In all honesty, you’ve probably read these reasons in various posts throughout The Study Abroad Blog (or on other sites I’ve guest posted on) before. That’s because after writing for 3 years, the blog has become its own list/encyclopedia/directory/bible of reasons why you should study abroad. Whether you’re looking for the benefits of an international education, you want to justify the cost of spending the year in another country, you need to convince yourself to take the leap across either pond, or you just want one of the best reads of your life, keep your eyes moving down the page for the top 10 reasons to study abroad.
Travel is probably the number 1 reason I went abroad, and I’m guessing it’s the same for many others out there. There is literally no better time in your life to travel than at age 21, when you’re poor enough, resilient enough, and crazy enough to enjoy traveling to the fullest.
Eat street meat, sleep in 18-person hostel rooms, clap when your Ryanair flight lands safely, have a drink in the Ice Bar on the beach in Barcelona, get lost in the middle of the night in Prague, and experience the world in a way most other people will never have the chance to.
Studying abroad is the ultimate platform for globe-trotting students. You have 3 months (more if you’re lucky) of essentially homework free time, you’re within a stone’s throw of dozens of countries, you can pull the student discount just about anywhere, and you have more energy than a can of Red Bull.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’d love to vacation at some the places I visited on my travels when I’m older and have a better paycheck (I’d much rather compare the cost of holidays to Greece when I’m 50 as opposed to 24); however, what will always be more important to me is what I took away from those days I spent trekking through the cities of Europe and Asia as a dirt poor college student.
Meeting new people and creating lasting friendships is not only a benefit of studying abroad, it’s pretty much essential. They’re your weekend travel companions, your late-night study buddy, the shoulder you cry on when you’re feeling homesick, and the people you keep in contact with and can call on for the rest of your life.
I wouldn’t have done half of what I did during my year abroad in Scotland without my friends – golfing on the Old Course, traveling all over Europe, enjoy St. Andrews student life. I wouldn’t even have been able to stay in China after my first semester if it hadn’t been for my best Chinese friend who let me crash on his couch for almost a month while apartment hunting, and for two of my best American friends who were there to help in almost every aspect of school and daily life.
As long as you’re open, you’ll be able to make friends with people from all over the world and all walks of life. Try not to shut anyone out or turn yourself off to meeting certain people, including other Americans. When it comes to study abroad friends, the more the merrier, regardless of where they’re from.
Being bi-lingual is a beautiful thing. Whether you’re doing it to improve chances of entry into college or graduate school, advance your career, enhance your travels, expand your arsenal of cliché pick-up lines, or just out of pure enjoyment, the benefits of learning a foreign language are enormous.
Can you learn a language back home by reading a book, taking a class, or using a language partner? Sure, but from someone who spent all of last year learning Chinese in Beijing, there’s no better way to really learn a language than by living and immersing yourself in the country in which it’s spoken.
There are certain aspects of a language which can only be learned through experience. How to interact in formal settings, typical slang usage among friends, and terms of respect and authority that are aspects which are only understood through constant exposure in everyday situations – exposure you can’t get in the U.S.
So yes, if your singular goal is to pass a test and get certificate saying you’ve reached a certain level, then by all means, keep studying a book. But if your goal is to really learn a language, to understand its ties with culture and history, and to embrace it as a native speaker would, you should study a foreign language while you’re abroad.
4. Learn In A New Environment/Take Different Classes
In my opinion, this is a sometimes overlooked yet totally legitimate reason to study abroad. Maybe a class that’s offered will help you get credit for your degree, or maybe you just really like the course offerings at a particular school that you can’t enroll in at home, but either way, going to school in a different country almost guarantees there will be a larger number of courses and course material that you won’t be able to experience at your University in the States.
While I was in Scotland I took Melanesian Anthropology, The Mongols and the West, Medieval Castles, and Anthropology: Regional Ethnography – none of which were offered at Holy Cross. Some people may say that those classes aren’t very practical and/or relevant, but they were some of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken, and you have no idea how many times I’ve been able to use my knowledge of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire in everyday situations.
You’ll also have the opportunity to learn in a setting completely different from what you’re used to. It could be that you’re being taught in a different language, that you’re learning on-site or in an outdoor classroom, or sitting in a lecture hall with 200 international students (which would probably only be exciting for those of use from smaller schools).
You may find that you learn more efficiently in a different atmosphere, you may respond well to a new style of teaching, and who knows, you may even find a certain course or subject that rekindles your desire to learn.
Traveling abroad doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have a problem with the U.S., or that our country is lacking in some way. In fact, traveling will probably give you a better appreciation of where you’re from.
After traveling a decent part of Europe while I was studying abroad, I realized that while I was fortunate enough to see things like the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum, I really hadn’t made much of an effort to explore my own backyard. When I came back to the States, one of my goals was to actually explore and learn about the state and country that I was proud to be from.
My time in China has been an even greater eye-opener. In one case, while riding the train to Shanghai a woman next to us wanted to see our passports, then asked what the different symbols and landmarks were which were printed on the front few pages. We were a little embarrassed when we couldn’t identify all of them, even after putting all 3 of our heads together.
But even more so, living and studying in Beijing for the last year has made me appreciate many of the opportunities and liberties that I may have previously taken for granted – things like access to information, the ability to go on just about any website I please, and the opportunity to choose who leads my country (no matter how small my say may be).
6. Gain Work Skills
In many cases, studying abroad affords you the opportunity to participate in some form of part-time work or an internship. Although you might not want to live abroad for your entire life, a year interning or working abroad will help you grow both as a person and as a professional. As our world becomes more globalized, one of the best ways to set yourself apart is by having international work or study experience.
You’ll develop necessary personal qualities as well as sought after professional skills like the ability to work in a more stressful international environment, understanding how business is conducted in different countries, and how to act professionally with people from other cultures. This way, you’ll be much more prepared to apply for that dream job when you do find out what it is.
You’ll become a much worldlier person, and you’ll have something most other people can’t put on their resume – cultural capital. In a time when the job offerings are slim and applicant resumes all look alike, studying abroad is something that can set you apart from the rest.
This is why I often write that the bulk of what you learn while studying abroad doesn’t come from the classroom. For many students, this is the first time you’ll be living without the ability to depend on your parents for help whenever a difficult situation or decision comes up. And this is where a lot of intangible skills will come from.
Independence, time management, organization, social skills, self confidence; they’ll all develop exponentially while you’re abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I could never have stayed abroad for this long without the help of my parents, but I also wouldn’t have been able to do it had I not developed physically, mentally/ socially, and academically on my own.
8. See The World From A New Perspective
I like watching the news just as much as the next guy. But if we all really thought about it, most of what we see on the news is pretty depressing. And you know what? I don’t blame the news stations. Negative stories gain more attention because we as consumers seem to be more interested in them – myself included.
It’s not to say that what you’ve learned from textbooks or the nightly news isn’t true, but studying abroad, gives you the opportunity to discover your own news, and develop your own opinions based on things you’ve actually seen, experiences in places you’ve actually been, and the thoughts of people you’ve actually met.
The greater the perspective you have on life, the more educated your opinions and decisions become. When living abroad for more than a few weeks, you’re introduced to new perspectives on current affairs and global issues, you come to appreciate the importance of difference, and you develop the ability to make better, more well-informed decisions on your own.
It’s hard to know what you want to do in this world if you’ve never seen it – this is a personal philosophy that I discovered after returning to the states from my year studying abroad in Scotland. Previous to that year, I had lived under the assumption that I should always know exactly what I want to do and exactly what direction I needed to go in life – even though I really had no clue.
As a matter of fact, during my sophomore year, I was so afraid of falling behind and not getting a high paying job when I graduated college that I was applying for internships and jobs that in actuality I really didn’t want.
While both the UK and the rest of Europe are pretty Western, the mere act of getting outside of the U.S. for a year opened my eyes to different cultures, different people, and different ways of life. In the end, I discovered a whole new “world” of opportunities, and I’m glad I can still take advantage of these opportunities because I didn’t by making a rash decision during my senior year of college.
10. Live The Dream
I didn’t have an “About” page when I first started writing the Study Abroad Blog, I had a text box in my sidebar that read ” Travel, see new places, meet people from all over the world, experience new cultures, and yes, take some classes and learn stuff. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you want to study abroad, it will all eventually apply to you. You only get one chance to do this, let’s make the most of it”.
That statement holds just as true now as it did 3 years ago. While your friends are at home sitting in the same old classrooms with their noses buried in the same old text books (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you’re fortunate enough to be experiencing the world. At age 21 (or somewhere around there) you’re going to do and see more in one year than many people will in a lifetime.