Studying Abroad: How to get started

September 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Image from International Program Center’s Website.

Recently I sat down with Hannah Mendoza, the IARc study abroad exchange academic advisor, and spoke with her about the study abroad program. I received a list from her of some of the most common questions and answers from people considering studying abroad. If you have questions that are not on this list or are considering studying abroad and need some help see Hannah Mendoza or the International Programs Center in 203 Foust Building for more information.

Things you should know before you make your decision to study abroad:

Will studying abroad delay my graduation?

No.  You will need to take a studio course and a support course while abroad, but you will have those approved by the departmental study abroad advisor before you ever leave the country. The only possible complications would arise if you did not successfully complete the course, in which case it obviously does not transfer back to satisfy our department requirements.

Do I have to take a studio in a program of interior design, interior architecture, or architecture?

No. You should work with the departmental study abroad advisor to identify a studio experience that meets your own interests and goals. You are not discouraged from taking studios in interiors or architecture, but you are welcome to explore mural painting, photography, graphic design, surface design, and many other areas.

Do I have to do an exchange program and what is the difference?

Exchange programs are those that have been worked out between UNCG and the host institution through which you attend the international university but pay tuition and fees as if you are going through another semester at UNCG. There are a number of private programs through which you can also study abroad; generally they are more expensive. However, aside from the cost, a private program is no different from the exchange programs that are offered.

When do I have to decide if I want to study abroad?

The most important deadline to decide is the one that is set by the International Programs Center. You need to have your application submitted for Spring study abroad by September 14th and for Fall, year long, or summer study abroad, the deadline is February 15th.  As with all things, though, the earlier you decide, the better because you have more time to carefully consider all of your options and to assemble the necessary documents and materials.

What do I do once I have decided I want to study abroad?

Go talk to Hannah Mendoza. She is here to help answer questions and begin you on your process. If you have already met with someone from IPC, that’s great, just make sure you go and see Hannah before you get close to the deadlines because you have to have her signature on an approval form before you can officially begin the process. 

I heard that another student went to a particular location and had a bad experience, should I be nervous?

That depends on what aspect of the experience was negative. As you know, everyone has different tastes. If a student tells you that an experience was not pleasant, ask them why and then think about your own feelings about those particular types of situations. Sometimes students expect more or less personal interaction with faculty, have foods they strongly dislike, have personal space needs that vary from their host culture, etc. Please discuss any of the concerns that you may have heard about where you are planning to study with the departmental study abroad advisor. That way, you can get the latest information and the advisor can follow up with appropriate resources to address any concerns you may have. The university will not send you to any program in an area that is known to be dangerous– but it never hurts to ask more questions!

Can I transfer in credits for GEC courses?

This is something that has to be negotiated on an individual basis and is not under the control of anyone in the IARc department. If you have a GEC requirement that you would like to fulfill while you are abroad, the first thing that you should do is look through the course offering at your host institution and determine if they have any courses that appear to be equivalent to those offered at UNCG or that seem like they might satisfy the intentions of the GEC requirement. You should find out as much information as possible about that course and then contact the department at UNCG that houses the GEC course to which it is equivalent (i.e. if it is a course in Literature, talk to the English Department – for a course in Algebra, talk to Mathematics, etc.). They will evaluate the suitability of the course as a substitute. If they approve it as a viable substitute, they will be the ones to transfer the course with the registrar’s office once you return. It is not always a sure thing that you can find an equivalent course, but it can’t hurt to investigate. Talk to your departmental study abroad advisor if you need more guidance.

I only speak English, how does this mean I can only study in England?

You are not alone – many students in the US either only speak English or have only a rudimentary command of another language. There are several things to consider in relation to language.

First: If English is the only language in which you can study, then you must choose a site that offers English language courses. There are many places that do, even if the official language of the country is not English. For example, we have an exchange with a  program in S. Korea, but all of the courses are taught in English. At Hong Kong University in China, some courses are offered in Chinese during the Fall semester and English during the Spring and vice versa. Check with the IPC and the departmental study abroad advisor if you are unsure.

Second: In addition to having courses offered in English, many countries have populations that have high levels of English fluency. For example, although the official language of Finland is Finnish, you will find a large number of people who speak English flawlessly. Even in countries where the level of fluency is not as high, it is often not very difficult to find someone who speaks enough English to assist you – remember millions and millions of people travel each year to countries where different languages are spoken and find some way to communicate, you can too!

Third: The best way to learn a language is to find yourself immersed in it. Seeing signs and hearing greetings every day will help you to learn them, even if you do not or are not interested in becoming fluent.

Fourth: Just because English is spoken doesn’t mean that the cultural transition will be as smooth as silk. There are great differences among the types of English spoken in England, India, Ghana, and the US for example that can be comparable to speaking in a foreign language – even within the US this happens! If you are patient, polite, and engaging, you will find ways to communicate.

Finally, there are many other students studying abroad and the chances are great that you will meet them; you will not be alone. These students can help you learn the language you need or offer help with communication. Don’t deny yourself an amazing experience because you wouldn’t be able to discuss the intricacies of local politics in the native language.

Where have IARc students studied?

Over the last five years, we have had students study abroad with:

Strathclyde University, Glasgow Scotland

Ulster University, Belfast Ireland

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne Australia

Yeditepe University, Istanbul Turkey

Lorenzo de’ Medici Italian Institute, Florence Italy

Massey University, Wellington New Zealand

Yonsei University, Seoul S. Korea

Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester England

Ecoloe Speciale d’Architectura, Florence Italy

University of Canberra, Canberra Australia

Saci Studio Arts Center, Florence Italy

Marbella Design Academy, Malaga Spain

Marist College Program, Florence Italy

Prague Institute NCSU, Prague Czech Republic

Florence Design Academy, Florence Italy

Tech de Monterrey, Monterrey Mexico

Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow Scotland

Syracuse University Summer Program, Florence Italy

University of Oulu, Oulu Finland

Technikon Natal, Durban South Africa

Once you have decided to study abroad:

I’ve arrived at my study site and the courses I wanted are not being offered/are full. What do I do?

Don’t panic! Find out which courses are being offered and choose a couple of alternatives. Send a message to the departmental study abroad advisor and let her/him know about the change. This is not an uncommon occurrence and substitutions are easily made as long as you communicate them up front.

I am nearing the end of my study abroad experience and I am trying to register online for the courses I need to take when I return to UNCG but it won’t let me. What’s going on?

Don’t panic! Because you are abroad and we don’t have your transcripts yet you will not be able to register for the courses that have as a prerequisite the successful completion of the studio in which you are currently enrolled abroad. However, we do know you are abroad and we do believe you are coming back and so we have planned space for you in the studio sequence. Depending on when you are studying abroad, it is possible that the transcripts for your course may not arrive until days before (or weeks after) the next semester has begun. In this case, you will simply complete a drop/add form to be signed by the studio instructor on the first day of class. Assuming that you complete the course with a passing grade, no further action on your part is required. If you received a failing mark, however, you will not be eligible to jump to the next studio and will have to withdraw from the course.

How do I know which classes to take?

You will work closely with the IARc departmental study abroad advisor to determine which classes are the most appropriate. This is critical because there is not necessarily a one to one correspondence between the year or level and your host institution and your year or level at an American university. Additionally, there isn’t a single conversion standard that you can apply universally, a lot will depend on where you plan on studying, what courses you plan on taking, and what your skills are before you begin.

Do I have to find my own housing?

No. There are two possible ways in which housing might be provided. The first would be that you pay all of your tuition/fees/room/board to UNCG and your host university provides you the equivalent benefits in return. The other is that you pay your tuition and fees to UNCG and take the money for your room and board with you to give to the host university who will then arrange for your housing. The host university will let you know how to make payments for housing.

What if the period of study at my host institution doesn’t line up with that at UNCG?

Generally speaking, the terms of study are relatively similar to those observed at UNCG. Some may start in February and end in June (more likely in the Southern hemisphere where the winter months are their summer break). Should there be any circumstances which would require a single term of study to overlap with two UNCG semesters, discuss this with your study abroad advisor in order to determine what possibilities may exist for accommodation, but you will most likely not encounter such a situation.

How many credits to I have to take?

This will depend on your individual situation to a certain degree. Commonly, students take one studio course and one support (elective) course while they are abroad. When you return, the studio course you took will transfer in for 6 credits, the equivalent of the studio course credits at UNCG. The support course will also transfer in as 6 credits. These six credits take into account the study abroad experience as well as the assignments you complete for the faculty at UNCG, which include talking about your experiences during our departmental study abroad presentations. Keep in mind though that individual situations vary and that the best way to ensure that you are taking the appropriate type and number of credits is to talk to the IARc study abroad advisor about your plans and any questions you may have. It is important not to overload yourself so that you have time to experience your surroundings and to acclimate yourself to the change in environment.

What credits will transfer?

Any courses that you successfully complete as planned with the advisor will transfer back to UNCG.

Will this satisfy my IARc experience credit requirements?


What is the course number these credits will show?

This depends on your individual situation to some degree. The studio course that you take will be transferred in and show up on your transcripts here as the IAR studio number of the course you would have taken if you had been here (ie IAR201, 202, 301, 302, 411, or 412).  The IARc Experience credits will show up as IAR499. It is also possible that you will have credits that transfer in under an independent study number (432) or as field experience (527) and further it is possible that there may be other courses that will transfer in based on individual cases.

Who is in charge of transferring the credits?

The International Programs office will transfer your credits back to UNCG. However, they come in as general elective credits. In order to get the credits placed in the appropriate slots to fulfill IARc requirements, the only person who can create and authorize the documents for their assignment is the IARc departmental study abroad advisor.

What is the process for transferring the credits back to UNCG?

After your transcripts have been received by IPC from your host institution, they will fill out a form authorizing their transfer back to the UNCG. You will then set up an appointment time to bring your transcripts and the IPC form to the IARc departmental study abroad advisor. At that time, you will give the advisor your CD (images of your work, images of your trip – more detail is given on the handout for the Study Abroad CD), discuss your experience, and fill out a brief questionnaire about your experience. At the end of that meeting, the departmental study abroad advisor will write a memo to the registrar’s office directing the assignment of the credits. Both you and the advisor will sign the memo. One copy of the memo and attached transcripts will go to IPC, one to the registrar’s office, and one to your academic advisor to be placed in your file. In addition, you will be given a copy and the departmental study abroad advisor will retain a copy for their records. The advisor will be responsible for sending all copies to the appropriate locations. It may take a week or so for the credits to show up on your transcripts. However, feel free to check in if you don’t see them and are beginning to get nervous.

That said everyone should try to take advantage of this unique life-changing learning experience and go study abroad!

Contributed by Katie Moyer [3rd] year



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