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Skidmore College

"Who will you be abroad?" And four other questions to consider.

September 24, 2019
by Sindi Mafico '19

Sometimes, the only way to broaden your perspective is to step outside your comfort zone … or your time zone.  

With 118 approved study abroad programs in 45 countries around the world, as well as several domestic off-campus opportunities at Skidmore, there’s one big question to answer: “Where will you go?”

As a student adviser in the Off-Campus Study and Exchanges Office (OCSE), I was a go-to resource for my peers facing this very question, as well as many others.  

While we all have different perspectives and are sure to have different experiences, there are universal considerations that anyone planning an off-campus journey should make. 

From housing and academics to finances and adjusting to new cultures and social norms, here are some key questions to ask yourself before leaving Skidmore.   

Where do I want to go? 

Outline your goals 

If you could learn about any topic, in any part of the world, what would you choose? Your answer may come when you have a goal in mind.  

Do you want to learn a new language or visit a place you’ve only read about in textbooks? Maybe you want to explore new experiences to learn more about yourself. 

A great off-campus experience starts with goals. For example, I began my search with a few boxes I wanted to check:  

  • A large school with new academic opportunities 
  • Internship possibilities in a new culture 
  • A warm climate, maybe close to a beach  

Whether your mission is academic, professional, personal or a mix of all three, it helps to define your vision ahead of time. And at Skidmore, you can bring these goals to the OCSE office and several friendly faces will happily guide you through your options.

Iceland Research

Brad Sachs '19 wanted a hands-on, experiential learning experiences abroad and found a program in Iceland that supported his goals

Where will I live?  

Prioritize finding your home away from home 

Moving to a new part of the world can be both exhilarating and exhausting. It helps to prioritize finding where your “home” will be so you know you’ll have a comfortable place to return to as myriad changes (and excitement!) come your way.  

For my semester in Sydney, Australia, I chose to live in an apartment that I knew would have other study abroad students in it. The fact that we were all on a similar journey was comforting and I came to rely on the community for support.  

Some programs may make the decision for you. But if you have a choice, don’t leave it to chance. Wherever you land — an apartment, homestay, residence hall or somewhere else — choose thoughtfully and consider what will make you most comfortable. 

What do I want to learn?  

Imagine the experiences you could collect 

Off-campus programs are intended to support various majors and minors. So, if you have clear academic goals in mind, this part could be easy. Though, for many students, there’s likely some ambiguity to sort through.  

As you research your options, keep in mind that learning happens inside and outside the classroom. Don’t just look at exact classes you’ll enroll in, also ask yourself, “What experiences do I want to collect?”  

For example, I saw going abroad as my chance to see what life is like at a large school in a major city. I attended the University of Sydney, which has more than 73,000 students (that’s 24 Skidmores!), and many of my lectures had more than 100 students in them.  

While I often missed the intimate connections of Skidmore’s small class sizes, the experience brought about some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. For example, one of my classes, Sports and Learning in Australian Culture, sent me to weekly professional rugby matches, Australian Football League games and more.  

Only you’ll know what type of experience you’re looking for.  

Student takes a selfie with an Australian football player

Learning about Australian culture meant I had to make it to a Wallabies match

Can I afford to go? 

Get ready to budget  

Your tuition will stay the same whether you’re here on campus or abroad. And if you’re receiving financial aid, it will travel with you for up to two semesters of off-campus study.   

But, be mindful that your lifestyle will change. You may need to plan for different exchange rates and things like public transportation, entertainment or even laundry.    

I did not have a job in Australia, so I had to be careful with my expenses. This was challenging, but I survived and am happy I came home in good financial shape.  

Some programs will cover transportation and living expenses. Others offer stipends and scholarships, and some cities and countries are just cheaper overall. Your best bet is to get to know a student or students who have been there.  

If, after your research, you’re still concerned about costs, know that you have options. Skidmore has nearly $10 million (you read that right) in funding (thanks to alumni gifts, foundations and government grants) to support student experiences. It may not mean a whole semester in Brazil, but it could mean a service trip or summer internship abroad.  

snorkeling in Turks and Caicos

One way to save money is to combine learning with your adventures, like studying the sea so you can go snorkeling in Turks and Caicos like Emily Cheung '17 did

Who will I be?  

Be kind to yourself 

In my personal experience, and experience speaking with other students, one of the toughest things you may face off campus is how your own identity fits in with a new culture.  

Studying in Australia as a racial minority came with its challenges. But I eventually learned to see it as a chance to find my place in the wider world around me.  

Your challenges may lie in going to a place where you don’t speak the local language or have to work with people who don’t share the same values as you, and vice versa.   

I don’t have a magic tip to make it easier. But I hope you’ll find comfort in this: no matter what, you’re not alone. The OCSE staff members have supported thousands of students in their journeys. They want to be there for you. You just have to ask.  

A top school for study abroad  

Studying abroad was, without a doubt, the highlight of my college experience.

To sum it up, there’s a reason Skidmore is repeatedly ranked as a top school for study abroad. With nearly 60% of our student body going off campus at some point during their time here, it’s an incredible opportunity with lots of resources and support.  

So that leaves us again with that one big question: “Where will you go?” 

About the Author

Sindi Mafico

Sindi Mafico, from Harare, Zimbabwe, is a recent graduate of Skidmore. When she wasn't studying for her major in sociology or minors in international affairs and media studies, you could find her working as a technician in media services or as an assistant in the Off-Campus Study and Exchanges office.