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Weighing One Semester or Two When Studying Abroad

With the notable exception of universities that do not follow a semester schedule, most study abroad programs offer you a choice of studying away during the fall or spring semesters or a full academic year.

The most obvious difference between studying away for one semester or two is the length of time involved. Studying abroad for two semesters offers more options and more flexibility than studying away for only one semester, but that doesn't mean that studying abroad for a year is inherently better than for only a semester. Doing so merely gives you more time.

Going abroad for a full year also has its drawbacks, including being away from the comforts of home and the familiarity of your home university. You may also return and discover that you need to scurry to finish up coursework in your remaining time on campus. Or perhaps you were the only one in your friend group to go away for a full year and have returned to find you just don't seem to fit with the friends you had before you left.

Maybe for you, going away for one semester is enough time abroad. On the other hand, you may want to spend as much time as possible away and therefore a year for you is ideal. In addition, some universities, particularly the more traditional ones in the United Kingdom and Ireland, operate on a trimester system. So if you study abroad at one of these universities in the fall, your fall "semester" abroad could be as short as nine weeks.

Deciding whether to go abroad for one semester or two is a personal choice, and you need to make that decision based on your academic plans. Studying away from home for one and two semesters each has its pros and cons. Weigh them carefully and make the decision that's best for you. To help you choose, here's the lowdown on both options.

Swinging singles: One semester

Reasons for studying away for one semester include any of the following:

  • The number of core requirements you must fulfill or the amount of coursework required for your major allows you to go abroad only for one semester.
  • You're a double major, and you find it more difficult to go away for a full year and still satisfy requirements for two majors.
  • You declared your major late and have a significant amount of coursework left to complete.
  • Financially, you can only afford one semester abroad.
  • You get homesick easily.
  • You play a sport or want to run for student government and, therefore, need to be at your home university campus during a particular semester.

Never fear! If you choose to study abroad for one semester, you still can

  • Benefit from studying abroad
  • Improve your language skills
  • Learn about a new culture
  • Find time to travel

You need to realize, however, that in one semester your time abroad is limited. Take advantage of any and all opportunities presented to you. Try new foods and force yourself to speak the language of your host country. You need to make an extra effort to be outgoing and make friends with natives as soon as possible. Join clubs and attend social events as much as possible; you don't have time to sit at home and watch the television.

If you only have one semester to study abroad, carefully research your country and region and make a list of things that you want to accomplish, places you want to visit, or experiences you want to have during your semester before you even arrive at your abroad destination. This small amount of planning keeps you from wasting a single second of your time abroad.

Double your pleasure: Two semesters

If studying abroad has been part of your college plan for a while, you may be able to go abroad for two semesters, which means that you fulfilled, or know exactly how you plan to fulfill, all your academic responsibilities for graduation.

Spending more time in your host country usually ensures that you'll

  • Make friends with native students, get to know your classmates (especially if you're in courses that last a full year), join sports teams, clubs, societies, and so on. Although you may feel like an outsider at first, after a few weeks, you'll be just like everyone else.
  • Become fluent, or nearly fluent, in a foreign language. Practice makes perfect and a year gives you plenty of practice functioning in another language.
  • Have plenty of time and opportunity to travel. Most likely, your host university will break between semesters for a week or more. Being away for a year guarantees you at least two extended breaks for travel. You won't have to squeeze long travel itineraries into long weekends or skip classes to travel.
  • Become an expert on your host university's town or city. Knowing your way around the city will become second nature. You'll develop favorite spots for a cup of coffee, buying books, meeting up with friends for a pint — just like you have at home.
  • Experience a year's worth of culture. Two semesters means you're abroad for nine or ten months. Thus, you'll get to see holiday celebrations and traditions that occur throughout the year.
  • Adopt culture. More time away equals more time for developing the habits, speech patterns, or customs of your host country. You'll get used to things like having a siesta (nap) every afternoon, drinking tea instead of coffee, not going to the library on the weekends, or calling soccer "football." The longer you're in a country, the more you can incorporate the culture into your everyday life, without even realizing it in some cases. You may never be able to get through an afternoon without a cup of tea or a nap again!

An added bonus to studying abroad for two semesters is that you can often spend two semesters in two different places, if that's what you'd like. Of course, doing so means filing two sets of study abroad paperwork (including applications), packing up, moving, and then reestablishing yourself in a new city. But if you want to go two places, improve your language skills in multiple languages, and you're up for yet another adventure, this option may work for you.

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