How to Choose Your Study Abroad Program

When choosing to study abroad there are many things that go through your head – is it worth it? Will I really learn the language? Can I get enough course credit? All these questions and anxieties are completely normal and ultimately important to your decision making.

The first thing you should do if you are looking to study abroad outside of your home University program is to meet with your school advisor about what you want to do and what you want to achieve. The most important part of your education abroad is that you are rewarded not only in the experience but for the work you did while you were there.

Every University has a different list of criteria for issuing US credit for the courses you take abroad, so before booking a course you should always consult with your advisor on how many hours you’ll need to complete and what type of courses you’ll need to take to not only get the experience you want but the course credit you need.

By confirming the amount of hours you need to complete and having a detailed list of the documents you need from the institution aboard to submit to your home University, you will be well on your way to making your study abroad experience happen. Having this information at the beginning of your search will help you determine which program in which location is the best for you and allow you to make the best decision more efficiently.

Once you have that information, it comes down to how much time you can commit to studying abroad and how many credits you ultimately want to receive. Do you have a week, a summer, or a whole semester? Do you need 12 credits or just 3? Here’s a breakdown of types of study abroad programs and what will work best according to your goals:

Winter and Spring Break

If you want to make the most of the few weeks you have off for winter or spring break there are plenty of options around the globe. The best option for this short period of time would be an Intensive Language Course or a Combined Language Course. These courses are 30 lessons (25-30 hours) per week and focus on advancing your language skills as quickly as possible in the short amount of time that you are there. The standard rule is that 45 contact hours equals 3 credits, so take 2 weeks of the Intensive or Combined course and there’s a solid chance your University will issue you the credits for your time abroad


Doing a study abroad program in the summer is a great way to make sure you take enough hours of a course to gain the credit you need while still allowing you a varied amount of programs to choose from. You can take a Spanish and Mayan History Course in Merida, a Language and Culture course in Paris or Aix, a German and Music course in Vienna, or a Japanese and Traditional Culture course in Fukuoka, Japan. These courses will not only advance your language skills in a short time period but give you extra elements to the course to provide your home university with good reason for issuing you more course credits.


If you’re going abroad for an entire semester, it’s most important that you focus on a program that offers you variety to allow you to get the most credits for your time abroad. The reality is that if you’re looking for a whole semester of credit, taking just a language course won’t be enough. Focus on the programs that offer language courses as well as cultural courses so you can get a well rounded academic semester. A good example of this is the semester program in Malaga, which offers a Spanish course as well as courses on Spanish history, literature, economy, and media. Taking this type of program will not only make your time more enjoyable, but will make it much easier to transfer credit upon your return when you are able to present varied course syllabi and assignments for approval.

Ultimately, the options are endless, but the more organized you are about your goals with study abroad, the more likely you are to gain the credit you need and make the most out of the experience.

Still need advice? Feel free to contact us for information on possibilities and programs.

Cactus reveals the winner of the 2012 Cactus-to-Conference IATEFL Scholarship

Cactus is very pleased to announce that Elizabeth Pinard is the lucky winner of the 2012 Cactus-to-Conference IATEFL Scholarship.  Lizzie’s scholarship entry was the chosen as the winner out of the many entries submitted and she has now made all her plans to attend the conference this year, where she will receive free IATEFL membership and benefit her teaching career.

The Cactus-to-Conference Scholarship was created in 2009 to enable one new EFL teacher the opportunity to become a member of IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language), and to attend the yearly conference.  While all EFL teachers are eligible for IATEFL membership, in reality it’s not something that a newly qualified teacher can afford, so Cactus’ scholarship offers a unique opportunity to network and gain greater knowledge about the ELT profession.

Scholarship entrants this year were asked to draft a short article about their experiences of their best lesson.  Lizzie’s winning description of a particularly good day at work in Sumatra, Indonesia caught the judges’ attention and explained concisely the hugely rewarding aspects of the job.

My Best Lesson

Cactus to Conference winning entry for 2012 conference

It was seven o’clock on a Friday evening at the EF school in Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia: Time for my bi-weekly conversation class, level 5B. I walked into the classroom to be greeted by eight sets of tired eyes belonging to eight 16 -19 year old teenaged students, with books open in front of them but spirits filled with weekend-lust. The book, Cambridge Real Speaking and Listening, is great, but far from ideal for encouraging conversation amongst teenagers. Not wanting a rebellion on my hands, I used a lot of creative license to bring this book to life…

On the evening in question, the unit focus was making complaints and negotiating solutions in a business context: think broken photocopiers and the like. (See how this book and these students are not exactly a match made in heaven?!) As a warmer, they worked in threes, role-playing the argumentative customer, the unhelpful shop assistant and the manager. The only other information I fed in was location e.g. a mobile phone shop. My sleepy teenagers sprang to life, improvising brilliantly and setting the tone for the evening.

Next, we moved on to tackling the target language and vocabulary, by using some of the listening and vocabulary activities in the book. However, instead of having everybody filling in their book individually, and nodding off in the process, I had prepared some materials to turn the activities into team games. This worked a treat: the atmosphere was abuzz with collaboration and competition, as my two teams of teenagers discussed the challenges in excited, English whispers and raced to be the first team to complete each task.

Language input accomplished, it was time to check how much had been absorbed and prepare the students for the final activity: turning our classroom into a market place— “Bamboo Kuning”, a cheap but well-loved market in Lampung, to be precise! Firstly, I elicited language we had encountered that evening: that needed for complaining and negotiation and the board was filled, making it clear how much they had assimilated thus far. Then, half the class became buyers, the other half were sellers, while the classroom was transformed into our market place. Finally, I looked on as my teenagers embraced their roles and filled the air with their voices. What a high!

Time flies. Thus, after dismissal at 20:45, I bounded into the staffroom, extolling the virtues of my super teenagers and the enthusiasm, expressed in English, which had reverberated through my room that lesson. You can imagine my surprise when a local colleague informed me that the previous native speaker teacher had likened this class to teaching a bunch of zombies!

Einstein says, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” This joy filled my room that night and many others. So, perhaps best of all, it was no fluke: Friday evening or no, we regularly turned our slightly dilapidated, pre-centre refurbishment classroom into a place where magic was made.

If you are interested in being considered for future Cactus-to-Conference Scholarships, please find more information here:

Show some love this Valentine’s Day with our special date and gift ideas

Why not treat your Valentine to an experience they won’t forget this February?  Instead of the usual clichéd hearts and flowers, surprise your loved one with Cactus lessons in the language of love!

For all Francophiles, Cactus is offering special “French Tuesdays” in partnership with Cafe Rouge.  It’s a chance to learn the basics or brush-up old skills, while enjoying delicious contemporary French cuisine.  The sessions are available every Tuesday from 6.30pm-8.30pm at locations in Hampstead, Knightsbridge, Leicester Square, Wimbledon and Brighton, until 21 February 2012.  To book your place, simply visit

Or Cactus’ language gift vouchers make the perfect gift for all language lovers.  Available in multiples of £10, they can be redeemed against any Cactus products.  So if you want to whisk away your partner to romantic Rome for a language holiday to learn Italian, or simply fancy learning together with one of our many evening courses, there’s sure to be an option to spark your passion.  Visit

Goodtoknow - January 2012

Win! A Cactus language course

If you’ve always wanted to speak Spanish, French, Italian or German, now you can with our Cactus Language Training competition.

We’ve teamed up with Cactus Language Training to offer to 1 goodtoknow user and a friend, a 10-week evening language course in either Spanish, French, Italian or German at a local learning centre.

What better way to kick-start 2012 than by making a resolution to learn a new language?

You’ll be taught the 4 key areas of speaking, reading, writing and listening, with help from Cactus’ friendly and highly-qualified teachers. And with a choice of 12 language levels and over 40 locations around the UK, there is sure to be a course to suit everyone.

Every year Cactus helps more than 15,000 people learn over 30 languages in 60 countries and at 500 destinations worldwide.

To find out more about all our courses visit