If you’ve spent any time poking around my blog, you might know that my love of travel was fostered early in life by family vacations, but really took hold when I studied abroad. As with any major life decision, there are lots of pros and cons to studying abroad – and it’s not right for everyone – but I still encourage everyone who asks to give it a chance.
While I intended for this post to be short and sweet, it turns out I had a lot more to say than I realized (what’s new?), so I’ve broken my pros and cons list into two posts. Today let’s just start with the positive and tomorrow I’ll be back with the cons.
- You can experience something new while maintaining a safety net. I studied in Oxford, England and I really wasn’t anticipating it being drastically different than my life in Sacramento, California. I mean, the UK and the US are both Western countries. They both have similar social customs. They both speak English for crying out loud. Yeah. Silly me. There was still enough culture shock to jar me for the first few weeks. But the great thing is that I wasn’t completely alone. I had a study abroad advisor at the university in Oxford, who I had been working with since I started the application process. She was a great resource in the more overwhelming moments at the start of the semester. I also had several students who came from my same university back home. So while we didn’t know each other before we arrived over the pond, we had some common ground and were all going through the same adjustment. And if for some reason you absolutely hate being abroad, you only need to survive one semester before life is back to normal.
- Studying Abroad is a great balance between uprooting your life for long-term travel and not postponing your educational goals. You’re there to study, after all, so you’re not putting your whole life on hold to have this experience in another country. (I graduated with my Bachelors of Arts in three years, including my time abroad, so it certainly can be done.) But there is also plenty of time to get out and see new things. While I was abroad I took long weekend trips to France, Scotland, Poland, Greece, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. The train/plane/bus is a great place to do your assigned reading for the week! Or sleep. More often than not I was asleep.
- Gain a new perspective in the classroom. Learning is approached completely differently in different countries and I personally saw a huge benefit in this. My classes in England were much more driven by student discussion than by a professor’s lecture. This was incredibly successful for literature courses where the whole point is to consider different motives of the writer and themes and symbols that were used in the text and the possible interpretations of those. It definitely changed my perspective and the way I approached my final semester when I arrived back home.
- You can tailor your experience to your interests. England was my first choice for a handful of reasons: literature, history, rain. Oh, yeah, and they speak English. But if that’s not quite your cup of tea (ah, see what I did there?), there are plenty of other countries that have great study abroad programs. My university had programs in nearly a dozen different countries. Speak another language or plan on going into international relations or maybe you want to learn more about your heritage? There’s bound to be a program that’s a great fit for you. Maybe you study in Spain or France or Thailand.
- What other trip can be funded by financial aid and scholarships? While the cost can be a big drawback to studying abroad (it pops up on my “cons” list too), most universities have a great financial aid system set up for students studying abroad, because they really want to encourage you to spread your wings and see the world. When I studying in Oxford, I paid tuition to my home university – meaning I paid about half of what the British students were paying for the same classes. That was the biggest money saver for me, but there were also plenty of scholarships available both through my home university and private organizations. Also, if you get financial aid from the government (honestly, I’m a little hazy here, because I never qualified), you can put this toward your semester abroad as well. Several of the girls who came from my home university did this and had no issues with the process.
- Studying abroad is an unparalleled opportunity for networking. Today’s world is very much smaller than it used to be, because everything and everyone is connected in so many ways. A global economy. The digital age. Technology and scientific advancement. Every advancement that is made makes the world a little bit of a tighter knit place and networking has become the key to success is so many industries. The connections you make with your classmates could be lifelong friendships that you can really draw on in the future. I have now have friends not only in England, but also from across the US, Turkey, Norway, and Spain (I wasn’t the only one studying abroad). And even if these new friendships don’t lead to some stellar career opportunity, maybe you’ll have a place to crash the next time you’re on that side of the world!
I could go on and on (and on) about all the benefits of studying abroad, but these are the ones that really swayed my decision to hop across the pond and make me so glad that I did when I look back on the experience. And while I am absolutely an advocate of studying abroad, I know it isn’t perfect for everyone. Be sure to check back in to see my study abroad cons list and find out if going abroad is the right choice for you!