Choosing a Program
Should I study away from Bates? Where should I go? For how long?
“My friend at home went to xyz and had a blast so that’s what I want to do!”
While tempting, this approach greatly narrows your options and may lead to programs that are not approved by Bates. Moreover, you and your friend may have developed different interests. Your intellectual bar may be higher; your patience for unrecognizable foods may be lower – everyone is different.
So what things should I think about? Your list will be unique, but here are some common issues to consider:
1. What is your major going to be? You need to declare your major so you can map out the final two years of your academic career. Your faculty advisor and Mr. Das can help you with this. Similarly, you need to plan out completion of the General Education Requirements, including the W2, S, L, and Q courses, and your minor or concentrations.
2. What are your academic objectives? Do you want, for example, a program that enriches your major, enhances your abilities in a foreign language, allows you to explore a subject that you have not had time for at Bates? Similarly, are there courses that you really need to take that limit you to an English-speaking university?
3. Do you want to raise your language skills to another level? Study abroad is uniquely effective at improving language ability. Hard work and frustrating at times, it provides a valuable life skill. If you’re going to solidify this skill, this is the time.
4. Do you want the freedom of direct enrollment or the support of a program? The extremes here are enrolling directly in an English speaking university and basically living the independent life of a host country student versus selecting a program that has classes as a group, travels together, and is in a socio-economic setting where you feel uneasy, at least initially, without this support system.
5. Are you excited by the courses? Some programs have a set curriculum; universities and some larger programs provide a broader range of courses. It is helpful to develop a list of your potential courses and see whether it excites you.
6. What type of living situation do you want? Options vary by program – a bunk house with other Americans, a dorm with host-country students, a family, an apartment with other American students. Living with people from the host-country generally enriches the experience and is often the highlight of the time away.
7. What setting do you prefer – capital city, small city, rural location? How important is this to you?
8. What about the climate and location? Scotland, Chile, Botswana, and Australia obviously have dramatically different climates and varied opportunities for travel. Climatic conditions in a single location can vary depending on which semester you’ll be there. WorldClimate.com is a good resource.
9. Do you want to retain the convenience and comforts of the developed world or use the semester as an opportunity to experience life in the developing world? The former is enticing, but remember this is an opportunity to see how most of the world lives that is hard to replicate after Bates. How big a step away from your comfort zone are you prepared to take?
10. How long do you want to study away? Most students study elsewhere for a semester. Curricular requirements and competing opportunities at Bates often determine this. A year away weakens ties with friends and activities at Bates; however, there are some advantages to a year abroad, especially if in one location. Your mindset is different and encourages you to get to know the culture more, meet more people, travel at a more relaxed pace, call the place home. If studying a foreign language, abilities soar with the additional time. Obviously, the key down side is the time away from friends, faculty, advanced courses at Bates, and family (although many full-year students visit home in December).
11. If only a semester, which one? Bates students study abroad in both semesters. There are arguments for the fall, including the advantages of being on campus during the winter to plan senior thesis, to participate in the Purposeful Work initiatives, to secure a summer job or internship and to start exploring the Bates Center for Purposeful Work prior to senior year. In addition, going away in the fall reduces the chance that you will need to change your semester away because of the need to balance semester enrollments.
12. What is your tolerance for living outside the personal safety norms of the United States and Northern Europe? Violence can and does occur everywhere. Nevertheless, in some settings, you are more likely to be a victim of criminal activity, including robbery and assault, racial discrimination, homophobia, and other offenses. Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and robbery. This is not inevitable, but the reality is that higher rates of violence exist in some countries and regions. The reasons are many — different attitudes towards women and foreigners; not knowing how to behave socially, where to go, and how to react in given situations; being seen as a target of opportunity; expectations of wealth and sexual promiscuity created by US media, and so on.
13. How much does cost factor into your decision? There is tremendous variation in the costs of different programs and locations. Generally the total costs are less than Bates, but an expensive program in a costly capital city and extensive travel can easily cost more than Bates. The general rule is not to emphasize costs issues more than your family would want you to and to remember that Bates financial aid is available, if you qualify. A fuller discussion of how Bates financial aid is calculated for off-campus study programs is available. Costs are available on program and university web sites. Up-to-date information on currency exchange rates is available at XE Currency.