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It was around 10pm, January 18th 2011. I had just completed a 16-hour journey from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands to Prague, Czech Republic to start my 4-month study abroad experience. I had spent my entire life surrounded by the comforting warmth of the Caribbean and later Miami while attending the University of Miami. The sun was long gone and Prague welcomed me with one of the coldest winters in recent history. However, in those short 4 months I laid the foundation for the adventurous world rover I am today. My absolute favorite part of my study abroad program was the specialty class called Classroom Europe. Not only were we taught the political and economical history of Poland, Germany, Austria and Turkey, but we also traveled to these countries and visit their sacred cultural monuments. I never thought I would ever see these countries, yet there I was, an 18-year-old sophomore in a constant state of awe of the intricate beauty around me. Prague become another home and will forever have a special place in my heart. My experiences overseas catalyzed my passion for international affairs and led to me teaching abroad after graduation.
If nothing else, I urge all college students to spend time abroad. Whether it be two weeks during break, a semester or a year, your time away will help make you, a better you. However, it is important that you find the best program for your needs. Like with every other major decision, you should do your research. Explore the programs available at your institution and look at independent programs. Get an idea of the application requirements. Speak to your advisors and plan ahead to make sure the credits you take are transferrable to your major. For most college students the most common issue with studying abroad is cost. This is where your excellent planning skills come in handy my friends. With many school programs, the financial aid used to cover the usual semester costs (tuition, room & board etc) may be applicable to pay for your semester or yearlong study abroad. Your institution may even offer aid. In addition, there are also many study abroad scholarships like the Boren or Gilman Scholarships. In some cases, your time abroad may even be less expensive that at your home institution!
Embrace the culture
While abroad you have a considerable amount of time to introspect and define how you want the world to see you. Most programs are designed to encourage exploration of the space around and give you opportunities to engage with the fascinating culture teeming around you. The people you will meet, the food you will eat, the languages you will hear are simply waiting for you to arrive. Go capture those moments.