living?

Are you funding the experience yourself or with help? How much can you spend on it? Are scholarships available? Check out factors like public transportation, food and drink, leisure and cultural, and rent costs. It may actually be very possible to live significantly more cheaply as a student than you’d expect. (While Singapore’s cost of living is very high, research showed me it was fairly simple to keep my costs low using student housing, public transit, groceries, duty-free stores and on-campus food canteens.)

6. What amenities are available?

Will you be using toilets or holes in the ground? Is running water available for showers, laundry etc.? WiFi? What, if any, western-style amenities are you willing to forego?

7. What about food and drinks?

What is the local diet? (Noodles, glutinous sticky rice or Indian and Malaysian breads were in almost every meal I ate in Singapore – it would have been difficult were I gluten free.) Know how well your allergies will be accommodated and whether you’re willing to try unfamiliar meats, veggies and more. How available is clean water? You’ll almost always be able to find bottled and clean options, particularly if studying through a university or established program, but it’s good to at least have an idea how easily you can do that.

8. How’s the weather?

Know your potential locations’ climates, and how important weather is to you. (A friend of mine considered study only in Scandinavian nations because he absolutely loves the cold.)

9. How easily can I travel?

Seeing the world is a big reason many of us study abroad. Can you take buses and trains inexpensively for weekend trips? What is your proximity to other destinations? What budget airlines travel through your location and region?

10. CULTURE?!

Were you wondering if I was ever going to list this one? It felt like a no-brainer, so I almost didn’t. If you don’t have one standout culture that interests you, ask yourself other questions. Do you love the study of religion? Interested in architecture? History? Art? Fashion? Choose a location rich in the things that pique your curiosity and interest.

Tips:

  • Reach out to people who studied in your program: your university will often be able to connect you – just ask. I did this and it gave me lots of insider tips. Most of us love talking about our study abroad experiences, plus, we can tell you things the websites and advisors won’t.
  • ProCon it: a list of potential goods and bads can help you organize your thoughts if you’re really struggling to figure out where you want to be.
  • Don’t freak out: you will have a life-changing experience if you let yourself. The location will affect how your life is changed, and in what ways, but it’s very hard to go wrong in that department.

Study abroad is fun, mind-opening and challenging, and your decision to do it is the most important one! So enjoy the decision making process; put thought into it, but don’t over-analyze. Listen to your heart, and you’ll end up in the right place for you.

Next week, I’ll cover the important topic of financing a study abroad trip.

What suggestions do you have for choosing a study abroad location? Comment below!

Image: Dominik S., Flickr