As more and more colleges and universities are offering study abroad programs, spending a year, a semester, or a summer abroad is attracting many college students. Many college students come back from their time abroad describing it as one of their most memorable and life-changing experiences. If you’re evaluating whether studying abroad is the right option for you, consider some thoughts below and see how you can find out more.
- Your Worldview Defines Your Life. The opportunity to experience a new culture is one that should rarely, if ever, be passed up. This is because your life and your worldview are directly co-related.
Your worldview determines what you like, what you like determines what you aspire to, and what you aspire to leads to what you get and how you live. The best way to expand your worldview is to expose yourself to other cultures, living in them for periods of time, letting them seep in slowly. Understanding the people, cuisine, fashion, language, customs, and beliefs of a new culture will enrich your perspective and your life and give you a more nuanced understanding of the workings of the world and your place in it. Sandra Giraldo, a student from Colombia studying abroad in the United States, says, “[Studying abroad] teaches you to be more open and not think inside a box, and not think that things are always the way you’re used to.”
- Immersion into a New Language. Lauren Meyer, an American student who studied abroad in France, says, “I knew I wanted to go to France because I wanted to speak French. For me that was a major part of the experience that I wanted to have the opportunity to do.” If your goal is learning a foreign language or deepening your fluency of it, talking with locals, buying groceries, hailing a taxi, and watching TV in a foreign language is a big help. You begin to pick up slang, humor, and idiomatic expressions, which give you even more insight into the culture. Not only does learning a new language allow you to communicate with more people, it also builds more neural connections in your brain, which plays an important role in preventing cognitive decline.
- Making New Friends. Sure, you might miss your friends back home while you’re studying abroad, but our current technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch, and your friends will still be there when you get back.
As Giraldo says, “Yes, I miss my family and my food, but I don’t consider that a con because I chose to be here.” On the other hand, studying abroad will allow you to meet new people whom you wouldn’t have been able to meet back at home. That said, if you are studying abroad as part of a college program, you have the opportunity to build stronger relationships with your classmates who are also taking part in the program. These may be students from your home university with whom you wouldn’t have interacted had it not been for studying abroad together. James Bradley, an American who studied abroad in Austria, says of his experience, “When you’re traveling to another country where you don’t know anyone or anything, you have [your classmates] to support you, and you create solidarity.” People often say those friendships formed abroad, whether with locals or with other foreigners, last a lifetime.
- Safety of a College. If you’re moving to a new country on your own, you have to deal with the stress of finding a job, finding a place to live, and finding an immigration status to go with it. When you study abroad as part of a college program, you don’t have to worry about visas, accommodations, or jobs in the same way, as many of the logistics will be taken care of for you by your college or university. Going abroad as part of a program allows you all of the benefits of living abroad without overwhelming you with all the details you’d otherwise have to figure out on your own.
- Greater Graduate School and Career Prospects.
Graduate admissions committees and potential employers love to see study abroad experience, as it demonstrates your willingness to go outside your comfort zone, your open-mindedness, and your understanding of different cultures and languages, all of which are important assets in the next generation of scholars and professionals. Your time abroad could literally be the ticket to the graduate admission or employment you seek.
- Finding More in Yourself. Studying abroad forces you out of our comfort zone.
When you throw yourself into a new environment, you have no choice but to adapt. This adaptation response is the key to personal growth. Studying abroad gives you the chance to test and improve yourself to handle new and unexpected situations, enhancing your self-confidence and self-efficacy. Giraldo says, “Being away from my parents has made me more independent in school.” You will discover aspects of yourself that you may not have otherwise encountered had you just stayed at home.
- Improved Grades. As we mentioned in a previous blog, research conducted at the University of Georgia found that college students who study abroad demonstrate improved academic performance and higher graduation rates compared to students who did not. So if you have the chance to improve your academics and have fun while doing it, why not take it?
- Having Another Place to Call Home. Some people become so enamored with their new life that it’s difficult to return home. But when you return to your home university after a study abroad program, you’re not losing a home, but rather gaining a home. If your study abroad experience was so positive that you can see yourself staying in the new country for a longer time and perhaps even building a life there, you can always go back. This is exactly what Ashley Goldstein did. Goldstein is an American who studied abroad in Israel and currently splits her time between Israel and the United States.
She says of her experience in Tzfat and Tel Aviv, “Tzfat is my home…[Israel] is a huge part of who I am, and Tel Aviv isn’t vacation. It’s home.” She continues, “Obviously I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go back and become a citizen.”
- Life-Changing Memories and Experiences. All of the above contribute to making studying abroad the experience of a lifetime and give you unforgettable memories and experiences that enrich all areas of your life.
CAUTION: As incredible as the study abroad experience sounds or seems, it is important to keep in mind that it is not for everyone. As Meyer reminds anyone who is considering studying abroad, “It’s not just a four-month vacation. You need to have the right mindset going into it.” Studying abroad is a major undertaking and you need to make sure that you are financially, socially, and emotionally ready for the experience. Bradley says, “It’s easy to make travel mistakes. It’s really hard not being from somewhere to know the best places to stay, the best places to eat…you learn by being in it, living it, experiencing it.” In other words, there’s no way to really prepare for the study abroad experience—you have to be okay just diving in, making mistakes, and learning as you go. Furthermore, certain majors, for example pre-med, have required classes that might only be offered at your home university, so it’s important to make sure that studying abroad won’t take you off track towards graduation. Talk to your college counselor if you are unsure.
HELP IS AT HAND:
To gain more insights about the studying abroad experience, join Konversai and connect with someone who is similarly placed and whose experience you can trust. Konversai is the world’s first video conversation platform for anything you want to learn (no matter how obvious or obscure) and anything you wish to share with others (for money or for free). Konversai enables conversations between anyone, anywhere, about anything. The only limit is your imagination! Whatever it is you might need to help you make a decision or prepare for the experience, you can find someone on Konversai who can help. Check it out—you won’t regret it!