Study abroad is about more than setting sale on a cinematic international adventure. It’s about growing personally, academically, and professionally, and you can do that in a million different ways. The beauty of study abroad is that it’s pretty dang customizable to get the results you’re looking for. No matter how long you choose to study abroad or where you choose to go, it’s important to think about what you want to accomplish during your time abroad. If you choose to study abroad in 2021, it’s time to start thinking about your goals.
As you develop your personal New Year’s resolutions and begin planning for your international experience, consider your intentions for study abroad. These can be SMART goals or guidelines on how you want to approach the experience, whatever you’re comfortable with. Not sure where to start? Keep reading for some guidance from the pros!
Consider What You Want to Accomplish
First thing’s first, think about why you chose the program that you did. Can you benefit from specific courses or internship opportunities, are you hoping to improve your language skills, or was it something about the culture and traditions of the city that drew you in? Either way, use your “why” to drive what you want to accomplish while you’re there, as that is likely what’s most important to you.
For many, academics is high priority during study abroad (and we know you’re one of those people, right?). Focus on goals that drive your academic success. If you’re not sure what would be useful, speak with your academic advisor before leaving to set expectations.
Examples of academic goals to set for 2021:
- Earn a GPA higher than the last semester at your home university (if that’s a 4.0 – more power to you!)
- Visit with each professor outside of your regular class time at least once over the course of your program to discuss assignments and develop your knowledge of the subject.
- Improve your language skills by participating in a language buddy program.
- Participate in an internship in your field of choice.
Consider Who You Want to Be
Regardless of which USAC program you choose, study abroad provides us with an opportunity to explore new sides of ourselves (and chances are, you’ll be introduced to parts of you that you didn’t know existed!). We’re not saying you should invent a personality so different that your friends and family back home won’t recognize you, but now is a good time to work on some personality traits you’d like to strengthen. Interpersonal communication, navigating social situations, stress management, time management, etc. — the list of skills that study abroad will help you develop goes on and on. Having an idea of what you want to work on before you go will ultimately help you develop stronger skills in the long run.
Hint: think about the type of skills professionals in your field utilize. Even if you can’t participate in an internship or take courses in your field, you can dive into study abroad with your own mission of working on these attributes. Yes, you can add these qualities to your resume when you return!
Examples of personal goals to set for 2021:
- Learn to communicate effectively (verbally and non-verbally, especially if you’re studying in a country where English isn’t common).
- Develop good time management habits.
- Become more confident (study abroad will get you into some unique, difficult situations – approach these with the mindset that they will make you better!)
- Learn a new skill, like cooking or dance.
Consider the Impact You Want to Leave
Study abroad is a time to work on yourself for yourself but be mindful to leave your host community better than you found it. Do you want to travel sustainably to limit your carbon footprint? Do you want to share your skills or passion with your host family? What about volunteering to better the lives of those around you? There are a million ways to make your study abroad impactful for those around you.
In addition to giving your time and skills to your host home, consider how you can make a difference when you return to your home university. Chat with your study abroad office to learn of opportunities to connect with prospective students at on-campus events or virtually once you return.
Examples of do-good goals to set for 2021:
- Spend XXX weekends during your semester volunteering in your host community.
- Donate clothes, school items, and houseware to local shelters or charities before heading home.
- Use your refillable water bottle as much as possible when you travel to reduce plastic waste.
- When you return, let your USAC Program Advisor or home university staff know that you’re available to connect with future students who have questions or are seeking advice about your program (you will be placed on a contacts list in Gateway for newly enrolled students to access).
As 2021 ramps up, be sure to reflect on the why of your decision to pursue international education. Setting your intentions before you leave will help guide your entire experience and can ensure that you get the most out of study abroad. Good luck!