I'm heading into my third year as an undergrad at a liberal arts college in the U.S. Thus, I'm starting to dig into the details of applying to grad school abroad. To be clear, I'm not interested in attending a U.S-based institution and then studying abroad; I'm looking to complete my entire degree at an institution in Europe. I currently study bioinformatics and would like my grad studies to support a career in translational medicine within biotech/pharma. In short, I'd like to analyze pre-clinical and clinical data to inform drug R&D, which typically requires a doctorate. I would welcome working in Europe after graduation, so I'm not concerned about coming back to the U.S. where a degree outside the U.S. may be perceived as inferior. Further, a lot of large biotech/pharma companies are multi-national, so there's the *potential* of working in Europe and then staying with the same company while transitioning back to the U.S. if those opportunities arise. (I don't know if anyone will pick at me for assuming that I could get into this type of a company, but I'm a non-traditional student who has already worked for a multinational pharma company. I know that doesn't guarantee me anything, especially employment in a foreign country!)
My first concern was the language barrier, but I learned that European schools run the gamut from programs completely instructed in English to programs completely instructed in other languages. I'm considering my two best options to be (1) a bilingual program that will allow me to submit work in my native language, English, and/or a second language (e.g. University of Geneva). (2) A program that is instructed in English for the first year and then a second language for the final three years (e.g. a masters and then doctoral degree at ETH Zurich). I briefly studied French, but am only fluent in English. I need to (immediately) narrow down schools that are a good fit, so I can choose a second language to study over the next two years; this alone won't offer fluency though. I would have to rely on my first year within the country to support fluency. I would prefer not to be in an exclusively English-instructed program, because I want to produce work that will be evaluated in a second language.
While I've been able to think through the language concern, there are other concerns that I'm struggling to start tackling: How much of a hassle are visas, work permits, and residence permits going to be? (I'm mainly looking at institutions in France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.) Will these institutions pay to fly me out for an interview/visit the way some American institutions do (at least in the sciences)? One of my biggest concerns is, should I travel to Europe and visit a few institutions over a couple of months before narrowing down where I choose to apply? I'm no trust fund baby, so that's going to eat up some of my savings, but it's technically doable. I'm just very concerned about narrowing down my choices based upon info garnered online, because I learned during my undergrad school search that some colleges and cities are much different than they seem online--for better or worse.
While considering a school's reputation, I've been told to concern myself with the people I'll be working with and the environment in which I'll live, because that's what will most influence my well-being. I guess I'm struggling to foresee how to best go about this along with the aforementioned technicalities when looking to study abroad. I do intend to apply to schools in the U.S. as well, but I want to do my research and see if going abroad is a viable option. I would appreciate any insight into my concerns as I haven't located anyone within my immediate academic environment who has navigated grad school outside of the U.S as a U.S. citizen. I'm sure there are other things I need to think about, but haven't listed.