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Resources to Study Abroad: U.S. Government Programs

The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (or the ECA)’s mission is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange that assist in the development of peaceful relations.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is active in more than 155 countries. There are programs for students and for teachers, for both Americans looking to travel abroad, and for citizens of other natures looking to visit the USA. For more information, click here.

Travel lovers will particularly appreciate the FulbrightñNational Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship provides a unique platform for American Fulbright students to develop global narratives and discuss commonalities across borders around a common issue or theme. Trained, supported, and mentored by National Geographic Editors during their grants in one or multiple countries, Fellows will use new media platforms to help build ties across cultures while enhancing mutual understanding. The digital content that they produce will be featured online in various places, including, most prominently, a blog hosted by National Geographic.

The Critical Language Enhancement Award provides a supplement in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for grantees to receive between three and six months of intensive language study in addition to their research or study grants. This opportunity is available for select languages and in limited host countries.

Gilman Scholarship (formally known as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program) aims to diversify the kinds of students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions where they go by offering awards to U.S. undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints. Gilman typically targets graduate recipients of Pell grants, so this program is a bit competitive. With 9,000 applications each year for 3,000 scholarships, the 1:3 odds are way, way better than the odds of getting into most universities. Gilman Scholarships provide up to $5,000 for American students to pursue overseas study for college credit. Students studying critical need languages are eligible for up to $3,000 in additional funding as part of the Gilman Critical Need Language Supplement program. Those critical need languages include:

– Arabic (all dialects)
– Chinese (all dialects)
– Bahasa Indonesia
– Japanese
– Turkic (Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kyrgz, Turkish, Turkmen, Uzbek)
– Persian (Farsi, Dari, Kurdish, Pashto, Tajiki)
– Indic (Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Sinhala, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Sindhi)
– Korean
– Russian
– Swahili

See more about the Gilman scholarships here.

The National Security Languages Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) promotes the study of critically needed languages by sending American high school students overseas for intensive language study. Critical languages include: Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Korean, Russian and Turkish. Each summer, NSLI-Y sends young adults to travel abroad for language experience. See more here.

A new “Office of Study Abroad” within the State Department was announced at the Summit. This new office will help elevate study abroad as a priority within the Federal Government. (Website not yet available, but it’s expected to launch in early 2015).

The Peace Corps is a volunteer program launched by President Kennedy during the Cold War. The mission of the Peace Corps includes providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand American culture, and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries. Volunteers typically train for three months, and serve two years in-country. Around 200,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in 139 countries. All expenses are paid during the two year program, and a resettlement allowance gives volunteers a lump sum upon completion of their service.

In addition, there are a plethora of State Department educational exchange programs available.


Undergraduate degrees and even graduate schools are tuition-free for foreigners in many countries, ranging from Algeria to Venezuela, with many options in between. In some countries, you may even receive a stipend to help you pay for books and living expenses. But even if you must pay your own room & board, free tuition is a compelling offer. On top of it, you’ll get to do a “deep dive” into the local culture. What’s better than studying abroad? Getting your whole degree from an international univerity. (And returning home if you wish, student-debt free!) For a starting place, see which countries offer tuition-free education.

In Germany, college tuition is free not only for German students but for all foreign students. Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a Hamburg senator, called tuition fees “socially unjust,” and added that “they discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.” Germany offers almost a thousand free undergraduate and graduate degrees to foreigners. One free tool for researching Germany’s offering is here.

Norway offers over 200 master’s degree programs taught in English.

Slovenia offers 150 degree programs in English.

United Kingdom: Education UK is the British Council’s official website for international students interested in studying at a UK university, college, boarding school or English language school. Information on scholarships and courses are here.

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