Belfast: Study Abroad How-To

My decision to study abroad was one of the best I’ve made. The journey that led me to Queen’s University Belfast was long and challenging, but worth every second in the end. There’s no wrong way to study abroad– this is my personal experience, and this is what worked for me to relieve as many stressors from the process as possible.

I’m in the minority of students who chose a program early on in the planning process– I set my sights on Belfast my first semester at Minnesota State University, and worked from there. Queen’s is a Russell Group university, and I knew that the courses I took while abroad would have a great impact on my experience. I’m happy with the classes I ended up taking: a poetry workshop, women’s writing, and Irish gothic. 

However, like most who study abroad, I also wanted to make sure I still graduate on time. I met with my academic advisor to discuss which degree requirements made the most sense to pursue abroad, and narrow down the list of courses I could take at Queen’s so I made sure to wait on those requirements. 

Queen’s has a large international student population and held many information webinar sessions, which I made an effort to attend before I was even able to apply. Spreading out my “to-do” list ensured I wouldn’t be sorting through piles of information during or after the application process, and I felt prepared when the time came to apply for my program. 

I also made sure to use my resources in the Study Abroad and Away Office at MSU. Most of the faculty studied abroad themselves and can provide tips and tricks for everything from packing to university life at the specific institution one is applying for. 

These resources led me to the most important step in my journey– the Gilman Federal Scholarship, which provides aid for students who receive the Pell Grant. I knew that the budget I had for studying abroad would be tight, even though I pay MSU tuition while abroad. This opportunity shaped what experiences I would have while abroad, and I am so thankful for this opportunity. 

The most decisive part of the Gilman Scholarship is the follow-on service project, where recipients promote this opportunity in their community. I decided to use my platform with the MSU Reporter and share my experiences with this column, something I planned to do regardless of receiving a scholarship. 

As I said, I’m thankful for this opportunity, and I hope that sharing my life abroad will encourage other students to consider education abroad themselves. There are countless scholarships and grants available beyond the Gilman Scholarship, and the study abroad office is always prepared to discuss someone’s options. 

Interested in studying abroad or away through MSU? Contact the Center for Global Engagement at located on the ground floor of Morris, or reach out to myself with questions about the Gilman Federal Scholarship for studying abroad.

Header photo: Spring weather in Belfast can’t make up its mind– alongside a beautiful sunset you might find snow or freezing rain, as I did before taking this picture on campus. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Tostrud)

Write to Alexandra Tostrud at

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