University of Iowa

Deciding Whether to Study Abroad for a Summer, a Semester, or a Year?

April 9th, 2019
students eating lunch

Semester-long students eating with Korean friends

A lot of students considering semester-long programs return, saying they wish they'd studied abroad for longer. However, for other students, a semester might be the perfect amount of time, or even a summer. Here are some tips to help you decide which option is best for you. Keep in mind that every program and each student studying abroad is different.

The first thing to do before deciding to go abroad is to talk with your academic advisors and study abroad advisors about your major and different program options. As you start this process, please be sure to weigh each option depending on what you would like to get out of this experience. For example, I chose to come to Seoul, South Korea, with CIEE because they offered a homestay option that no other program offers and my goal in coming here was to learn Korean and immerse myself in Korean culture. Others may want to choose an option where they stay in the dorms with other students studying abroad, or a program that is focused on business attributes to use for future careers.

After discussing different options with your advisors, think about what you want. If you are worried about leaving the campus for a long period of time or if it is your first time abroad, I would suggest starting with a summer program to test the waters. However, if you feel like you are ready to cannonball into international waters, go for it! If you are still hesitant but want to try a semester or yearlong program, a summer program can help you decide if you are ready for that. Lots of students study abroad for a summer and return later for a semester or year abroad. My first experience was a year-long program, so I was ready to come to Seoul and spend my senior year studying here.

It’s important to talk about the benefits of the summer, semester, and year-long study abroad options. With that being said, I will start by talking about studying abroad for the summer. In the span of two or three months, you may go on short excursions, eat the amazing local food, and make a lot of international friends. It also is a chance to learn about the culture and history of the country where you are staying.

food in bowls

Local Korean Food

If you are thinking of studying abroad, here are some benefits for you. During the semester abroad, you will have more opportunities to meet locals at school and around the city. It also means you will be able to have more in-depth cultural experiences going to school with other locals and other events happening around the city. Some people may feel like summer programs are short and not enough time to experience the local culture. If you still don’t want to miss an entire year at your school but want to be able to be more immersed in the culture, a semester may be perfect for you! Lots of students choose this option because they cannot fit an entire year into their academic schedules or because of other constraints.  Most people are content with semester-long programs and that may be the best fit for them; but my advice is if you do want to stay for a year, talk to an advisor about scholarship options and adjusting your schedule to fit a year-long study abroad program.


The sight during our excursion outside of Seoul
students throwing stick

Traditional Korean games during the same excursion

From my experience, the hardest thing is choosing whether you want to study abroad for a semester or a year. I personally wanted to study abroad for a year because it gave me a chance to become closer with Korean friends I met as well as improve my Korean language skills. Also, I was able to have the best of both worlds! The first semester, I stayed with a host family, which improved my Korean language skills and helped me better understand Korean culture. This semester, I am staying in the dorms, which is more convenient because it’s closer to my campus and I can spend more time with friends because I have a bit more freedom to go out for dinner and study with them. Last semester, I made Korean friends, but this semester I feel like I really can be closer with them since we already know each other and can continue to hang out. The semester goes by so fast and last semester I felt like I was not able to do everything on my bucket list as well as travel. Since I am here for a year, I feel more relaxed and not rushed to do everything at once. You never know what will happen in a semester and the time may slip away before doing everything. Another misconception some people have is they think they already know everything, and it would be boring staying here this long. However, every day that I am here, I learn something new. I have yet to experience a boring day in Korea, even if it is just spending time with friends at a study café. Altogether, a year gives you time to do what you want on your list, learn the local language, make stronger connections with locals, and fully immerse yourself in the culture.


One of the best friends I have made in Korea

At the end of the day, the decision is yours. You know what you would like best and as long as you are studying abroad, you can’t go wrong! Good luck planning and happy travels!

 

Taylor

Taylor Wertheim is an Italian and international studies major at the University of Iowa, pursuing a minor in Korean. She is spending an academic year in Seoul, South Korea, on CIEE's Arts and Science program. 

 

 

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