How to Write a Unique Study Abroad Essay
Sometimes, the process of studying abroad can feel almost as difficult as applying for college. You have to choose the country you want to study in, compare and contrast programs (hint: MyGoAbroad), collect your transcripts and references and, inevitably, you will have to write a personal statement and study abroad essay for your application.
When applying for a study abroad program – especially a competitive one – your personal statement and/or study abroad essay can make or break your application. After all, your program wants to know who it is exactly that will be representing their program in another country! They want to know exactly why you’ve decided to make the life-changing decision to spend a summer, semester, or even a year abroad.
Sound intimidating? Don’t you fret. We’re here to give you 10 study abroad essay tips so you can WOW your study abroad program with your application.
Most study abroad applications will ask you something along the lines of, “Tell us about yourself,” and “Why do you want to study abroad?” Simple questions, right? Actually, these can be pretty tough, when you consider how many ideas you need to narrow down to fit into a 500 word response. Remember that writing is a process. And, the best first step to streamline your study abroad essay-writing process is to just scribble some ideas down and do some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming.
Write down the things you’re excited to see, do, eat while abroad. Think about what intimidates you or what will be challenging in a new country. Doodle some of your goals for your summer/semester/year abroad, and really think about what it is that has made studying abroad so important to you. Is it the idea of finally exploring that country you’ve been reading about since you were seven? Is it because this will be your first time living independently and far away from home? Are you just over the moon to be learning about your favorite subject in a place that is relevant to your studies? Whatever it is, write it, draw it, sing it— but get those ideas out there, so you can plan out the best essay you can possibly write.
[Browse study abroad programs here]
2. Outlines, Outlines, Outlines
Yeah, yeah, we know: since day one, your teachers and professors have pushed the idea of an essay outline. You’ve done about a billion of them, but breaking down your study abroad essay and knowing exactly where you’re going to go in your writing can help you have a more concise argument as to why your chosen study abroad program should choose you. We repeat: writing. Is. A. Process.
3. First Impressions Matter
You always want to have that eye-grabbing introduction: who are you as a student, a person, and a traveler? In just one to two sentences, try to summarize and explain exactly who you are and why you want to study abroad (easy-peasy, right?). Don’t be afraid to get personal and really let your true colors fly — this is how you’ll stand out to the admissions counselors who are reading hundreds of personal statements and essays!
[How to master study abroad scholarships for international students]
For example: “My grandparents emigrated from Argentina at the ripe, young age of 20 years-old, and throughout my entire life, I have been taught to love a country I have never met. My passion for studying the Spanish language, and gaining a deeper understanding of where my family comes from, has inspired me to apply to ______ study abroad program in Buenos Aires, Argentina.”
4. Supporting Statements
Up next in our study abroad essay tips: support your statement on why you want to study abroad by expanding on the ideas you presented in your introduction. This is where your brainstorming comes in! What has brought you to this point? What subjects studied, projects completed, or passions followed have made you choose to not only study abroad, but study abroad with this particular program?
Be honest and sincere. It’s okay if the main reason why you want to study literature in England is because you spent your childhood reading Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s perfectly acceptable if your love of the ocean comes from an obsession with sea turtles, which is why you’ve decided to study marine conservation in Costa Rica. Maybe you want to study in Germany because you’ve always had the goal of working in international business! These are the things that make you a unique and interesting prospective study abroad student!
Just be sure to always tie your passions, goals, and dreams back to how this study abroad experience will help you expand on these things and carry them with you through the rest of your life.
5. Get Detailed
When you’re describing the who, what, when, and why of your decision to study abroad, be sure to state your goals clearly. Passion is one thing, but your study abroad program also wants to know what it is exactly that you plan on gaining from this experience. How will this summer, semester, or year abroad bring you closer to your academic or career goals in the future?
Example: “Through this study abroad program in Israel, I will expand my worldview and understanding of Middle Eastern cultures, which will, in turn, prepare me for my plans to pursue a graduate degree in Global Peace and Conflict Studies. With this, I hope to eventually utilize my experience and passion to work for the United Nations. Studying abroad will help me achieve these goals.”
[Get custom program advice to study abroad]
6. Be Yourself!
In the world of academia, being formal and professional is key, but in the world of study abroad, it’s all about making those human connections beyond the borders of your own country! That’s why it’s so important to be yourself when writing your study abroad essay. Of course, always put in the time and effort so that your writing sounds smart, but don’t be afraid to add a little pizzaz and let your personality shine through! This will set you apart from other study abroad applications, and will give your study abroad program a much clearer sense of who you are as a student and a person.
7. A Two-Way Street
Ask not what you can do for your study abroad program, but what your study abroad program can do for you! Studying abroad isn’t just about what your study abroad program can provide you — you also need to prove your worth to the program’s officials. After all, you’ll be serving as an ambassador of your home country and this program in a completely different country. They want to be sure that they’re accepting dedicated and deserving students into their program, so that years from now, when you’re a famous scientist or a world-leading politician, they can point to you and say: “See that person? They studied abroad on our program!”
A study abroad program’s reputation is dependent not only on the opportunities they build for their students, but also on the caliber of students that they bring in. So when writing your personal essay, be sure to highlight what you bring to the table and how you look forward to continuing your study abroad program’s mission.
Example: “As a participant in this program, I know that I could expand my worldview and continue <Insert Study Abroad Program Provider’s Namer>’s mission of creating global citizens by creating bridges between myself and other cultures.”
8. A Solid Sprint to the Finish Line
As you conclude your study abroad essay, be sure to nail the point home and finish with a strong conclusion. You’ll have to tie together your original introduction, the reasons for studying abroad, and your goals for the future all together in a nice, clean, concluding two to three sentences. Don’t repeat yourself, but be sure that these final sentences pack a punch, and leave your study abroad program admissions officers ready to buy you your plane ticket outta here.
9. Edits & Revisions
Never hit submit without first revising and editing your essay two or three times! You might notice typos or awkward sentences at second glance, and you might also think of an exciting new idea you want to add in after your third look-over! It’s also always a good idea to have someone else to look at your essay, to get a fresh pair of eyes on your writing.
[Use MyGoAbroad to bookmark & compare your fave programs]
10. Submit! (on time)
Once you’ve cleaned up your essay, upload that application and click submit! But, don’t forget to pay attention to all of the application deadlines, and be sure to get all of your relevant documents to the study abroad program on time! There’s no worse feeling in the world than having spent weeks perfecting an essay and application, only to have missed the deadline.
A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Study Abroad Essay
With all of these study abroad essay tips, you might as well start packing! You’re well on your way to your grand adventure abroad, and by investing so much time and effort into your writing, your chosen study abroad program will be sure to accept you! Applying to study abroad can seem like a lot of work, but the minute you step off that plane and into your new home, you’ll realize that it was all worth it.
Find a study abroad program & get writing!
Want a different academic setting? A different cultural setting? Want to discover more of who you are? Studying abroad might be the answer for you.
Studying abroad is not only academically and culturally fulfilling, but also fosters personal growth. If you had asked me two years ago where I wanted to study abroad, I would have listed a variety of European countries, simply because the European Union was a common area for students to study abroad. It had not crossed my mind to study in my mother country, China, since my grandparents left during the Cultural Revolution. But after studying, working and living in Shanghai for the past semester, I realized that not only did I immensely enjoy my abroad experience, but that I am open and willing to living there. I can only hope, that when you go abroad, you too, will enjoy every moment of your stay and learn something.
Over these past four months, I have made Shanghai my own. The first month, like a baby, I crawled and took tentative baby steps through China. I stayed within the Western comfort zone, participating in Western activities such as frequenting expat clubs, bars, and other spots most American study abroad students immediately find comfortable and enjoyable. I did, however, take some larger baby steps when going to art galleries, reaching out to fencing clubs, posting on LinkedIn that I would love to meet a Mount Holyoke alum in Shanghai, and going to street fairs and flea markets.
During the second month, like a kid, I started to walk properly in Shanghai. I reached out to any contacts, whether it was a first, second, or third degree contact who was living or visiting Shanghai. I began to explore Shanghai's expansive restaurant life; eating with these contacts and other friends I made through random events I had attended, like kick-boxing classes. I branched out to other areas of the city outside of my dormitory's back street in Hongkou district. I also traveled to Beijing, Xian, and various places in Zhejiang province to experience other areas of China.
In the third month, China saw me gain traction and begin to speed-walk in this eastern-western cultural concoction of a city. I started to know bits and pieces of the Shanghai metro map like the back of my hand, especially the route to and from my internship as well as all of the above ground landmarks associated with that subway ride. My self-imposed curfew became later and later due to hours-long meals with friends followed by happy hours at various bars with breath-taking views of the city, or unique attributes that deemed them a must-see. I also traveled to Hongkong, Macau, Guangzhou, and Zhuhai during this time. Although the trip was fun, not speaking Mandarin and being restricted by my study-abroad program's rigid schedule exposed my yearning to be back in Shanghai.
The fourth and final month saw me fall head-over-heels in love with the city of Shanghai. I can now run in this city of lights. Almost every night, I was out exploring parts of Shanghai with friends; taking new routes to known destinations, eating at new restaurants, and meeting new people. A friend, Amberle, and I actually made a pact, that after graduation from our respective universities, we MUST come back to Shanghai to work and live. And, I even started to see someone living in Shanghai, which gave me insight into relationships in Shanghai, while exposing me to a different area of Shanghai I had not previous explored. I also traveled with a friend to Hainan, an island province in southern China and found myself understanding more about native Chinese people and culture.
I currently have equal parts Shanghainese/Chinese friends and expat friends. In exploring the city with both groups, I know what it's like to live in Shanghai, both as a native, and as an expat. I have the unique characteristics of a Chinese-American, but within the last two weeks, four Chinese people have actually asked me for directions to a destination or street, and cab drivers stopped immediately asking what country I was from when I entered the cab. In fact, one cab driver didn't even know that the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics had a campus for foreign students, so when I instructed him to go to my campus, he gave me an incredulous look, asked why, and asked if I had a boyfriend at my campus. Also during this month, a friend and colleague of mine, Katie, came to visit for the last week of my program. While showing her around some of my favorite parts of the city, she said she noticed that I walked and talked as if Shanghai was my city. And in a way, she is right. I can see myself living in Shanghai, at least for one-to-two years, but we shall see.
I know my parents won't like hearing this, but honestly, outside of seeing friends again, and hugging my parents and brothers, I could have stayed in Shanghai indefinitely. Many times, after visiting a place, people say they would like to go back. I don't have that luxury when speaking about Shanghai; I cannot just come back and visit, I must come back and live. The only question is when.
Studying abroad allowed me to grow academically as I became conversationally fluent in Mandarin; socially as I made new friends; culturally as I learned more about my Chinese culture and heritage; and personally, because it had never crossed my mind that I could come to love living and working in a developing country. As I stated before, if you had asked me two years ago where I would be studying abroad, I probably would have said somewhere in Europe, never thinking of returning to my motherland. But through the unique study abroad Mount Holyoke program with the Alliance for Global Education, I found myself in Shanghai for the semester and falling in love with the city, and more intrigued by the country. I have left Shanghai with the feeling of leaving a close friend; I can't wait to see it again!
Shanghai, this is not a "goodbye," but a "see you later." I will be back! So hopefully, see you in a year or two! Love, Allyson, or Zhaoyuchang
By Allyson Chew, Mount Holyoke College
Follow Uloop on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uloop