For Aaron Gross, studying abroad wasn't necessarily about taking stimulating courses or checking off major requirements.

Just living in Tel Aviv, Israel, for a semester was all the stimulation he needed, the Lower Merion native and Pennsylvania State University senior says.

"I wanted to learn from my classes, but I didn't want to have classes that would take up the majority of my time," he says. "Going abroad was about traveling and being a part of a culture. I wanted to make the most out of the culture that was there."

The decision to study abroad isn't one to be taken lightly - students and administrators at area universities say getting your priorities straight before you leave is key.

At Arcadia University, which bills itself as a kind of study-abroad mecca - its College of Global Studies helps send students from Arcadia and more than 300 other universities to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central America each year - administrators say it's important to pick a program tailored to your interests.

"I think students really need to think about what their own learning objectives are in going abroad - language acquisitions, learning about a specific culture, maybe even exploring a new perspective on certain subject areas," says John Wells, the director for enrollment management at the College of Global Studies. "They need to be honest with themselves. If a student says, 'Well, I've taken 100-level Spanish and want to come back fluent,' that's not going to happen."

For example, Wells says a student wanting to study intensive Italian shouldn't spend a semester in Florence, Italy - a hotspot for American students. A student who wants to have an active social life probably shouldn't sign up to live with a local family in a homestay arrangement. And a student looking to take courses toward a major instead of language electives should know his or her university's credit-transfer policies, Wells says.

Gross considered going to Australia, but he decided on Tel Aviv at "the last minute."

"I figured it's such a difficult place to travel to," Gross says about Tel Aviv, "and this would be my best chance to go there for an extended period of time."

For those who cannot afford the time or expense of a semester-long trip, there are shorter summer programs and one- or two-week trips, such as Arcadia's First Year Preview. That spring-break trip is designed to help freshman students ease into studying abroad.

Lauren Hatch, a junior at Penn State Altoona, was accepted into a program to study in Italy for a semester. But it was too expensive, she says, so she spent a month in London taking a literature course with other Penn State students.

Hatch applied for scholarships from Penn State Altoona to fund her trip.

"It's doable that way," she says. "I would definitely recommend it for someone who can't do a whole semester."

That kind of flexibility is key for planning a study-abroad experience, Arcadia's Wells says.

"They need to think carefully about what program matches," he says. "Do I think any student is capable and able of studying abroad? Absolutely, if they are in the right program."

Combining Study and Travel

Most colleges and universities offer study-abroad programs and also allow students to participate in such programs run by other colleges. Ask the office that handles the study-abroad program at your college for details.

Arcadia University, through its College of Global Studies, offers programs in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central America. Students from other colleges are eligible to participate. For information, go to www.arcadia.edu/abroad

or call 215-572-2901.

There also are organizations that book study-abroad trips, including:

IES Abroad. Offers more than 95 programs in 34 cities. Information: www.iesabroad.org; 1-800-995-2300.

Council on International Education Exchange. Nonprofit that organizes trips for American and international students. Information: www.ciee.org; 207-553-4000.

American Institute for Foreign Study. Offers college study-abroad programs, plus camp- counseling and au pair opportunities abroad. Information: www.aifs.org; 1-866-906-2437.

- Aubrey WhelanEndText

Studying abroad

It's all about making a plan and setting goals.

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