Bryn Mawr emphasizes that study abroad is a serious academic endeavor not a prolonged vacation and travel opportunity. If the latter is what you’re after, take some time off or wait until after graduation. Travel and living abroad is always educational but not necessarily worthy of academic credit; that is why there is an approved list of academically challenging study abroad programs. In the right program, it is possible to combine academic work of the highest quality with a deepened understanding of everyday life and culture in the host country. Bryn Mawr expects you to find the best program for your own individual needs, and not to choose a program because a friend is also applying.
Start planning early
To find the most suitable program, complete a successful application, and integrate your study abroad with your Bryn Mawr experience, you need to start planning in the fall of the academic year before that in which you hope to study abroad. Careful planning is required to choose courses that will meet the college-wide requirements and introductory course requirements of your prospective major. You should also complete at least two introductory courses in your major(s) before applying to study abroad.
Language Proficiency Requirements for Study Abroad
Most non-English speaking programs expect students to meet at least intermediate proficiency level before matriculation, and some require more advanced preparation. Consider attending summer language classes to boost your language skills.
Research List of Approved Programs
These programs are approved by the faculty as academically compatible with Bryn Mawr’s curriculum. They also have a history of working with Bryn Mawr students. Please note that the College reserves the right to amend the list of approved programs and to remove a program from the list at any time, if in the College’s sole judgment, the program becomes incompatible with the academic needs of our students or if conditions in the region in which the program is located may jeopardize students’ safety. The Study Abroad Library in Guild lower lobby has a collection of materials about various approved programs and former participants’ comments on these. You can also find information from the approved programs website.
Consider Your Academic Needs
Is your top priority enhancing your language skills, learning about a foreign culture, doing on-site research, or exploring a specialized field in your major? Most importantly, how does the particular program enhance your academic experience? There are many reasons to study abroad, but it is important that you examine honestly your own motives for pursuing study abroad. Consult your dean and your major adviser(s) who can help you think through what you might hope to gain from it, before you waste energy on an idea that may not be suited to you. Do not confuse the benefits of living in a foreign culture with those of studying abroad and taking courses that can be integrated into your studies at Bryn Mawr.
Adapting to a Foreign Culture
Even if you have strong academic reasons to study abroad, you should be sure that you are mentally and physically prepared for an unfamiliar environment or culture. Anyone studying abroad should be prepared for “culture shock,” a loss of emotional equilibrium, when confronted with a set of unspoken rules for social interaction that are different from those of the US. Food and housing opportunities may be very different, and you’ll find that comforts and choices you took for granted at home won’t be found where you expect. The duration and intensity of study abroad make a loss of emotional equilibrium more common in study abroad than in ordinary travel, especially in countries that are culturally similar to the US. This loss of equilibrium is likely to exacerbate existing problems such as anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. Talk about your study abroad plans with your parents, counselors, and therapists, especially if you think that you may be susceptible to such stress. Although program administrators have experience in helping students through difficult patches, the facilities to deal with complex problems will be limited in some countries. Furthermore, problems that become exacerbated by the challenges of your new location can distract from your academic success and cultural integration abroad.
You should carefully consider how the teaching and learning environment at the programs or universities you are looking at may differ from that at Bryn Mawr, and whether it is suited to your own strengths. There is much variation in teaching methods, types of assignments, amount of supervision and direction from instructors, and forms of assessment.
A common academic difference between US liberal arts colleges and higher education in most of the world (based more on a graduate/specialist education model) is in the degree to which you are expected to organize your time as an independent scholar. Past students have noted that they were not fully prepared for the differences in academic expectations and structure abroad, especially when they enrolled in host-country classes taught at a local university. While there are lots of variations from country to country and from university to university, many students observe that at universities abroad there is much less assigned reading than at Bryn Mawr, and few if any written assignments given before the final exam or paper. You may find academic systems where you have far less class time than at Bryn Mawr, where you are supposed to create your own reading lists, where you’re expected to work entirely on your own until an exam tests you on what you’ve done, libraries with far more restrictions, and professors -- like everywhere, some brilliant lecturers and some not -- who are not concerned with you as an individual. It is key to realize that educational structure and pedagogy are part of the cultural differences study abroad students seek. Many students, but by no means all, find themselves newly empowered by the experience of taking charge of their own learning, and having the time to pursue interests deeply.
Programs where classes are offered expressly for the study abroad group are by definition less culturally integrated, but are likely to be taught in a way that is more similar to American institutions. Such programs are often more structured than host-country university based programs, also offering group excursions and events. Some programs offer a mix of both models, while other programs and universities use tutorial or field study models that may conform with neither your prior experience nor what has been described above.
Academic calendars vary widely around the world. Differences that you may find in specific regions are outlined below.
Calendar differences can affect your ability to work during the summer both before and after your time abroad. Students are responsible for their own costs during vacation breaks and university holidays, which may be longer than comparable breaks at Bryn Mawr. “Fall start” programs can begin as early as July or as late as October, and the same variation can be found for spring start and end times. Some countries allow full-time students to work during vacation breaks, and others forbid it. It is important that all these factors be taken into account as you are choosing a study abroad program, and thinking about the extra costs that school breaks abroad will present.
Consult with your dean
You must discuss with your, dean how to complete the college-wide requirements if you go abroad. It is especially unlikely that a student will be able to complete the Quantitative Skills or Division II requirements while abroad or to study a language other than the native language of the country.
Consult with your major advisor
You must discuss your study abroad plans with your major advisor. Departmental approval is crucial to the success of a student’s time abroad. Your plan for study in another country must correspond with your overall plan for successful completion of a major. Furthermore, as you will be away for part of the time usually devoted to advanced work in your major, you need to carefully consider how you will meet the advanced requirements upon your return and what courses your major department will accept from another institution. The major advisor might also recommend a program that best fits your academic needs and personal interests.
Consult with Access Services if needed
Deciding to study abroad is a personal decision. Study abroad is an exciting experience and offers many rewards; it can also be intellectually, physically, and emotionally challenging. It requires that you live with a high level of ambiguity. Students with a history of emotional or physical illness or of learning disabilities or differences should carefully consider the pros and cons of being away from familiar support while studying in a foreign country. It is essential that you consult with your physician, counselor, or other professional about your plans. The adjustment period and relative independence of living overseas are likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate any pre-existing problems.
If you are diagnosed with a learning, physical, or psychological disability that may need academic or facilities accommodations abroad, please contact Deborah Alder, Coordinator of Access Services at 610-526-7351 or firstname.lastname@example.org immediately to learn about the issues, procedures, and documentation requirements.
Talk to your parents
While you bear the primary responsibility for deciding whether to go abroad and for selecting a program, it is important that your parents or guardians are fully aware of your plans.
Attend open meetings with representatives from study abroad programs
Representatives from programs on Bryn Mawr’s approved list visit the campus each year. The Dean’s Office sends out notices of visits via e-mail to students who have expressed interests in a specific country or world region.
Read study abroad evaluations from past Bryn Mawr students in the Study Abroad Library, talk to returned students, and consult with your dean, major advisor, and the study abroad program staff. Ask lots of questions.