Guest Article: Musician’s Guide to Studying Abroad- How to Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

This RMS guest article is written by Jenny Maclay, American clarinetist and blogger based in Quebec.

Many musicians dream of one day studying abroad – to study with a certain teacher, experience different pedagogy, become fluent in another language, learn more about another culture, or just broaden their musical perspectives. But dreaming about studying abroad is where it ends for most people.

I’m here to tell you how to turn your study abroad dreams into a reality.

I’m an American clarinetist, and I’ve lived in 3 different countries and visited 30 countries (and counting!). I moved to Paris in August 2015 to study with Philippe Cuper at the Versailles Conservatory, where I received my master’s degree in Musiqueinterprétation et patrimoine (musical interpretation and cultural heritage). I lived in Paris for nearly three years before moving to Quebec, where I am currently completing my Doctorat en musique interprétation with André Moisan at the Université de Montréal. Studying abroad was life-changing for me and has helped me grow both as a person and as a musician. I believe everybody should have the opportunity to study abroad, so here’s everything you need to know about studying abroad, whether it’s just for a semester or multiple years:

2+ years in advance

  • Start early and be organized.  Gather as much information as possible from your teacher, school, advisors, mentor, friends, and anyone else who can help you plan your study abroad session. Find out everything you can about your possible study abroad destinations, such as cost of living, languages requirements, climate, housing availability, and other information you can gather. Take advantage of study abroad sessions offered by your university.
  • Identify possible countries and cities.  Write down any countries you are interested in exploring as a study abroad option. If you’re having trouble identifying potential candidates, think about locations, languages, cultures, pedagogy, or history you would like to further discover.
  • Compile a list of grants and scholarships available.  What usually deters most students from studying abroad is the cost. Research potential grants and scholarships and create a list of requirements and deadlines. Scholarships like Fulbright are great but very competitive depending on the country and field of study you apply for, so seek out scholarships and awards specific to your country.
  • Start practicing the language.  Like mastering a musical instrument, learning languages takes time, dedication, and hard work. Start learning any new languages as far in advance as possible.
  • Start saving your money. Ideally, you’ll fund your study abroad session through grants and scholarships, but it’s also wise to begin saving as early as possible. Find part time or freelance jobs, create a savings account, crowdfund, or ask your friends and family for money in lieu of gifts.

1 year in advance

  • Apply to study abroad.  Visit your university’s study abroad advisor to make sure you follow proper protocol and all the steps. If you are applying to a foreign university, make sure you apply on time and complete all the requirements.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants.  In this case, the more the merrier. Give yourself ample time to perfect your applications, and have your friends and teachers proofread everything. If you are writing in a foreign language, have a native speaker check for any errors.
  • Register for language proficiency exams.  Some programs require proof of language proficiency, so be sure to register, study, and take the exam before any deadlines.
  • Determine visa requirements.  If your country requires a visa, make sure you know all the rules and required documents you’ll need.

Once you’ve been accepted

  • Apply for a visa.  Different countries have different regulations, so make sure you read the requirements carefully before submitting your application. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared for all visa appointments, so bring anything (required or not) they could conceivably ask for.
  • Secure your housing.  If your study abroad program doesn’t include housing, reach out to schools, universities, and other student housing for cheap options. Depending on the duration of your program, you can also explore host families, apartments, roommates, or Airbnb.

Once you’re there

  • Network.  Seek out others in your field. When I arrived in Paris, I visited every clarinet shop and music store I could to introduce myself. I also reached out to other American clarinetists in Paris to meet for coffee and get to know them and their experiences.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity.  Living abroad is a wonderful opportunity to go outside your comfort zone. Be receptive and open to new experiences, cultures, and people. You’ll regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do.

When you’ve returned home

  • Keep in touch.  Maintain contact with all your new friends and contacts around the world. Invite them to your home country and they’ll return the favor when you go back to visit!

Good luck as you embark on your journey!


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