In the past few decades, studying abroad has become a lot more common. Now, most colleges and universities offer a variety of study abroad experiences ranging from short-term to quarter-long to meet the demand. But is it really worth it?
In my opinion, it is. Living in a different country is a unique learning experience, not only because you learn about the world in a different way than in a classroom setting, but also because you’ll get to know yourself better. Being in a culture different from the one you grew up in requires open-mindedness, independence and self-awareness. Many people are going to have different values and different ideas of what’s “normal,” and being confronted with these is going to make you critically analyze your own values and motivations, not to mention the society you come from. That’s why so many people say that living abroad is great for personal development.
That’s not the only benefit, though. Studying abroad will mean that you get to try various opportunities such as volunteer work, jobs and classes that may be inspiring in terms of major or career. Maybe you find out that you would like to major in the language you were there to study and later work as a language teacher.
Of course, there are other reasons to travel apart from personal development. Many students choose to study abroad to improve their language skills. Most language teachers tend to stress immersion as one of the most important parts of language acquisition, and there’s a reason why. When forced to speak a different language, you are also forced to improve to be able to communicate effectively. Practical experience is critical to becoming fluent in a language, and there’s no experience more practical than everyday use.
There is also a chance to learn first-hand about the culture of the country where the language is spoken. With today’s globalization, it’s essential to have an understanding of the importance of cultural differences, because most societies have become multicultural. Being introduced to different mentalities is great for broadening one’s perspective and understanding how to work with people from different cultures.
Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that the vast majority of employers prefer people who have studied abroad exactly because of this understanding – presumably, they will be more open-minded and better at working with people from various cultures. Also, most people seem to assume that if you’ve studied abroad you must be independent, used to solving problems, able to take initiative, and possibly be more or less fluent in another language, depending on where you studied. All of those traits are appreciated by most employers, so it’s no wonder that studying abroad is considered a great addition to a resume. If that’s not enough, studies have also shown that graduates who have studied abroad will generally stay unemployed for a shorter period than graduates who did not.
That’s not to say that studying abroad is only a positive experience. Culture shock, the shock at being confronted with a culture that’s completely different from your own, and homesickness can be difficult obstacles to overcome. If you’re not quite able to have a conversation in the local language, it can be hard to communicate. Depending on where you are, there may be differences in language, education system and norms that can take time to adjust to. However, no one can stay inside their comfort zones their entire life. While all the obstacles in living abroad may seem overwhelming at first, it’s a great way to learn how to handle unknown situations, and having had that experience early on is a huge advantage. Besides, mostly it’s a matter of adaption. After a while, the new culture will seem familiar.
There are challenges to studying abroad, but in my experience the benefits far outweigh the negative parts. It’s a unique opportunity to broaden your perspective and critically analyze what you used to perceive as normal, and after all, isn’t that what being a student is about?