Study Abroad: A Summer, Semester, or Year Abroad

Timing and duration seem to be a pretty big debate when students are considering studying abroad. A semester or year abroad? How to choose? While you may think a year seems like a long time to be abroad, a semester or summer term can be too short. In addition, most universities in Europe don't begin the school year until late September, affording you only three months to get acclimated, travel, and still get your work done before you're heading back home.

I found that the longer I was abroad, the greater the academic, cultural and personal benefits. By living in another country for nine to ten months as opposed to three or four, I believe you will become more involved in the local scene and get a better feel for the culture.

A Semester or Summer Term Abroad

There are some positives to studying abroad for a semester or summer term. First, the shorter duration means less expense. You will only need to budget for three or four months abroad, while students studying abroad for a year have to stretch their budget out for another four to five months.

You will also be more apt to take advantage of opportunities much quicker than year abroad students. I had nine months in Scotland, so I tended to put things off because I knew I could do them at a later date. I actually delayed going to see certain places and doing certain things so long that my last week was a bit of a rush.

A semester or summer abroad is also a good option if you’re excited about studying abroad, but not really sure if you can handle a whole year away from home. It’s a great way to get your feet wet, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t embark on another study abroad adventure after getting your first taste of the world outside the U.S.

A Year Abroad

Studying abroad for a year is a great option if you have the time and the budget. In my experience, I’ve realized that it takes almost three months simply to adjust to a new school, and if you’re only there for a semester or summer, you will be gone just as you’re getting comfortable.

You will also have twice the time to travel, including a lengthy inter-semester break. While you may have to be more frugal so you can make your money last, you'll still be able to visit more places than if you were only abroad for a summer or semester. You’ll also be able to spend more time around your abroad university and experience the weekend life every now and then, instead of having to use every Saturday and Sunday for traveling.

Studying abroad for a year allows you to have more time to be with your new friends too. You'll undoubtedly meet a lot of people in your first few weeks, and you'll be able to develop those friendships over the course of an entire academic year instead of a span of a few months. Plus, if you’re interested in earning some money while studying abroad and gaining professional experience, finding a part-time job or internship could be more meaningful if you’re able to work for an entire year. Employers are much more likely to hire you when they know they won't lose you a few weeks after training.

Finally, being away from home for nine to ten months versus three to four months will also require you to become much more independent. Knowing that you aren’t going home in three short months, you will have more time to strengthen life skills and begin applying them to your everyday life.

The Final Word

Although it can be tough being away from your life in the U.S., no matter how long you plan to be abroad, those are the only true negatives I can think of. Sure, missing your friends and family and being out of the loop on a few things can be difficult, but it’s only a temporary situation; and a temporary situation where you stand to gain a lot more than you might lose. So think hard if you're on the fence, and the best advice I can give you is that a year abroad is the way to go if it fits into your budget and schedule.