Advice from Alumni Nathaniel Powell
In my case, my study abroad experiences were probably the most important thing I did in college. I became reasonably fluent in French, met fantastic people in France and Senegal, and got to travel a lot. It also looked great on grad school applications. I went to Switzerland, and I'd strongly encourage other students to look at graduate school opportunities in Europe. In Switzerland, my tuition for my MA was 3000 USD per year, and I could work half-time as a student and live relatively comfortably on the salary. My situation was the norm there.
Europe in general is a pretty good place for Americans looking to do grad work. There are excellent schools and, for the most part (the UK is a major exception though), the tuition rates are either nonexistent or a fraction of comparable costs in the US. Most major European research universities have graduate-level instruction in English, so language shouldn't be a huge barrier to those who are concerned that they are not proficient enough in another language to do grad school somewhere else.
Also, no one should worry about degree compatibility. Since the Bologna reforms, an MA from Cologne or other major European university is as valid as an MA from anywhere in the US.
Because the situation for foreign students is so favorable in Switzerland, I stayed after my masters to work and to start a Ph.D, which I defended last month. Now I'm working for a few months in the DR Congo with a Norwegian NGO, and hope to jump back into academia in the next year or so.
Basically, after studying abroad in 2004/2005, I pretty much decided to make it last as long as possible. I'm pretty much still doing it!