One of the most powerful experiences that Wake Forest students can have is through studying abroad or taking part in an international service program. Around 70% of our students take part in a foreign academic program or international service trip.
You might be thinking that freshman year is too soon for your student to be thinking about studying abroad, but that is not the case. Why should first-year students begin thinking about study abroad now?
Choosing a Program – Students who wish to study abroad have two main options: 1) study through an official WFU program, such as our residential houses in London, Venice and Vienna, or 2) going through an Affiliate program with another university.
There are pros and cons to each. With the WFU residential houses, students live in a house with a faculty member and have their own built-in network of familiar community members, and the security of knowing a Wake Forest faculty member is there to assist students as well as teach them. With an Affiliate program, students can go to parts of the world that do not already have an established WFU program. Students need to think carefully about where they want to study and which program best meets their academic needs.
There are GPA requirements and application deadlines for either option – and again, the sooner your student is aware of those requirements, the better able he will be to plan his study abroad and ensure he has the GPA necessary for admittance to the program. The Center for Global Programs and Studies has a great website where your student can learn more.
Determining Needed Finances – While your student may have every intention of studying abroad, you as parents and family members may need to consider how that fits in your family’s budget. There are extras that come with a semester abroad – airfare for the student, potential airfare for you to visit your student in his country of study, cost of EuroRail passes for student travel, and more. You may wish to have time to begin saving for those items now. Information about financial aid is available online.
Considering What is the Right Time to Go – Some majors (particularly science/prehealth professions, music, and business) have sequential coursework that requires planning well in advance to ensure the students meet all courses needed. For other students, it is a matter or preference and timing. While it is customary that many of our juniors study abroad in the fall, there are pros and cons to that as well. The pro might be that your student is abroad with more of his/her friends. The con to that is that when juniors return from fall semester abroad, they select their dorm rooms based on available openings in the spring term – which might mean the returning juniors are not living with a roommate they know or in a residence hall they prefer.
On the other hand, if your student elects to go abroad in the spring of his/her junior year, the student gets to select both the residence hall and roommate he/she will have for the fall semester (and typically those are pretty good residence hall options), and then at the end of the semester, the student departs. You get all the comfort of a room situation of your choosing, but the trade-off might be that the student doesn’t have quite as many friends abroad at the same time.
As we so often say, life is about choices – while it would be great to get to pick something from Column A and Column B on your wish list, in life a lot of time we don’t get to have everything we want at once.
For more information about all the considerations of studying abroad, visit the Study Abroad main page or their section specifically for parents. Encourage your student to sign up for an information session and begin working with one of our study abroad counselors.
If your student doesn’t want to spend a whole semester abroad, or doesn’t want to spend time doing academics, what other options are there? For students interested in international service, there are a number of life changing opportunities to travel to and serve people in another country.
The International Service Trips web page has descriptions of programs. It also has link to a remarkable video with interviews from students and faculty who have gone on these trips. It’s about 8 minutes in length and shows some of the transformational growth students on these trips experience.
For any successful abroad experience, it takes good planning. So the earlier you and your student can begin these conversations, the better.
From a personal standpoint, I can say that my semester abroad was the best of my semesters at Wake Forest. It truly is a transformational experience, filled with personal gr0wth and a new perspective on oneself and one’s place in the world. Please encourage your freshman to consider a semester abroad if at all possible.