Annie Du knew as early as high school that she wanted to study abroad, and—as a pre-med student—knew it would entail a lot of coordination. So in her second semester at Case Western Reserve University, she got an early start, planning ahead for spring semester 2019 at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. Now a senior majoring in nutritional biochemistry and metabolism with minors in chemistry and public health, she encourages other students to prepare in advance for potential study abroad experiences. 

Du’s advice holds even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Case Western Reserve had to cancel several terms of study abroad programs for students in the interest of their safety,  the staff in the Office of Education Abroad (OEA) in the Center for International Affairs has remained hard at work. They’ve been keeping students updated on changes through the office’s COVID-19 page and working diligently to help students reschedule their programs for later semesters when possible. 

At this time, the university has not made any decisions about study abroad programs past spring semester 2021, but the OEA is still planning for the future. The deadlines to apply for fall semester 2021 begin as early as February.

The OEA typically recommends students start the process a year in advance by scheduling an advising session to ensure they have the most successful and advantageous study abroad experience possible, and now is the perfect time to plan.

Students who might be interested in studying abroad are encouraged to schedule an advising session early in their college career. 

For Du, getting an early start gave her “a lot of time and flexibility to pick out which programs I wanted to apply to and create a strong application.”

Meeting with an advisor early allows students to explore the courses offered across multiple institutions to find the best fit for their academic and professional goals. It also encourages early familiarity with the culture and experiences they will find in their prospective host countries, and enables students and their study abroad advisors to ensure the experiences are life-changing. 

During Du’s study abroad experience as part of the Health & Society program designed for undergraduate pre-health students, for example, she spent time at museums and galleries applying a humanistic approach to medicine. She also had the opportunity to shadow physicians and participate in health simulations put on by professional medical actors.

In addition to the academic benefits she gained, Du sites several other benefits students can gain from studying abroad, including the opportunity to make friends, practice a language, feel fully immersed in a culture and travel to new places and countries—all of which enhance job skills such as communication, adaptability and the ability to navigate ambiguous situations. Studying abroad also can help students develop knowledge and competence in their field of study and develop professional skills, intercultural relational skills, ethical perspectives, social responsibility, empathy, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and foreign language skills. It can also aid in future career searches, as studying abroad can help students broaden their professional networks and differentiate themselves in a global marketplace.

“I think a genuine and meaningful study abroad experience will teach you how to develop a more culturally relativistic approach to the people around you. Once you actually return home from studying abroad, you can see how your own perspective of your place in the world has subtly shifted,” said Du, who also is a Study Abroad Ambassador and can be contacted through the office.  

Students considering a study abroad program who would like to hear about their peers’ experiences can do so by signing up for the Study Abroad Newsletter and following CWRU Study Abroad on Facebook and Instagram. Here, they’ll find any updates as Case Western Reserve leaders continue to evaluate the safety of study abroad programs amid the pandemic.