Independent study abroad takes advantage of affordable in-country language schools, foreign university programs for foreign and visiting students, and other program types abroad. The most convenient and cost-effective of these alternatives are immersion language programs at in-country language schools.
Independent study abroad, as we use the term, refers to international learning experiences that are generally (but not always) independent of US-university sponsored study abroad programs and other third-party study abroad companies or organizations that organize and/or sponsor study abroad programs for U.S. students.
Students that opt for independent study abroad enroll directly in classes at in-country language schools and the international programs offered by foreign universities. Independent study abroad increases choices and reduces costs.
What are the Benefits of Independent Study Abroad?
Substantial Cost Savings
Independent study abroad enables U.S. students to obtain the benefits of a study abroad experience at lesser cost (in some cases substantially less). The benefits of independent study abroad include language competency/fluency, cultural awareness, and the personal growth associated with international learning experience.
The cost savings for those who decide to study abroad independently can be significant. How much one saves via independent study abroad depends on a number of factors, such as the cost of tuition at the student’s home university and the cost of tuition in the student’s chosen destination.
Spain, France, Germany, and Italy, for example, offer affordably priced programs for international students that study abroad independently, while England and Ireland have tuition policies that make English and Irish university tuition more expensive for international students, thus reducing the potential financial benefits of independent study abroad.
In addition to cost savings, independent study abroad enables U.S. students to take advantage of particular educational experiences abroad that are may offered by their home universities, such as a specific subject area of study or a particular destination abroad.
Greater Cultural Exposure and Cultural Awareness
Independent study abroad places students in a situation of greater independence and removes them from the American “bubble” in which many U.S. students abroad find themselves. Based on our experience and observations, this is particularly beneficial for U.S. students endeavoring to acquire foreign language skills and cultural awareness. The time spent by the U.S. student with and among natives of the host country is increased, as is time spent with other (non-U.S.) foreign students. This results in more frequent use of the host country language and greater exposure to it.
Independent Study Abroad – Direct Enrolment Abroad
Independent study abroad involves direct enrollment abroad into in-country language school immersion programs and into foreign university programs for international students. Direct enrollment into language schools and universities abroad is an extremely common practice among the world’s foreign international students (such as Japanese students learning German in Germany, Korean and French students learning Spanish in Spain, or Dutch students studying business in Italy).
Independent Study Abroad at In-Country Language Schools
In-country language schools – language schools abroad that specialize in teaching the language of their country to foreigners — are one of the most attractive independent study abroad options. For languages such as Spanish, Italian, French, and German U.S. students can complete the equivalent of 2 year’s (4 semesters) language study in only 4 – 6 months.
Immersion programs offered at language schools typically consist of 20 class-hours per week. A one-month course yields 80 hours of study. A 4-month language course yields an impressive 320 class-hours of study, and a six month course yields 480 class-hours of language study.
Keeping in mind that time outside of the classroom is time in a foreign culture hearing and speaking the host-country language, it is difficult not to appreciate how effective these programs are.
In fact, many in-country language schools serve as the host institution for US-university sponsored study abroad programs by providing both the facilities and the instruction for the program.
Independent Study Abroad at Foreign Universities
Many universities abroad have special programs for international students. U.S. students are eligible to enroll directly into these special programs alongside other international students. Special programs for international students into which U.S. students can enroll directly include:
Intensive Language Programs
The intensive language programs offered by foreign universities to international students are, with regard to language instruction and language learning, much the same as in-country language schools (see the description of in-country language schools above).
Some of the intensive language programs offered by foreign universities also allow international students to take regular classes at the university (at extra cost), provided that the international student already possesses the minimum required level of language competency (typically high-intermediate to advanced).
Visiting Student Programs
U.S. students who already have a high-intermediate to advanced knowledge of the language of instruction at a foreign university can enroll directly into visiting student programs, typically for 1 semester or for an academic year. Normally, visiting students are permitted to take courses for which they have already completed required prerequisites at home.
A visiting student to a foreign university must also normally be in the process of pursuing a degree in his/her home country.
Note that some foreign universities distinguish between their Visiting Students (students that enroll directly, independent of their home university) and Exchange Students, who attend classes at the foreign university as a participant of a study abroad program sponsored by their home university or a U.S. study abroad consortium or study abroad company.
Other Types of Independent Study Abroad
Independent study abroad is also possible via Volunteer Abroad Programs and internship programs abroad.
Benefits and Credits
Independent study abroad, as we have defined it, focuses on the learning outcomes / benefits of study abroad – it is the benefit of the study abroad experience that is most important. Independent study abroad saves money, offers additional choices, and makes longer, more beneficial stays abroad possible by making the costs for long-term study abroad manageable (or even very manageable) and in some cases makes study abroad actually possible.
It is, oftentimes, the de-coupling of the study abroad experience from the traditional U.S. version of study abroad that affords costs savings and flexibility (though there are affordable traditional study abroad progrms). Because independent study abroad falls outside the realm of traditional U.S. study abroad model), alternative means of obtaining credit are required.
Credits for independent study abroad can be obtained at your home university via placement exams, standardized tests, and independent learning contracts. It requires some research and some effort on the part of the student. Knowledge gained must be demonstrated and documentation may be required (for example, a course diploma and a syllabus for your courses, grades, etc.)