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Plan for Study Abroad as International Student in the U.S.

by Anayat Durrani

As an international undergraduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., Serbian Mihailo Savic spent a semester abroad at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations in Russia

Savic says he wanted to get a different academic perspective and explore a career in international trade, finance and development in his region of interest.

"To get the full story on international relations, one cannot simply take all classes from a Western institution," says Savic, a double major in economics and international relations.

Prospective international students can enhance their education in the U.S. by taking advantage of study abroad and exchange programs. Through these opportunities, students can travel, immerse themselves in different cultures, enroll in language courses, take part in research opportunities, network and grow their global contacts.

But prospective international students shouldn't wait until they are enrolled to begin researching these opportunities. Here are three steps they should take to plan for study abroad and exchange programs while exploring U.S. institutions.

1. Research university study abroad and exchange programs: Prospective international students should begin evaluating their options through university websites and by contacting the institution staff who coordinate the programs.

"International students at Southern Utah University are encouraged to study abroad," says Kurt Harris, director of SUU's Office of Learning Abroad.

While an undergrad studying business management at SUU, French national Gaëlle Boone worked with the office to arrange a semester at the University of Murcia in Spain and the following semester at Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland.

Boone believes her experience abroad studying the European accounting system helped her secure an international mobility scholarship from France for grad school. She'll start her MBA program at SUU in the fall.

In addition to university-offered programs, organizations like International Student Exchange Programs, a nonprofit study abroad membership network, help connect students with study abroad programs. ISEP provides information on member institutions' programs throughout the world, including more than 160 programs in 45 U.S. states.

Chinese national YaTing Zhu, an international business major at Dominican University of California, is spending a semester taking international business classes at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She's there through an ISEP exchange program that allows a student to swap spots with a student from another ISEP exchange institution.

Zhu, who plans to work at an international organization or corporation, says the experience has given her "a broader perception on how the world economy is interconnected" and about the economic relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China.

2. Determine timing and costs: While considering study abroad and exchange programs, prospective international students should also plan when they would aim to go and how to pay for the experience.

Senem S. Bakar, director for international student and scholar services at American University, says the school has credit and GPA requirements for study abroad eligibility, so "most students go in their junior year."

However, this varies among universities. Nepalese national Rishap Lamichhane, a physics major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., chose his sophomore year to experience the education system in the United Kingdom.

Lamichhane is spending a semester at the University of Plymouth, arranged through ISEP's direct program, which helps students study at their top-choice school. For this semester, Lamichhane only pays tuition to Plymouth through ISEP.

However, American University student Savic says while abroad in Russia, he paid tuition to American University. But he says university housing in Russia "was cheaper by a serious margin."

ISEP and some schools like the University of Iowa and SUU offer a variety of scholarships and financial aid, as well as funding resources for study abroad and exchange. Harris says SUU also "created some low-cost, short-term, university-subsidized programs for students with financial challenges."

3. Understand the visa process: Experts say prospective international students should be sure they understand the visa requirements – and what help universities may offer – early in the planning process.

Bakar says international students studying abroad must maintain their F-1 visa status. According to the Department of Homeland Security, those who remain outside the U.S. for more than five months and aren’t part of an authorized study abroad program could lose their visa.

Harris says visa requirements vary depending on an international student's national citizenship and the country where the student seeks to study abroad. He says his office offers assistance "but ultimately it is the student's responsibility to apply for a visa, if necessary, in order to study in another country."

During her graduate studies at SUU, Chinese national Dan Qi took part in a faculty-led study abroad program in Italy and Greece.

"As a noncitizen in the U.S., I needed to apply ahead for a visa," says Qi. "SUU supported me a lot for documents and applications."

For students traveling as part of a group, schools will typically arrange the visa and entry requirements, but prospective international students should research the type of support universities offer.

American University student Savic says he's extremely happy with his experience and encourages prospective international students to take advantage of such opportunities while studying in the U.S.

"It is always a good choice to go and experience more of the world," he says.


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