One of the greatest differences between the boomer generation and those that came before it is the degree to which this group has been educated. Not only did more of us finish high school and go on to college than in our parents’ time, but more women and ethnic minorities also attained these goals.
As the first generation of knowledge workers, our education didn’t end when we began working. For the most part, boomers continuously upgraded their skills through courses and training or embarked on new careers—sometimes several of them—in the course of their lives.
As with volunteering abroad, when going to a foreign country to learn Boomers will want to inform themselves about the people, their language, and their culture prior to departure. Chances are the school will help you to learn more about these upon arrival as well as give you plenty of opportunity to sample the local food & drink.
You might want to know a little about health issues and safety concerns right down to bathroom facilities before you make your decision on which school to attend. Key factors in making a decision on studying abroad include destinations, what visas are required and what activities are offered outside of studying. Big ticket items such as accommodations and transportation will also enter into your decision while knowing what to pack is always important. Time and money discussions round up the What to Expect section.
When you go abroad to study, you’ll be dealing with the school’s administration and professors, other students, the local residents and—if you choose—a family with whom to live. Getting to know the administrative staff quickly is valuable as they’ll be the ones to help you with any issues with payments, class placement, schedules, etc.
Your educational experience will depend almost entirely on the quality of the teaching staff, so, as much as you can, you’ll want to try to assess their abilities. This is often difficult—and sometimes impossible—to do before you sign up, so it should be the first thing you do when you arrive. That way, should you decide the quality of instruction isn’t up to your standards, you can try to switch professors or schools.
When you go abroad to study, part of your experience will be to learn how others live. Food, of course, is a very important aspect of this, so consider living with a family, which provides you with a much richer experience than if you go it alone or always eat in restaurants. You get to make friends with local residents and help them economically. It’s also usually less expensive to rent a room and have some of your meals with a family.
If you do decide to live with a local family and have any special requirements for food or living arrangements, you should make these clear immediately to avoid any embarrassment. You can expect many differences in diet—especially in lower economic classes—including limited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are typically too expensive, so you might not get as much as you’d like, or they may be canned, dried, or frozen.
Going abroad exposes you not only to new cultures and languages but also to new bacteria, diseases, and viruses. Of course, we can get immunization shots and bring medications to protect us, but many of the residents you’ll meet in foreign countries may not have access to the medicines we take for granted. Even though people around you may seem to be sick more often than those at home, it doesn’t mean you will fall ill as well.
The best way to preserve your health is to get your shots before you leave, bring your prescription medications and any over-the-counter drugs, wash your hands frequently, and practice good hygiene like we were taught as kids.
It’s also good to know that universities usually have student health clinics that dispense over-the-counter drugs and free advice. Some also have dental schools and clinics that provide services at much lower costs than private practices.
Safety issues often depend on where your school is located: city vs. small town, good neighborhood vs. a rough one, and a busy street vs. an isolated area. Schools and university campuses are sometimes targeted by thieves because the concentration of young people may make it easier for them to blend in and there’s usually a lot of electronics (laptops, iPods, etc.) to steal.
Most of the information you’ll need regarding facilities can be found in the Travel section. If you’re in the city, you can expect Western World toilets, but, depending on where you’re going, you may encounter Eastern World or Wild World toilets on field trips or visiting parts of the region further away from large population centers.
If you decide to live in a university dorm, you can expect that they will only have showers. These may be semi-private (shared with a limited number of people) or communal (shared with the entire floor of your residence).
It’s not uncommon to choose a school based on a destination, especially since a language, art form, or particular cuisine will be rooted in a location. In some ways, it’s much easier to choose a subject of study after deciding on an area as this limits your choices to what’s available in the towns and cities you’re interested in seeing.
You can expect that cities have more universities, language and hobby schools, tutors, and coaches, and that an area will often attract a concentration in a discipline with many programs offered. A well-known school, such as Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, will attract a number of smaller, less pricey schools that are easier to gain admittance to.
Most students of hobby schools arrive on tourist visas as they’ll be there for just a few weeks or months. Just make sure the duration is long enough for the length of your course of study.
People studying through a university at home will be directed by that institution, which will be very familiar with the process for sending students abroad. The usual visa routine applies (fill out forms, prove who you are, pay fees, etc.), plus a letter from the host-country university indicating admission into a program as well as proof of credentials (degree certificates or transcripts) may be required.
Hobby schools realize their students are there to learn but also to have fun. They’ll often organize tours and other types of activities for their students. These may include cooking and dance classes as well as evenings out. These are usually very budget-conscious, so they’ll be cheap or free and will focus on the interests of the majority of the students.
I often advise foreign students to take advantage of the opportunity to live with a local family. How often in your life will you get the chance to go into a stranger’s house to see how they live? I’m not saying it’s always easy, but it’s certainly rewarding. You’re put in the position where you have no choice but to improve your language skills if you want to communicate with your new family. This effort makes for lifelong friends. In turn, the family makes a little extra money and enjoys learning about your culture and country.
Information about finding apartments can be found in the Live section.
Most universities and hobby schools (language, cooking, arts, etc.) are located in cities or large towns, so transportation isn’t usually an issue. You may find yourself walking a lot more than you did at home as you’ll be relying on public transportation to get around, but this is a great way to discover new neighborhoods and your new city. Just be sure to always have a little bit of cash for a taxi in case you get hopelessly lost.
Of course you’ll be packing the usual things like clothing and toiletries, but you may want to check with the school to see whether you also need to bring the tools of your trade. At art school, will you want to bring your own brushes and paints? It may be much cheaper to buy these at home than in your destination country. Language dictionaries tend to be expensive abroad and aren’t available everywhere, so you might want to bring those as well.
Year-round schedules are available for most hobby and language schools because they can’t afford to close for long vacation periods. They usually remain open during normal closing periods (summer and Christmas holidays), knowing that many travelers come during these times.
You’ll want to check with the school you’re interested in, but most have revolving schedules so you can join at the beginning of any week. These schools usually sell lessons based on time: weekly, monthly, or, rarely, semester plans.
Shop around to determine the best value for your money as there’s a lot of competition between schools. Some offer all kinds of extras to appeal to you, but these are usually put in place to bolster the price without necessarily adding a lot of value.
Keep in mind—before you commit to several months of classes—that many won’t refund your money under any circumstance. They may apply it to later classes, however, should something happen and you’re not be able to attend as previously planned.