I am exceptionally fortunate to have studied abroad several times during my college career. I have completed four short term study abroad programs through CofC. These programs have varied in length and destination: from a one-week spring break trip in Cuba, to two two-week Maymesters in Ghana and Iceland respectively, to a three-week summer program in England and France. Now, I am halfway through my semester abroad in Greece. Other than the length of stay and the amount of credits one can earn, I have noticed several differences between short-term and long-term programs, and I would like to share what I have learned in my study abroad experiences thus far.
Short term study abroad programs are essentially extended guided tours of a particular destination with other CofC students led by CofC Professors and local guides. Excursions are typically included in the cost of the program fee, and most activities are compulsory for the entire group, so there is a lot of time spent in vans, museums and restaurants with your fellow student-travelers. Schoolwork is based on the excursions and activities on the trip, although some additional reading and writing will probably be required. Accommodations will be with other CofC students in hotels or dorms, and you will probably live close by to your Professors and guides. Because these trips try to pack lots of activities into a short amount of time, there is not much downtime, so one must be prepared for a jampacked itinerary.
Long term study abroad programs are more of a create-your-own adventure. Depending on which type of program you choose (CofC, Exchange, or Affiliate), you may be with several other CofC students and professors, or you may be the only person from South Carolina at your host institution. Unless you are on a CofC program, you will need to figure out your housing with the host institution. Although you should not base your decision on where to study abroad based on living facilities, you should keep in mind that you will be living in this place for four-ish months, and you will face the same challenges with living situations you face in Charleston (i.e. sharing a double room is no more appealing abroad then it is in Charleston, and a communal kitchen shared by eight college-aged males gets just as dirty abroad as it would in the states). Whereas on a short-term program you will have very little downtime, in a semester program you will have ample amounts of free time, and it is yours to spend as you please. Other than a couple excursions organized by your host institution, all of your travel arrangements will be initiated by you and your friends, and you will not have anyone to take you to an early-morning train—or remind you when to wake up for it, for that matter—as you would on a short term program.
Of course, these observations are just based on my own limited experiences, so other programs are guaranteed to be different. Whichever type of program you choose, your study abroad experience will be an amazing opportunity to live and learn in a new part of the world, whether it is just for a week or for many months.