Study Abroad Program Selection

By Bradley Rehak – Guest blogger studying in Quito, Eucador
Having studied abroad four different times now, in three different languages (even if one was English), I considered myself quite exercised in the selection of such programs. In order that others can more easily find success than I did—and avoid some of my failures—I now offer my perspective on the process of choosing a program. The basic assumption behind my advice is that one genuinely wants to learn another language. For those interested only in travel and drink, this advice won't be entirely helpful.
First of all, let me dispel the importance of choosing the right country. Most people make their decisions solely on where they want to be, usually in close proximity to beaches or mountains. I cannot stress enough: it doesn't really matter. Once you've decided what language to learn, there are much more important considerations. I spent two of my experiences, in Mexico and Ecuador, in countries that I had never really thought about visiting. Trust me, as long as you make a sincere effort to learn your language and meet locals, you will enjoy whatever country you end up in.
That said, what does matter is your school: the quality of the teachers, the levels of instruction offered, and the diversity of students. Teacher quality is obvious: teachers with degrees and advanced degrees in the language of instruction are far superior to those that lack it, especially when it comes to difficult explanations. You also must ensure that your level of ability is taught at a prospective school, especially for advanced students, as most schools emphasize beginner levels. You don't want to get stuck in a group that is studying only aspects of the language that you already know. Finally, diversity of students is the single most important consideration for a school: by this I mean the school should also teach languages (usually English) to locals. This, and language interchange programs after school (intercambios in Spanish) are the most crucial keys to meeting locals, making friends, and PRACTICING, outside of school, your language of instruction. Having been to schools with and without local students, I can say now that I wouldn't even consider a program in the future that lacked local instruction.
Finally, choosing a host family is also crucial to language learning. Don't even think about living in a residence, because—especially as an English speaker—you will learn very little. Living with a host family is absolutely essential in order to practice and think about your language on a daily and hourly basis, and learn words that you would never come across otherwise. And if you are really serious about your language, choose a family with kids—whether they're your own age or younger. Even though they can be annoying at times, they are usually the most interested people in talking to you, or showing you off to their friends, and therefore are an excellent means of meeting locals and practicing the all-important slang of your home country. Best of luck!

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