When discussing study abroad most people only include the great experiences- the weekend trips to Paris and glamorous photoshoots in front of Italian landscapes. What they neglect to mention is the actual studying that is done. That makes sense because it isn’t nearly as enjoyable. But for students considering a semester abroad, the academic impact of that semester is important.
European universities expect you to do the majority of learning outside the classroom. Their grades also rest upon 2 assignments usually worth 50% of your grade. Not only is the institution organized differently than the US, but you’re immediately behind in class because your prerequisites aren’t exactly the same as theirs. That can be pretty daunting for students, but because of this they spend less time in the actual classroom. I know multiple students at Kent who only have class 2 days a week.
As a biology student taking classes in the UK, I feel like I’m in a unique position. Most science students at IU choose not to study abroad because it’s so difficult to manage with their coursework. Med schools don’t want to accept pre-requisites that were taken in another country, so most pre-med students avoid taking a semester abroad. I had to jump through hurdle after hurdle to get my necessary classes accepted for credit by both IU and the University of Kent in England. It took six weeks and endless emails before my schedule was approved by both institutions. Not only that, but while I’m at the University of Kent I have to spend more time in the library than the other short-term students here. These are both just minor inconveniences compared to the incredible experiences I have had in Europe.
What I’m going to remember most about this semester won’t be the tribulations of course approval or the sleep-less nights slaving over essays worth ¾ of my grade. The hard work you have to put into the schoolwork is the only way to make it possible to make those weekend getaways possible. I spent four days last week in Norway exploring the fjords and cranked out a final paper on the airplane home. It’s a constant balance between work and play, but that makes it more meaningful. The stark difference between your weekdays studying and your weekends in the Roman Colosseum make you enjoy the travel much more.
For a science student, study abroad requires great time-management skills. It’s difficult, but you can simultaneously do the work you need to do and still explore the world. I have heard so many people back at IU say, “Oh I would love to do that, but it just won’t work with my major.” I’ll say that if you’re willing to put in the work, then anyone can fit a semester abroad in their schedule. Once you graduate, you’ll forget most of the classes you took or your exact grade in them. What you will never forget is spending four months in another country.