Studying abroad can be a wonderful supplement to a college education, but there are several important factors to consider before stepping foot on the plane.
1. Do the classes offered at the study abroad site fit into your course of study?
The last thing you want is to be forced to graduate a semester late because your courses abroad don't fit into your planned curriculum. If you realize that your desired study abroad location doesn't offer the courses you need, or doesn't give enough credit for the courses it does offer, try sending some emails to your school to see if arrangements can be made.
2. The Language Barrier
Some people go abroad to further their knowledge of a language they're already studying. Others go to a country only knowing how to say "hello" and "goodbye." The decision depends upon what you are trying to gain from the experience. While it is fully possible to "survive" in many countries simply by using English, not speaking the language will make it much more difficult to absorb the many customs and nuances of another culture.
3. The Social Scene
What may be a familiar social custom back at home could vary greatly in another country. Before deciding on a study abroad location, do some research on the country's nightlife, gender dynamics, and laws such as the drinking age or smoking in bars. You may find that the city goes to sleep too early for your liking, or that the country doesn't offer any socially liberal options fitting your preferences. The social experience can make or break a study abroad trip, so it's important to do your research beforehand.
While it may seem to some like a non-issue, the cuisine in your country of choice can have a serious impact on your enjoyment while abroad. If you've just spend a year keeping off – or working off – the "Freshman 15," the last thing you want is to gain it all back in a country whose eating habits don't quite encourage a healthy lifestyle. Also, many countries don't make it easy on vegetarians, vegans, people with food allergies, or those who eat Kosher. You can learn a lot about a culture through its food; you won't want to have to avoid the cuisine entirely because of dietary restrictions.
5. The Exchange Rate
Studying abroad can be an extremely expensive ordeal, and it's important to think in advance about the cost of living in your new, temporary home. If items such as toothpaste, soap, or even food cost twice as much as they do in your own country, can you see yourself paying these prices for several months? Your trip abroad shouldn't force you to have to take out a loan later on; there are certainly cheaper locations in which to study that will be just as fun and fulfilling.