How to follow my footsteps:

Trip Start Jul 12, 2012
Trip End Dec 01, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Friday, July 6, 2012

Before I depart for India in six days, I have come to the realization that I need to pay tribute to the people who have helped me get to this point in my life. Many people have commented about how lucky I am to have this opportunity and how they have always loved the thought of studying abroad - Well folks, it is time to turn your thought into a reality. Studying Abroad can be quite costly, however, with hard work and determination, it is all part of the journey! Below is a list of the steps that I took in order to make this work and trust me, if I can do it, so can you!

1. Figure out the when's, where's and how long's of the trip: One of the most difficult parts of studying abroad is deciding on where you actually want to study. If you have your mind set on a specific location then go for it! If you are the least bit unsure or if you have a few possible countries that you are tossing around, make a list of the reasons why you want to travel there but always keep in mind that you will be STUDYING. It is not a vacation therefore, choosing a country that exceeded in your major, professional goals, or a place that you could even see yourself working and living in would be a good determining factor. Now the When's - As a freshman in college, I picked out all of my classes and made a schedule of what years I would take what class coinciding with when they were being offered. Luckily, I had a few transfer credits from high school, as well as my credits that transfered from Morocco last summer. I also took 18 credits each semester which allowed me to not only graduate a semester early but also take my 7th semester abroad. Planning when you want to study abroad is almost as important as where you are studying abroad. Configuring your classes at your home university with classes abroad is crucial in making it all work out flawlessly. How Long? - If you have never been abroad before or have never traveled alone, consider saving up a few dollars and taking an intensive semester class the summer before you leave for your  big study abroad trip. From personal experience - I have only flown once with my father to Florida my senior year in high school. That was it! After spending a month and a half in Morocco last summer doing intensive classes, I was able to deal with flying by myself, living in a different culture, handling homesickness and making the most of my time there. This time around, I will be in India for 5 months and I must say, if I didn't take that trip last summer, I would be a mess! Traveling to a different country is not like taking a vacation - there are so many things to consider before going abroad and a lot of it is learned by experience. Only take on as much as you can handle - I would hate for anyone to jump right into a year of study abroad and come home two weeks in because of homesickness

2. Choose the right program: Whether you are doing an exchange program or you are choosing a study abroad provider - research as much as you can. A few key things to remember to look into:
  • What does this program provide me with for the price?
  • Is housing, meal plan, and credits included?
  • Are there any excursions provided?
  • Do I have medical insurance? (very important)
  • Is the program legitimate?
  • Be sure to read reviews of the provider
  • Will my credits transfer to my home university?
Also, please keep in mind that most if not all of study abroad programs do not include the flight in the cost. A round trip ticket for most countries ranges from $1200 - $2500.I highly recommend International Studies Abroad ( After being referred to them by numerous classmates, I chose them for my intensive semester trip to Morocco last summer and it was the most amazing experience ever! They have a great selection of countries and cities, as well as an array of classes to take in all different academic areas. Included in your price is the university credits, housing, 3 meals per day, excursions to different cities all over the country, laundry services, computer labs, ISA office, medical international insurance, and much more! Needless to say, ISA thinks of every little detail that you many need while studying abroad and they tackle it for you! The staff is wonderful to talk to and they will gladly help you out with any questions (the good, the bad and the ugly :)

3. Funding your Trip: Money is most likely ALWAYS the key factor in whether or not your are able to study abroad. Many people think that it is very expensive and unaffordable - however, if you are attending a college, your tuition abroad will most likely be less costly! Believe it or not! *Keep in mind - State grants, PELL grants, and loans can ALL be transferred from your home institution to a study abroad program! Additionally, colleges have study abroad scholarships that will help fund the trip. Set up a personal meeting with your financial aid office to discuss if study abroad is in your future. Be sure to bring the total cost of the program you chose and create a budget. Always remember when creating a budget, try to think on the higher end of it as well as create a budget on the low end. If you can afford it with the higher end, then go for it. If you are close to your low end of budget, consider taking out a small personal loan to give yourself a buffer - it will all be worth it! While we are on the subject of scholarships - The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship ( is a prestigious national award  for students that receive the PELL grant and who attend a 2-4 year program in undergraduate studies. The application process is quite intensive, however, the benefits that you receive being a Gilman Scholar are unsurpassed. Please visit the website for more information on applying for the scholarship, as well as statistics and reviews from past scholars.

4. Support from your home institution: Colleges and Universities thrive off of students reaching out of their comfort zones and taking the study abroad opportunity. Once you are accepted into your program and are positive that all of your ducks are in a row, be sure to announce to the world about your upcoming travels! Especially if you are going to a place where you think no one has gone to before at your university, you will be surprised at what you find out. Through word of mouth, you will most likely find and make connections with past students who traveled abroad, as well as potential exchange students and alumni. Having contacts that are associated with your home institution who currently live in that country are great to have.
For example, my college (Thiel College has provided me with such great contacts and advice simply because of how fast word travels when a student goes abroad. I have spoken to professors who have spent time researching in India and alumni who now live in India. Learning as much as you can about the country you are visiting is crucial - you do not want to go into it and get blind sided by the differences. Check into your study abroad office as well for great advice and scholarship opportunities.

5. Prepare: READ READ READ! Personally, I love to write and coincidentally, I hate to read. (kind of an oxymoron, right?) although, when traveling you need to read and be informed about language, safety, laws, medical, etc. It is better to be too informed than not informed enough. Be sure to purchase a travel guide as well as a pocket dictionary that translates your language to the language of the country. I swear by DK Eyewitness Travel ( They have a wonderful guide book with historic information, hotel, hostel, and restaurant advice, photos, and much more. I also have found that a large number of locations that my program took me where explained in detail in these books which makes it convenient when your tour guide talks too quietly or too fast.Check into medications and shots that you need before traveling abroad. India is prone to Malaria and I almost had to spend $2,000 just in medication to prevent malaria. A lot of countries also require specific shots and in some countries, even just passing through for travel, if Yellow Fever is pertinent, you must have a document stating that you were there. This is all just part of your research - It is overwhelming, I will be upfront with you on that. All of the preparation is worth it and if you begin preparing months in advance, last minute problems will be resolved. Also, some countries you do need a student VISA to study abroad - This must be obtained before you go and for the length of time you will be abroad. And do not forget your passport!

Studying abroad is not a once in a lifetime opportunity - it is an experience that will open your eyes to a new world and promote your next trip abroad. Taking the first steps in organizing and planning your trip is the start to something great for you and your family. I am aware that this entry is quite lengthy, however I have much to talk about in terms of studying abroad.For those of you who do not know who I am, my profession at home is a wedding planner/event coordinating manager - I pay very close attention to detail and strive to plan ahead in attempts to solve problems. My upcoming trip to India was planned by me. One day I woke up and said, "I want to go to India" and I scheduled meetings with financial aid and looked into ISA. It is a great feeling to know that I have planned my trip and took the initiative to do it on my own. With that being said, I know that it would've been nice to have a more concrete type of support system that has been to India but I do know that all of my support from my family, friends, Thiel and more got me to where I am today.

If anyone has any questions at all - whether it seems silly or not - I am happy to answer them. Additionally, if anyone would like to see my budget that I have created or my packing list, please do  not hesitate to contact me. I am here to help :)

For more information about India, visit
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Renai Hall on

My admiration can't be put into words. I am a friend of your mother's from high school. I read bits of your previous travel blog and I'm looking forward to 'going to India vicariously' through you. I hope you have an incredible experience and remain safe. Go forth into the world and conquer.

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