Let’s take a minute to picture it: You’re sitting in Piazza San Marco, the warm Mediterranean air of the early morning swirling as the sun peeks through the arches of the tall buildings as you savor each drop of your cappuccino before realizing there are only 10-minutes left until your History & Politics class starts and it’s time to get going.
In a quick hurry, you leave a tip behind for the wait staff, settle comfortably into your sandals, begin walking across the square and make a hasty left turn to head north. Along the route to school, you’re greeted with smiles from locals and tourists alike, dressed in pastels, wearing sunkissed tans, and soaking in the endless rays that reflect from your right-hand side of the canal and beam back on their tinted shades.
This is a real experience of summer in Venice and this could be real FOR YOU, any time, anywhere during a summer study abroad semester.
There are so many reasons to appreciate a summer study abroad semester, and of course, if you come from a state like Michigan or a country such as Russia where it is freezing for six months at a time, you probably can add at least 100 more.
In addition to the beautiful weather, summer study abroad also brings with it a sense of a laid-back atmosphere. Yes, it is still a serious environment, but slightly less “buttoned-up” compared to your typical quarter or semester-length programs.
Summer semester away programs also offer a fun intersection of seeing your host country/city through the eyes of both locals and tourists since summer months are the most popular time for travel.
But more than all of this, summer study abroad programs can be highly beneficial for students who are searching for the best way to spend a semester overseas without having to sacrifice too much time off-campus or compromise on other responsibilities.
Here are three reasons why studying abroad in the summer is the BEST of both worlds:
1. Maximum academic impact in a shorter time span
One of the main reasons that students choose summer study abroad is so that they can “fit it in” before they graduate, without having to miss the traditional time spent on-campus. While this is one way of looking at it, I have also advised at least 20 students who have spoken about feeling as if their summer abroad program was “not going to be good enough” or ‘not as valuable’ compared to their friends who went for an entire semester or quarter.
For starters, never compare yourself to others and for enders, never speak negatively of your accomplishments, no matter how “small”.
There is no RIGHT answer when it comes to studying abroad, but only what is RIGHT for you.
While semester-length programs definitely have their benefits, summer study abroad students often receive value from the ability to be able to maximize their learning or internship opportunities by developing different skills that are often not needed in longer programs.
Since these programs often move at lightning speed, you will need a combination of being super organized to stay afloat, the ability to self-assert and ask questions more frequently, and the willingness to bond quickly with a smaller group of peers (you’ll be seeing a lot of each other if you’re in summer program!).
You will find that in many cases, summer study abroad programs are much more tailored and laser-focused, which makes them feel more specialized than regular length programs. The biggest benefit of this is that you usually get straight to the point, take a deep dive into your preferred topic area(s), and walk away with a tangible and real-world applicable experience that can be applied to scenarios in your future career.
A large portion of Faculty-Led/Institutionalized Programs and Independently-Organized programs offered during the summer also features a combination of academic and immersion and typically lean towards creating and fostering a strong environment for collaboration and networking.
2. Use Summer Study Abroad to “Sample” a Country
Have you ever dreamed of what it would be like to pack up everything and move to (insert any country)?
Based on your thoughts (and what you’ve seen on Instagram), it seems like the “perfect” place for you, you just KNOW IT.
Why not use summer study abroad to confirm this notion – just in case?
I always tell students that studying abroad during the summer is the “casual dating” of study abroad. You’re likely giddy about it, looking forward to seeing more of it, but before you have the chance to get too far into the commitment, it’s over.
While you did not fully commit, you gathered data. Data about the host country, data about yourself, and more about your likes/dislikes. Data about what your next step(s) should be.
If you are a wander luster like me, you have spent or will spend most of your life “sampling” countries and cultures and if you’re one of the fortunate ones, also like me, who finds one that steals your heart and you can spend years there, you’ve truly gotten it all.
In addition to its intensive nature, studying abroad in the summer is often the most idyllic you’ll find. From the aesthetic to the weather, food, and ebbs and flows of cross-culture due to higher international travel rates, you will experience your host country/city through a hybrid lens that is not as prominent in regular semester programs.
3. Flexibility and Healthy Compartmentalizing
Students are and can be very, VERY busy people, particularly at the university level. While those college catalogs will have you convinced that campus life is all about lounging in the quad, laughing with friends over a coffee in-between classes, and partying on Saturday night, a large majority of students have some type of non-negotiable commitment that meets alongside their studies.
For some, they might be student-athletes who have to focus on keeping their grades at a certain level in order to keep the scholarship that helps them attend school for free at a top-choice school. And this often means, playing week after week during the ‘season’ and practicing in the off-season.
For other students, part-time or full-time work might be a necessity to help supplement or pay for all of the tuition.
Others may have family-based commitments and so on.
Summer study abroad speaks to these needs in the sense that it has the ‘sweet spot’ factor for those in need of flexibility but who do not want to miss out on the chance to spend some time studying overseas.
They are also usually more affordable than semester-length programs, with the small exception of some internship programs because it may cost more to have staff who will help with placements.
Last, but not least, compared to semester programs, they give students time on the other side to complete any necessary credits they will need to graduate. For example, if you study abroad in the summer for electives, but still have core credits to get for your degree, this can be completed the following Fall semester without the stress of wondering how you’ll be able to get it done.
This also eliminates the urge to “double-study” which is sometimes common for students in semester programs and a concept I HIGHLY discourage.
Double-study, as I call it, is essentially when a student commits to a study abroad program, but also attempts to take classes online or remotely through their home institution.
In some rare cases, it might be warranted, let’s say if a course is only offered during the semester when you’re abroad and will not be offered again in the catalog for another three years or something.
But usually, this is NOT the case.
I would hate to discourage anyone from trying to be ambitious, but I am here to tell you now, burnout will hit you faster than brick if you attempt to study abroad and complete more classes online outside of the context of your program.
As we’ve already established, studying abroad is not “easier” than your regular on-campus classes.
For students who study abroad during the summer, this urge is often eliminated since they have the flexibility to do both. Perhaps you’ll study abroad for four weeks and then return home and still have another eight weeks to take a few classes to get ahead prior to the start of the next semester.
Or you were able to secure a two-month internship abroad, but will simply carve out one hour a week to work on your dissertation, but no more than that because you’ll have breathing room once you return home to finish it up.
Summer study abroad provides a genuine chance to “mix and match” opportunities and for students to take greater control over their interest in going full-scale on an academic effort or mixing in some travel, some relaxation, and some learning with flexibility not always provided in semester programs.
Are you currently researching study abroad programs for the summer? If so, which are your Top 3-4 programs, anywhere in the world? Leave a comment!
Until next time,
Known as The Study Abroad Specialist, Kimber Grayson is a serial-study abroader turned International Education coach and expert. Since 2014, she has helped 100+ students navigate their semester away journey from the coastal areas of Spain to China and every place in between. In 2018, she launched The LiveStudyLearn™ Abroad Association, a one-of-a-kind online membership platform for study abroad students worldwide.
She holds two Master's degrees from two well-respected London-based universities and has experience working in the US, UK & and Italy.
In her spare time (what's that again?), she enjoys leisure travel city breaks, any snow-based activity, skeet shooting, and attempting to learn new languages.