The Procrastinator’s Guide to Studying Abroad

So it’s been a while since I last posted anything on this blog – sorry about that. Last semester was a mess of different obligations; I took too many classes, signed up for too many work study hours, joined too many clubs, and by the time winter break rolled around I was so worn out that I couldn’t even think about sitting down and dedicating a few hours every week to coming up with blog posts worth reading. For what it’s worth, I probably did you guys a favor considering anything I would have to say at that time would have just consisted of a bunch of complaining and useless nonsense. But now that I’ve been home for a while and have had a little time to unwind and collect myself, I’m ready to start writing again.

So right now, the spring semester has officially started for WashU, but winter break hasn’t ended for me yet. I’m not leaving until a few days from now when I’ll finally be leaving the country to study abroad in Prague for Film! I’m seriously excited – it’s the first time that I’ll be going to Europe or that I’ll be staying abroad for so long (the entire semester!) – but I’m nervous too. I’m not really sure what to expect but I’m eager to find out!

But even though I’m totally happy to be going on this trip, looking back on how I actually got to this point, I wish I had had some advice from a procrastinator like me on how to get through the whole application process. I mean sure, WashU is very helpful in walking you through the whole thing, but I need some practical, pertinent wisdom on how to manage all of the different papers and forms that you have to fill out when you’re lazy and/or the type to push things off until the last minute. But, even though I had to ride that struggle bus on my own, fear not. Now that I’ve had that experience, I can give you at least some of the advice I was craving back when I was going through the same thing. So, here are some general guidelines and useful tips to help you get you one step closer to going on your own study abroad trip.

Just a disclaimer though: the best advice is just to do all of the crap you need to do super early so you don’t have to go through this mess in the first place.

Anyway, here you go:

  • Even if you’re not sure about whether or not you can, or even want to, try a study abroad program, apply anyway. Part of the reason I took so long to fill out my application was because I wasn’t sure if I even had enough money to go and didn’t know if my parents would be okay with it. But then I realized, applying doesn’t mean that you’ve committed to going. If it turns out that you can’t go, you can always back out. In my case I was riding the fence big time, but I’m glad that I applied anyway because if I had waited until I was sure I could go I wouldn’t have had time to actually fill out the application. So, carpe diem.
  • Once you’ve decided to apply, make sure you read over the entire application. Some of the things on there  take time or require help from others to fill out – like your major advisor – and the last thing you want is to try to fill out those forms last minute. Trust me, I’ve done it before and nobody’s happy to be harassed by some frantic student, especially teachers. You can procrastinate for everything else since the only person who’ll have to deal with it is you, but make sure you get those crucial things first.
  • Set multiple calendar alarms for application deadlines. I say multiple because, if you only set an alarm on the day the thing is due, there will be a high probability that you’ll forget up until the actual day and by then it’ll be a serious struggle to get the thing done on time. You’ll be cursing yourself and the day you were born, take my word for it. So break your application up into pieces, first the difficult stuff then the stuff you can cram and finish overnight, and set up alarms accordingly.
  • Find a friend that’s applying for study abroad for the same time period. This one’s an optional one since it isn’t always possible. But, if you do happen to find someone, make sure you talk to them often. They can help keep you accountable and encourage you to stop procrastinating and just get your application done, especially if they’re the productive, responsible type. In my case, it was my roommate that shamed me into getting my lazy butt off the couch. Besides, it’s more fun to do when you’re not alone anyway.
  • Clear your schedule. Applying to study abroad is hard enough without having a billion different obligations that could potentially distract you from the application. I’m not saying you should cut out everything – it’s important to take advantage of the opportunities you have in college while you have them. But you should definitely make sure you have the time to finish the application without staying up late in the night. Last semester I was literally busy from around 9 in the morning to 11 at night or later almost every weekday and it wore me down so that I didn’t have that much energy or time for anything else. Don’t do that to yourself. Make sure you have free time.
  • Trick yourself. I know that sounds vague, but it’s more helpful than it seems. You know yourself best and all of the information and advice a stranger can give you is only secondary to the tips and tricks that you know to get yourself up and moving. For example, some people need their parents nagging at them. Some people need to be shamed into productivity and some people need gentle encouragement. If you know what motivates you to do work, you can set up little tricks to make sure you get your application filled out on time. Tell your parents what you’re doing and ask them to keep you accountable. Have a friend check up on your progress and gently push you in the right direction. Or you might have one of those people in your life who you always kind of want to impress. Let them know about your study abroad progress and the embarrassment of being so far behind on your application might just encourage you to actually get the thing done. Whatever works for you.

And that’s all I’ve got – or at least all of the tips that I remember. It was a while ago that I actually filled out this application so I don’t remember every detail or complaint I had about the experience. But those were the things that stood out most in my memory, so I’ve probably got all of the important stuff covered anyway. But, all things considered, you should totally study abroad. If you don’t have the time, make time. If you look into it, you’ll be surprised at the loopholes you can find. If you’re stressed about credits, remember that you can do internships over the summer for school credit, apply for a study abroad program targeted towards your major, or take classes that fulfill multiple requirements. And if you don’t have the money, don’t worry. I was in the same boat. My parents were absolutely positive that we didn’t have the funds to study abroad and I wasn’t very optimistic either, but I didn’t give up. I signed up for more work study hours, put myself on a budget, and applied for a scholarship from the international university that I would be staying at if I participated in the program. WashU even gives you financial aid options too. And after all of that hard work, here I am, only a few days away from flying to London, then Prague. My effort really paid off and I couldn’t be happier. But, of course, the choice is yours.

For the next five months or so, I’ll be blogging from FAMU, a university in Prague. I’ll be covering topics relevant to WashU students and those interested in an international experience, so if you’re still not totally sold on the idea of studying abroad, stick around. Maybe you’ll change your mind once you read about some of the things I got to experience. But if you’re not into that stuff, don’t worry. There will be a bunch of normal school stuff too. I’m flexible like that.

But, once again, sorry it’s been a long time. I’ll make sure to post much more consistently and frequently this time around.