Friday, August 17, 2012

Choosing Finland

"Hey mom! So I've been thinking..."
"Where is it now, Nathan?"
"Uhhh, Botswana..."

From January to early March of this year I tortured my parents with phone calls like the one above as I tried to narrow down where I wanted to study abroad for the fall semester of my junior year. At one point, Botswana was actually an option. As was Estonia, Ghana, Morocco, Denmark, Finland, Puerto Rico, Norway, Ecuador, Iceland, and Costa Rica. As long as this list seems, though, I actually considered it an accomplishment to have narrowed down ISEP's list of about 54 participating countries to only 11 (and a U.S. territory).

ISEP (International Student Exchange Program) is one of several approved study abroad program providers that my school, Southwestern University, partners with for students who are interested in studying outside of the SU-sponsored programs. The SU-sponsored programs are great: a semester in London with SU professors and students as well as summer studies in Spain, Jamaica, and Costa Rica are all very popular. However, I knew I wanted to study abroad for more than a summer, and to step out of my own comfort zone by studying in a place where I wouldn't know anybody. I eventually chose ISEP as the program provider for me because my particular financial aid package would cover any ISEP Exchange program that I was accepted to.

In order to keep whittling down my list of potential destinations I made multiple appointments with SU's Study Abroad Office to help me figure out how to choose. SU's Study Abroad Director, Tisha, and Study Abroad Specialist, Matthew, were both incredibly helpful, accessible, patient, attentive, and kind. We discussed languages, preferred climates, school sizes, course offerings, and more until I was left with the University of Ghana and the University of Turku in Turku, Finland. Both locations offered great courses that would count towards my sociology major, programs that had received stellar reviews, and generally fit the rest of my criteria for an ideal study abroad experience. Tisha and Matthew then helped me complete the application process which was full of essays, credit transfer forms, course selection forms, recommendation letters, transcript requests, and more paperwork that I navigated easily with the Office's help. ISEP allows applicants to include up to ten schools they would like to have their application mailed to so I added some back-up schools in Finland and sent my application off.

By the end of March I was notified that I had been accepted to the University of Turku, and I was thrilled! For the first time in my life I would travel outside of the United States. The next step was pre-departure preparation which I will explain in very thorough detail in a future post for anybody who plans on studying abroad (especially in Finland). Thanks for reading!

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