Beginning Stages of the Study Abroad Process

Before I enrolled at Indiana University, I knew that I wanted to study abroad at some point during college. IU has a plethora of study abroad opportunities, both through Office of Overseas Study and specific schools. I am currently preparing to study abroad in Rome, Italy in the spring semester. While I am ecstatic about this experience, reality hasn’t had much time to sink in because there are so many forms to fill out and submit for the program. Let me take you through the roller coaster I’ve been on for the past three months and offer any advice I can for those of you also beginning the study abroad process.

Narrowing Down the Choices

New Girl gif "I'm really bad at making decisions"

I had been researching program locations on the Office of Overseas Study website since sophomore year, and I finally narrowed down my picks to three cities: Prague, London, and Rome. Eventually my decision came down to Rome and a new contender, Florence. By this time it was late August, and to my surprise the application deadlines were in the beginning of September. I quickly scrambled to finish my Florence application, but after much confusion, was told that I could only apply for one program per semester. The news came with another onset of panic as I realized I’d rather apply for the Rome program. This flurry happened over a span of a week, but I was finally able to hit that “submit” button on the Rome application the day of the deadline.

Kermit the frog typing on typewriter

(Don’t let this be you.)

Here’s some advice for anyone applying for a program through OVST:

  • You can only apply for one program, so don’t do more work than needed.
  • CHECK FOR THE DUE DATES ASAP! Fall, summer, and academic year applications are usually due between January and February, while spring applications are due in September.
  • Do not procrastinate on the application. You will need a personal statement which should answer a series of questions in an essay format. The questions are about your interest in study abroad and your academic and personal objectives that you plan to reach during the process. In addition, you will need a letter of recommendation as well as a form filled out by your academic advisor. Applications can vary in length; since I was applying to an IES program through IU, I had to fill out an additional application on the IES website.

Steps in Pre-Departure

I was accepted into the Rome program about a week after the deadline, then made the prepayment to secure my spot. The next things on the list included uploading medical history, emergency contact information, and advising forms to gauge which classes I could take abroad for credit. My IES account also had a list of necessary forms with their respective deadlines, most of which fell in November. These forms weren’t terribly time consuming, but the visa application process was long and quickly became the cause of all my stress.

Gif "I'm not paying"

IES clearly laid out all the visa instructions for me, and they also offered a program that takes the forms to the consulate in Detroit and obtains the visa without me being present. This was extremely helpful but it meant I needed to get all my forms together extra early. Luckily, I already had my passport, but the other materials that needed to be acquired included another passport photo, a money order, bank letter, proof of support statement, enrollment verification letter, affidavit of insurance, and the visa application itself. The form asked for specific dates as to when I would arrive and depart from Italy, so this meant I had to purchase my flights before continuing the visa process. I also needed to notarize and/or photocopy almost everything. I ran around collecting all the materials just in time to have them checked over by IES in person during their visiting hours at the International Center. It was a wonderful feeling to finish that process.

NeNe Leakes gif of relief

Here are some of my takeaways that may help make this pre-departure process less stressful for you:

  • Get organized; make a checklist of everything you need to fill out, obtain, or photocopy. This way, you celebrate a little victory each time you get to mark off an item on the list.
  • Check the information on your forms, re-check, then check again. The last thing you want is for something to get rejected because your provided information is incorrect.
  • Student Legal Services located on Seventh Street notarizes documents for free; I was in and out of there in ten minutes and I would highly recommend going to them.
  • Dedicate time to collect information in chunks. I went to get my money order from Kroger and passport photo from CVS in the same trip; I finished both tasks in less than an hour. I also made sure to print out everything that needed to be notarized and had the forms looked over at the same time. Grouping tasks together will save you time, energy, and additional trips.

The Search for Scholarships

Finding scholarship and grant opportunities was very easy. IU really encourages its students to study abroad and therefore offers many different chances to receive money. I discovered five scholarships I was eligible for and started to apply. Many of the applications are the same: they request one or two letters of recommendation, your major and GPA, and an essay addressing how you expect to grow academically, professionally, and personally while abroad. The process is quite simple, just a little time consuming.

Gif "I can do anything"

Here’s my advice:

  • Check the OVST website and your school’s website for scholarships. I also recommend applying for the HIEP (Hutton International Experiences Program) grant; you don’t have to be a Hutton Honors student to receive it.
  • Apply for aid through your program affiliate. IES offers financial aid, so I applied to that in addition to IU scholarships.
  • Keep a running document of all your application questions and answers. If you apply for more than one scholarship, you could pull relative information from a previously answered question into your new answers. Not having to rewrite your statements for every similar application will save you time.

My study abroad start date is fast approaching, but there is still a lot to be done between now and then. One thing I learned is that I need to be on top of everything, or a deadline could easily slip by me. Thankfully, IU and IES are helpful in keeping me organized and informed about my responsibilities. If you’re worried about the process, use your resources! Your OVST and program advisors are there to assist you. If you wish to study abroad, nothing should keep you from reaching that goal, especially not the pre-departure process.

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