Written by Annie Rose Stathes, Edited by Laura Morrison, for GradSchools.com, March 2014
Many schools and study abroad programs offer graduate students an opportunity to study abroad over the course of 3-5 weeks, a semester, or a summer. Such programs are typically intensive, and many include formal language instruction, cultural immersion (through planned visits to cultural hotspots or by living with a host family, for example), and, depending on the program, academic credit. These short, intensive programs give graduate students the opportunity to study abroad over breaks or during semesters and quarters for academic credit. The following article provides advice and information about studying abroad as a graduate student.
Look for programs that give academic credit
Many students spend two to eight years respectively earning their master’s degrees and PhDs. Because of the time and resource commitment of graduate school, many graduate students want to make the most of their time and knock out courses as quickly and consistently as possible to stay on track for graduation. Thankfully, studying abroad doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to take time away from your studies. Many programs exist that allow students to earn academic credit while studying abroad. Such programs offer the typical benefits of study abroad—cultural immersion, language acquisition, and an amazing adventure—plus an academic course or two in interesting subjects such as history, political science, sociology, biology, and other subjects. Many of those courses can be transferred into graduate programs. However, before you commit to a study abroad program offering academic credit, ask your home college or university to sign an agreement to accept the credits and apply them to your degree program.
Talk to the director or advisor of your academic program and explain to him or her which countries or regions you are interested in studying in and work with them to discover programs in those countries that apply to your field of study. Consider finding programs that offer transferable academic credit, or ask your program to allow you to engage in an independent study where you can apply the lessons you learn abroad to the work you complete for those studies. Planning ahead will help you build a study abroad program neatly into your curricula and program.
Tie your study abroad program to your research
Connect your study abroad program to your thesis or dissertation. If possible, select a location, focus, and program-type that connect to the subject, argument, and/or focus of your project. Then, as you’re studying abroad, conduct research and work on your final project. This way, whether you’re receiving academic credit or not, you’ll be working on something that connects to your program and allows you to stay on track. Consider the time you spend working on your project in another country an intensive collection of the time you would spend working on it at home over time. Prior to conducting research and working on your final project abroad, talk to your project committee to discuss your plan and intentions; get their final blessing before beginning any work.
Prepare yourself to get the most out of your program
Do everything you can to cut ties with “home” as you’re studying abroad. Complete necessary coursework that doesn’t connect to your study abroad program; pay your bills and manage other daily and monthly responsibilities; and do anything else you need to do to focus your attention on your study abroad program. Because you’ll likely be attending a shorter, more intensive study abroad program as a graduate student, you will want to be prepared to give your mind, body, and soul completely to your program.
Do what works for you
Ultimately, the truth is that you’re not likely to fail miserably and ruin your life if you decide to take a semester, quarter, or even year off to attend the study abroad program of your choice. Yes, you want to graduate as quickly as possible; yes, you want to spend as little money as possible during graduate school; yes, you want to stick with your original cohort and graduate “on time”. However, studying abroad is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you might not be able to do it later in life. If studying abroad is appealing to you, and you can’t seem to fit it into your schedule, consider taking a semester or two off to study abroad. Your classes will likely be there when you return. To take some time off responsibly, talk to the director of your graduate program before registering for a study abroad program. Discuss your plans and options, and take steps to ensure the security of your standing in the program. The world is yours if you want it!
About the Author: Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado.