I. Pre-departure

The Internet is possibly one of the greatest tools at the disposal of potential study abroad and international exchange students.  There are resources on the Internet to help students find study abroad and exchange programs that fit their academic needs, cultural expectations, and price range.  There is also a plethora of information available on the Internet to help students plan and prepare for any experience abroad, all while instilling a curiosity and sense about global citizenship.

Finding a Program

There is a wide array of tools available on the Internet to help students find study abroad and international exchange programs that suit all of their needs.  A simple Google search on the term “Study Abroad” will pull up dozens, if not hundreds, of websites and organizations all designed to help promote study abroad and exchange and help students find appropriate programs.  Websites like StudyAbroad.com and the Council on International Educational Exchange can help students find programs by country, city, academic program, and even different types of programs.  These large websites offer brief overviews and basic information about hundreds of study abroad and exchange opportunities.  Students now have easy access to information of hundreds of programs in almost any country imaginable, all at their fingertips and available at a moment’s notice.  This allows students to find study abroad and exchange programs other than just those offered by their home institution, opening access to more programs, more countries, and more opportunities to learn about the world.
That is not to say that learning about programs available through a home institution is in any way a poor option.  Many colleges and universities openly advertise their study abroad programs on their websites.  These webpages can be a great resource for students looking to study abroad, offering much more in-depth information than the large all-encompassing websites can provide.  Individual program webpages can also provide details on the cost of the program, as well as detailed information on financial aid and how the study abroad program fits into the various fields of study and degree plans at the school.  An advantage of learning about these programs online as opposed to visiting the university study abroad office is that students are presented with an easier entry point.  Instead of a potentially intimidating meeting with study abroad adviser, students are able to look at any program of interest at their leisure, all without leaving their dorm room.  Websites are able to offer more information that just a pamphlet, without consuming the time of the study abroad office faculty.  The Internet also allows for a greater use of multimedia, such as images and video, which are potentially more influential recruiting devices.  Websites offer a logical first stop for students considering studying abroad.

However, it must be remembered that when deciding on a study abroad or exchange program, the very first decision that must be made is the decision to actually commit to studying overseas.  This decision can be a difficult one, and may have different implications for different age groups.  Study abroad is most common at the university level, though more and more programs are becoming available for high school students to travel and study abroad.  For younger students, an actual study abroad program may not be as beneficial for actual learning as it is for older students.  However, even the youngest of students can benefit from travel abroad, either with parents or through school sponsored tourist and educational trips.  Simply having exposure to foreign cultures can help introduce some of the curiosity and key concepts of global citizenship, and can promote further study at a later date.  Once the decision to study abroad, or even to just travel abroad, has been made, the next step is to begin to prepare for the journey.

Preparing for Study Abroad

The Internet is a great source of information for students who are preparing to study abroad.  The weeks and months leading up to a trip study abroad can be an intimidating time.  Many students may have never been to the country in which they are about to live and study, they may not speak the language, and they may not know what to expect.  This is where the internet can prove to be an invaluable asset as students can research their host country, city, and university online, while also connecting and communicating with a wide array of people involved in various study abroad programs.  This initial research sets study abroad students on the road to global citizenship.

In the past, finding information about any study abroad destination would have been limited to any material housed in a university study abroad department, or tracking down program alumni who were back on campus to finish their degrees.  Today, however, the Internet makes this search for information much easier.  For quick facts about a country, the CIA World Factbook gives a brief overview of every U.S. recognized country in the world, including things like population, languages, and currency used.  Wikipedia goes even further in depth, offering information about almost every city and town in the world, and more than likely information about host universities and maybe even program specifics.  A quick websearch using any major search engine will pull up enough information on any travel destination to pore over for hours.   Most schools have dedicated English language websites, as do many study abroad programs themselves.  Having information available to this extent can help students prepare for studying abroad better than ever before.

Another rich source of information about what to expect on a study abroad experience is former students who have participated in the same program.  Thanks to social networking sites, such as Facebook, finding those people is easier than ever.  It is even possible to find students currently on the program and directly ask them about their experiences.  Connecting with other study abroad students can lead to further information and insight through blogs students write while abroad, Twitter accounts, Facebook posts and images, and a wide range of social media.  Students looking to discuss study abroad can also easily find dedicated forums, such as College Confidential’s Study Abroad Forum, where students are able to discuss any issue of concern.  The connective power of the Internet and social media is allowing students to have greater knowledge of their new host culture before leaving than ever before, which means students can spend more time learning and less time lost.

Seeking information about other ways of life and communicating with those that are experiencing a new culture is often the first step towards global citizenship.  Access to this sort of information and having these interactions is what first allows students to see the world from a new perspective.  This new perspective can lead to a critical look at one’s own life; a consideration of oneself in opposition to a way of life viewed digitally though the Internet (Hull &Stornaiuolo, 2010).   While probably not expressly realizing it, students take their first digital step towards global citizenship while researching study abroad opportunities.