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Guide to goal development for Study Abroad

Options for study abroad are so varied and plentiful that deciding upon a good “fit” is not easy.  Developing your own goals for your study abroad experience is key. 

Your Goals

  • Why is setting goals important?  Research shows that conscious goals affect action.  They direct attention, energize, and affect persistence.  They can positively affect whatever experience you determine to do.
  • A “good” goal is one that you are more likely to achieve! 
  • Be specific and realistic.  (example: rather than “I want to become fluent in French”,  a better goal would be “I want to improve my fluency in French by reading a newspaper in French at least once a week and by speaking in French 75% of the time.”)
  • Make your goals that are sufficiently challenging and important to you.  (example:  rather than “I want to travel a lot”,  a better goal would be “I want to grow as a person by testing my independence and ability to live and travel on my own in a foreign country.”

To help contemplate your goals, ask yourself about the following things:

Program Length

  • Semester - Offers time enough to delve into the history and culture of a place
  • Academic Year -  Allows acclamation to the culture and language
  • Summer/Short Term - Opportunity to focus on particular topics (ecology, human rights, intensive language, global health, sustainable development, etc.)
  • When is the best time for you to go?  How much time do you have?


  • Course Work abroad (consult your College Policy)

o Do you need to complete major requirements while abroad?
o Are you interested in pursuing a specific academic focus?
o Do you want to study primarily language and culture?
o Would you like to be able to do research (for senior thesis or other)?
o Do you want to do comparative study?
o Are you interested in an academic internship or service learning?

  • Language

o Do you want to study in another language?
o Do you want to study in English?

- In a country where the official language is English (Australia, Ghana, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, UK…)?

- On a program where you do course work in English and study the language of the host country?

  • Type of learning environment/Program structure

o Direct Enrollment

- Direct your own learning experience?

- Study side by side with students from your host country?
-  Be in a traditional classroom setting?

o American Study Program

- With other study abroad students
- Often focused theme
- May offer enrollment in a local university for some classes

o Field based Program

- Be in a field station?
- Conduct an independent study / research project?
- Small seminar-style classes with other study abroad students?


  • Is cost a primary concern?
  • Will participation in an exchange or study abroad benefit you more?


  • What region of the world interests you?
  • Do you have a language you want to improve or a culture you want to explore?
  • Is there an academic interest that you would like to explore available in particular area?
  • Do you prefer a rural environment, a small town, a university community, or a big city?
  • Do you care if you are in a warm or cold climate?

Living arrangements

  • What type of housing do you prefer…dorm, apartment, or host family?
  • With Americans or with host country students?

Why do you want to study abroad?
What would you like to achieve during your time abroad?

GSA Partner

Cornell Abroad 300 Caldwell Hall Ithaca, NY 14853 p: 607.255.6224 f: 607.255.8700

In an EMERGENCY for a student abroad, call the Cornell Police: 607.255.1111
Last modified 01/22/2016