Meaningful international study and engagement is becoming an increasingly important aspect of nationally competitive scholarship applications, even for awards that aren’t necessarily ‘international’ in focus. Note that we are talking about a different kind of engagement than a traditional ‘study abroad’. Certainly, spending an academic term abroad is a worthy effort in its own right but if you are planning to apply for a nationally competitive scholarship, fellowship or experiential learning opportunity, your time abroad needs to be as rigorous and challenging as you can make it. Again, what committees are looking for is engagement on very level. By all means, take time to enjoy being in a new place, be overwhelmed, get lost, wander. But, quickly find a way to make it meaningful to you, to your academic development, and for your future ambitions. One of the best ways to do this is the most obvious; tackle the study of another language. You can also immerse yourself culturally by becoming involved in research, taking on service work, volunteering, and finding other unique ways of expanding your horizons. Whatever you do, don’t stay in your ‘American bubble’ even if you travel with a university sponsored group. And, keep a journal or some way of reflecting on all the experiences that inform your time abroad. This is the stuff of personal statements, project proposals, theses chapters, even future Fulbright applications. Take every possible advantage of your time abroad. You aren’t meant to simply study; you are meant to engage cross-culturally and begin to explore what it means to take to the international stage as a contributing voice in the increasingly critical global dialogue.
Let’s take a moment to highlight the Fulbright as it relates to your undergraduate international travel experiences. One of the key components to any Fulbright application is the ‘letter of affiliation.’ This basically indicates to the national review committee that you have made the effort of connecting with an institution, a research team, a community organization, or an individual in that foreign jurisdiction who can, essentially, give the thumbs up that you are in a position to return to carry out your proposed project. So, why not use your ‘study-abroad’ as a strategic moment when building relationships will not only enhance the time you spend in another country, but may contribute to a larger effort in the future, like pursuing a Fulbright.
Regardless, international travel and study is exciting and important for your overall development. There are opportunities for funding both as an undergraduate as well as for opportunities, like the Fulbright, following graduation. Your immediate task is to determine where you want to go, why and with whom. Then, do your homework on the College Study Abroad website and make an appointment to speak with a Study Abroad advisor about planning for your time overseas. They can also provide guidance about taking your UChicago financial aid with you overseas.