How to: Make Sense of Study Abroad Advice

Trying to inform oneself about the ‘best’ place to go and study can be a minefield. How to cut through the noise and understand where you should really go.

Some people find it so easy don’t they? They waft around, knowing the language, they went there every summer when they were a child don’t you know, their course in life has been set in stone since before they were born. They will be going to this school in this country and they never had to decide or figure that out; they just simply knew.

For most of us it’s not that easy. Some will like a place and want to study there, but they’ve never had the opportunity to see it for themselves. Some may have visited for a week or two, but to commit to a culture for months or years? That’s a different question entirely. Even more may never have been to their potential new home at all; these brave souls simply step out into the aether and see where they fall, kind of like Indiana Jones. Except rather than the Holy Grail, they’re looking for an employable skill. Not quite as important, but still interesting I’d say. Not as good a film though.

Anyways, whether you’ve decided where to go or not, you’ll inevitably find yourself skimming blogs such as these for advice on where best to go. Where has the best universities? Which country is the most cost-efficient? Which has (this impossible question) the best culture?

Articles attempting to answer these questions usually rely on a similar theme, that essentially everywhere has the potential to be a great study environment.

And that’s not wrong either. Certainly the quality of education and cost are two vital factors to be considered when making a decision. But you should be wary of opinionated articles that operate more like travel guides than real student advice.

Speaking to agents or looking over the internet, most of what you will find for suggestions is rhetoric and stereotype about a place, which may give you a vague definition of the setting, but not a real feeling of what the possibility of living there could be like.

You could read 500 words about Tokyo’s economy, general comments about its culture and brief mentions of the number of universities, but that is never going to capture the imagination like smelling the streets after a soft rain has fallen, or the noise of a busy ramen bar at dinnertime, or the depth of understanding you realise you lack after trying to decode the language which surrounds you.

And to be honest what can do that? Aside from just taking the risk and moving there? Capturing the imagination is a near impossible skill and what each person needs to do that is completely unique. I suppose that’s what art is, in many ways.

There’s a modern temptation to just type any question into Google and expect an answer that is completely refined for your needs and wants. Now that certainly is the case for plenty of questions, but for something as personal as a temporary or permanent home, Google or any other search is never going to give you the perfect answer.

The right thing to do, I believe, can sometimes be simply stepping away from the computer, from your phone, from any distractions, and just picturing yourself in your new potential environment.

Perhaps you have a list. This list is made up of countries you think you may enjoy studying in. There are the popular ones, ones you’ve always wanted to go to and perhaps a couple that others have suggested to you. I advise going through each one by one and picturing yourself there. Consider the weather, the language, the noise, the smell, the food. Consider something emotionally stimulating and see how that makes you feel. You could choose the cheapest or most educationally astounding place in the world, but if it doesn’t bring you some sort of happiness, then it’s really not worth it.

It’s also surprising how many countries are home to world class universities. And of course depending on what you are studying, the best place for you may not be the ‘best’ university or college. It may be that a small, little-known place is the most opportune for you.

Start by country and don’t let particular universities or lists define what you decide on. The best advice to give is simply this: be open-minded.

Perhaps this seems over-simplistic or obvious advice, but guides are really only there to vaguely inform, not make to make the decision for you. Deciding on where to study can be a very stressful experience so remember that this experience is fun. You get to go anywhere you want, study whatever you please and be the person you have always wanted to be. It shouldn’t be a cause for worry, it should be one of celebration.

If you find yourself becoming stressed, go for a walk and your destination will become clear to you, I am sure of it.

So if you are looking for a place to study, do your research but remember that the choice is always ultimately up to you. You’re Indiana Jones, do not forget that.