The Road to Copenhagen
A year ago, I would have told you there was no way I was spending one of my precious eight semesters as a Vanderbilt student away from campus. There were too many things to do at Vanderbilt, too many leadership positions in jeopardy, and too many friends I couldn’t live without. I couldn’t imagine walking away from everything that this school has to offer me.
During around March of my sophomore year, however, I started to realize that this wasn’t necessarily the right mindset. Don’t get me wrong – I still love Vanderbilt, and am going to miss it dearly when I’m studying abroad next semester. But recently, I’ve been feeling very settled on campus – my schedule has a nice balance of work and play, I’m only participating in extracurriculars about which I’m extremely passionate, and I rarely get fewer than eight hours of sleep a night. I’ve come a long way from being the freshman who felt like every moment on this campus needed to be spent tackling every opportunity that Vanderbilt has to offer (and there are a LOT).
You might be asking yourself why that’s such a bad thing – it’s not. I’ve 100% enjoyed this relative state of calm that I’ve found after being at Vanderbilt for two years. But if Vanderbilt has taught me anything, it’s that if you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t grow.
All this to say, against all odds, I’ll be spending the spring semester of my junior year in Copenhagen, Denmark. And I am SO excited.
I’m sure you’ll hear all about how amazing Copenhagen is as my departure date comes closer, but I wanted to take a couple minutes to give you some tips on the process of applying to study abroad.
1) Even if you think you’ve ruled out study abroad, act like you haven’t
I made the decision to study abroad last year while I was procrastinating on my other work, and picked up a catalog for the Danish Institute of Study Abroad that was just lying around my room. And the only reason why I even had that catalog in the first place was that I went to a random study abroad fair at the beginning of the year to get credit for My Vanderbilt Experience, the nifty system that Vanderbilt uses to encourage us to go to things on campus that we wouldn’t ordinarily go to. Well played, Vanderbilt.
Anyway, much like the viewbooks that you’re probably receiving in the mail if your a prospective student right now, the DIS catalog practically sold itself. I found a program that matched my academic goals perfectly, and went to an advising session at the Global Office of Education the next day.
2) Use your resources
Speaking of GEO, the study abroad office at Vanderbilt is packed with awesome people who would love to help you plan your study abroad experience. The adviser for my program, Ruth, has been so helpful in supporting me every step of the way during the application process, from deciding on a program to interviewing with DIS to choosing my classes for next semester.
Another great way to get information about studying abroad is by talking to your fellow Vanderbilt students who have studied with the program that you’re interested in. DIS is a super popular program with Vanderbilt students, so I’ve been able to meet so many people with awesome advice for me, just by casually mentioning that I was hoping to go to Copenhagen. GEO can also connect you with students who have studied abroad in the past.
3) Start your application early
Applications for study abroad open way before the deadline, so it’s always best to start working on them as early as possible. Since I knew that I wanted to apply to DIS, I actually did the bulk of my work for the application during the summer so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the midst of the craziness that is the beginning of a new semester. Starting early was also beneficial in that some study abroad apps ask for letters of recommendations or transcripts – the earlier you can get those taken care of, the less you’ll have to worry about deadlines!
4) Plan your course schedule
This is actually my advice for all Vanderbilt students, whether or not you’re going abroad. Even if you’re not 100% sure of which majors and minors you’re going to pick up during your time at Vanderbilt, it’s always helpful (and in my opinion, fun) to write out a list of classes that you’ll need to graduate, and a tentative plan for when you’re going to take them. I guarantee that this plan change, either slightly or drastically, but taking a moment to figure out what your academic plan is for the next couple of years is never a bad idea. I’ve literally written up a new plan at least five times – sometimes, it even helps me organize my thoughts in terms of what I actually want to study!
Anyway, this planning becomes even more important when you’re thinking about going abroad. I’m lucky in that I don’t actually have to take any specific classes in Copenhagen to complete my major in time, but whether or not this will be true for you really depends on your major and your personal academic plan. Some abroad programs are much more suitable for certain majors than others, so make sure you check on this before you pick your program.
5) Write everything down
Whether it’s interesting courses at your abroad institution, housing options, or application requirements, there is a LOT of information that gets thrown at you in the process of applying to study abroad. If you come across any information that you think might be important, jot it down in your phone/planner/other note-taking device – you’ll thank yourself later!