Studying Abroad As A Graduate Student: The Many Options

It’s hard to find a Longhorn that doesn’t love living here in Austin.  Besides all of the music, parks, food and people, Austin offers its residents a healthy and plentiful array of festivals and events that go on year-round.  However, many Longhorns find that they get their defining UT experience when they leave Austin.  That’s right, packing it all up and heading off to another country to research and learn in a totally different way can sometimes be the key to complete academic fulfillment.

It can be challenging to find a great international opportunity as a graduate student.  Professional graduate students have stringent requirements here on campus, and research students need to go to specific places to get the exposure and time that they need with their project.

Luckily, the Study Abroad Office at UT is available to provide information and support for graduate students that want to participate in a study abroad experience.  Kara Scott, the Graduate Student Assistant in the Study Abroad Office, said that while there aren’t many package programs designed for graduate students, if you want to find a way to study abroad, there are many ways to make it happen.  Below are the options for graduate students:

-Independent Study and Research (ISR): This must be a full semester, and is a great opportunity to research or intern abroad while gaining program-specific experience.  This is an appropriate substitution for dissertation hours.

-Maymester Program: This is a four-week program that happens immediately after the spring semester.  It is a UT student program, led by UT faculty.

-International Education Program Providers (Basically, these are opportunities that are outside of UT): These can be tricky, but offer unique opportunities.  You must make sure before you leave that the credit will transfer.

-Exchange Program: You are able to enroll in a foreign university and gain UT credit.  There are over 100 UT exchange partners!

-Departmental Opportunities: Some departments have their own international opportunities.  The Architecture School, for example, has two programs, one in Italy, and one that goes to multiple European destinations.  These departmental programs are open to all UT students in most situations.

-Summer Language Credit Programs, (Non-Maymester): These are programs that allow graduate students to meet language requirements in the language’s maternal nations.

-Apply for a Fulbright Scholarship: Fulbright Scholarships are highly competitive, involved and respected.  There is a faculty advisor in the Study Abroad Office who deals directly with these applications.  (Information can be found here: http://www.utexas.edu/student/abroad/funding/fulbright.html)

Before deciding which program will work for you, there is some important general information that you should consider.  The first thing that you need to do is talk to your academic advisor.  Make sure that you have a good handle on your required program credits.  Decide where you’d like to study, even if it’s as general as a region.  Also, create your graduate studies time-line, (this should be based on your credit requirements, as well).

After you meet with your advisor about these things, you should contact the Study Abroad Office, (http://www.utexas.edu/student/abroad/index.html).  You can contact them by calling (512) 471-6490, emailing the office at StudyAbroadOffice@austin.utexas.edu, or visiting the office at 2222 Rio Grande (second floor).  You’ll tell them what department you’re in and you will get matched with an advisor based on the region that you want to study in, as well as which semester you want to go.

The other important thing that you need to know about: funding your time abroad.  You cannot use any FAFSA money for ISR programs.  Maymester programs are billed with the spring semester, which helps simplify the process.  The programs that are outside of UT are subjective in terms of FAFSA eligibility, and are addressed on a case-by-case basis.  Exchange Programs are FAFSA compatible, as are departmental opportunities.  Fulbright scholarships have their own system, and you can learn more about the scholarship’s funds by visiting the Study Abroad Office’s website at http://www.utexas.edu/student/abroad/funding/fulbright.html or going directly to the site at http://www.fulbrightonline.org.

Additionally, make sure that you take advantage of scholarship opportunities.  There is a scholarship that all UT students have access to- the International Education Fee Scholarship.  A part of this fund is reserved for graduate students, so don’t forget to apply!  There is a link on the Study Abroad Office’s website called “Global Assist,” http://utdirect.utexas.edu/student/abroad/globalassist.WBX, which allows you to search all current scholarships that the Office is aware of.  Of course, they might not know about all scholarship opportunities, so be sure to check with your department for any funds.  It is common for departments to have some funds specifically for students who study abroad.  For example, a new scholarship available to first-generation college students who want to study abroad in China was just announced through the funding by Coca-Cola.  You can read about that opportunity here: http://www.utexas.edu/news/2011/07/28/study_abroad_china/.

Scott notes that of course it will be more difficult to study abroad as a graduate student because the academic requirements are more strict, and each graduate program is so specific.  “You have to fashion your own program,” says Scott, “Express your desire to your graduate professors and find a way to study abroad.”

The Study Abroad Office knows how valuable studying abroad can be to a student’s overall academic achievement and personal growth, so if you have interest in taking advantage of your own international opportunity, the Study Abroad Office wants to help you figure out where you can go.

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