From the time I finished high school, I dreamt of studying abroad. But as a Physics major, I thought that I would need to take a break from doing my technical coursework to do so. In fact, this is why I decided to condense my physics coursework into three years and give myself my last year on scholarship to study abroad. I am still glad I did this for many different reasons: I spoke French better when I moved, the year functioned as an unofficial gap year before grad school, I had established research projects I could continue, and I didn’t need to focus on getting the best grades for my degree while studying abroad.
However, at the start of college, I did not realize that there were several different ways in which I could actually participate in research abroad. So here I just want to give you a few leads for your own research. Opportunities come and go as programs start and stop, so I apologize if any of these are no longer active. Also, I wanted to refer you to places that have a larger staff to collect these opportunities, but I will provide a few notes on my own experience, wherever it applies.
Although there can be some overlap, research and work experiences abroad can be roughly classified into the following categories:
I am using „research exchanges“ to refer to programs that are not commonly known to be a fellowship (yet they might be classified as one in reality), and that are also not an official REU (research experience(s) for undergraduates), the latter of which are often NSF-funded and are similarly structured and funded programs taking place at (and through) American universities.
One of these programs that I have first-hand experience with the the DAAD RISE Academic Exchange, which sends students from American, British, and Irish universities to do research at a German university through a matching program. You also have the chance to take German classes! I was actually accepted to this program the same summer I was accepted to the University of Illinois Physics REU – I did the latter, turning down the former. I do not regret my personal decision, but really wish I had had another summer to reapply and participate in this program.
You should note that DAAD, which is the academic exchange organization of Germany has lots of programs you might consider also later on in your career! The RISE program itself has lots of different branches, for German students heading abroad, and for graduate students and PhD candidates looking to do an industrial internship in Germany.
Although I do not have personal experience with other programs, there are similar research programs with destinations worldwide! I am linking here to a wonderful list of all sorts of opportunities that Georgia Tech compiled, that I also link later down below – some of these opportunities are, however, now inactive.
One example of these no-longer-active programs, is the Nakatani RIES program that sent U.S. undergrads to Japan for three months to do research there and included the chance to take a few excursions and learn Japanese. On the program’s page you might notice that one alum hails from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale – one of my closest college friends. You can read about his experience here – if you want to see the most amazing real-life foreshadowing that should win a Pulitzer, start the blog from the first entry, at the bottom.
Fellowships are very prestigious opportunities that are usually fully or almost-fully funded. They are often also extremely competitive. You might have even heard about these fellowships previously, for example, the Fulbright Program (this program, in itself is unique because it has two different branches, one for students from the U.S. and the other for students from abroad wanting to study in the U.S.).
Fellowships may be offered during your studies (during your undergraduate program, or more often, during a graduate program), or during a gap year you would take to participate in the program.
… and here is a list of graduate fellowships abroad, compiled by CalTech, including the aforementioned Fulbright.
There are not too many of these, and REUs (or Research Experience(s) for Undergraduates) are competitive anyway – many are offered, but lots of programs only accept a handful of students each. TIP: If you do not have a lot of research experience because you come from a smaller or liberal arts school, look for REUs specifically designed for students with those backgrounds, they do exist.
For the purposes of this post, however, I want to point out that there are a few REUs that will send you abroad. These include
- University of Florida’s Gravitational-Wave Physics International REU (Deadline at the beginning of January)
- University of Florida’s International Chemistry REU (Deadline in February)
- University of Michigan’s CERN REU (Deadline in early January)
Note that most REU deadlines – and deadlines for similar programs – may range from December to early February.
Georgia Tech compiled this really useful list of undergraduate international opportunities, however, you may find that some of them are no longer active.
Study Abroad Programs with Research/Work Experiences
Finally: this is what I did. I did not even know it was an option, and in fact, most study abroad programs I encountered are „Language and Culture“ programs. I wanted to avoid these, because in a lot of them, you take classes only with other Americans, separately from French students, and I wanted a fully immersive experience. However, as may be obvious, French students were not trying to learn better French, so I looked for programs in which I would be able to take classes on „regular“ subjects alongside French students. This brought me to the program to which I was accepted and in which I participated. Offered by the ISEP organization, this program allowed me to choose a research project as part of my coursework – you can read about my experience on my France Blog.
Here are a few study abroad programs that are reputable and which offer research or professional experiences.
I have had experiences talking with representatives from all but IES, yet I am confident that one also would be a good option. Importantly, you need to check with which programs your school has accords. Based on your school’s agreements, you will not be eligible for all of these programs.
You should also become familiar with the difference between „Exchanges“ (you pay tuition, fees, housing at your home school and are offered similar things at your destination school) and „Direct Programs“ (you pay a flat fee for that program, which may be more, or could be less, expensive than what you pay at your own school). Additionally, not all financial aid programs are allowed to be used for study abroad experience.
I plan to write soon about the finances of paying for, and during, study abroad. Please email me (see the Contact page) if you have any questions.
Do It Yourself
This one is tricky, but I do want to mention that if you are already involved in a research project, and if your adviser has connections or collaborators abroad, you might be able to arrange a research experience abroad for yourself. I would start thinking and talking about this early enough to make the necessary preparations – visa, finances, airfare, etc., which would usually be managed at least in part by an organization. My friend, whose Nakatani RIES blog I discussed above, arranged this type of abroad experience to return to Japan for a second summer, working with a collaborator of his U.S.-based adviser.
It might be a less obvious, but this is a great way to continue your previous research, and as the only candidate, if you and your adviser(s) can make it work, you are very likely to be accepted!