So you want to see the world, and you’re enticed by all the short-term programs out there. A few weeks in Sweden, a stop in Germany, and a long weekend in Belgium. Sounds like a good deal: you get to see lots of places in a short amount of time, right? Well, it’s a good start, but I’d like to propose a deeper adventure. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on some life-changing opportunities. As someone who spent a year studying at a university in Toulouse, France, I can tell you from firsthand experience what you will gain if you decide to go the distance and chose an immersion program:
Make Lasting Friendships
Relationships take time to cultivate. You may begin to make friends on a summer program, but if you stay for a year, you’ll have a chance to make lasting friendships not only with other study abroad students, but also students from the host country. Doing class projects with French students and living in a student residence gave me the opportunity to meet American, international and French students with whom I studied, cooked meals and even went to Barcelona and Dublin. Who knows, you could even develop a romantic connection that inspires you to stay for even longer!
Cultivate a Deeper Understanding of the Language
What if you accidentally told your host family that you were pregnant when you meant to say you were full? Well, spending longer in your destination will sharpen your language skills to the point where you won’t be making silly mistakes like that anymore. Going to class everyday, speaking to classmates, neighbors, and your local grocery clerk will put you on the fast track to fluency. Your improved language ability will improve your grades, communication skills, and make you more qualified for jobs that list bilingual as an asset or requirement.
Really Get to Know the Culture
How many kisses do you give when greeting someone in Normandy? (4!) When do you use informal and formal parts of speech? Which words are OK to shorten? Which fingers do you hold up when you mean 2? While some of this can be learned beforehand, most cultural competency is learned by repetitive practice. If you’re only in a place for a few weeks, how will you get to know its people and customs? Long-term programs give participants the opportunity to become aware of stereotypes and biases they may have subconsciously been subscribing to before living in the country. You will also learn about beliefs held by host country natives about Americans! By developing a deeper understanding of the host culture, you will be able to communicate better with people from all countries because you will learn how to put your “American” beliefs aside in order to really understand where someone else is coming from. This skill comes in very handy for networking, international business, and simply communicating with people different from ourselves.
Make Progress Towards your Degree
I was a French major, so for me it was easy to find classes that counted towards my major in France. However, you can make progress towards your major, minor or general requirements while studying abroad. If you plan carefully ahead of time by making sure the host university offers the kinds of classes you want (biology in Australia, literature in England, computer science in Chile, fashion in Rome, etc.) you can stay on track for graduation or even get ahead! Talk to your department chair and study abroad advisor for more information. In addition to meeting graduation requirements, study abroad (especially long-term programs) looks impressive on a resume or grad school application and can help you stand out in a crowd.
Learn about Yourself
Aside from the practical reasons listed above, living in another country enriches your life personally as well. How do I set up electricity in my apartment? Open a bank account? Plan a trip to Argentina? Where do I go if I get sick? You learn your limits, become more independent and open-minded, develop resiliency and the ability to cope with difficult situations. Instead of someone planning everything for you and telling you where to go and what to do, you are in charge. Because of this, the victory of solving a problem such as finding an apartment or even finding your way home is that much more satisfying. Once you’ve accomplished the challenge of really living abroad, you have some bigger questions to answer: Do I want to come back and live here? Will I inspire others to take on the challenge? Where will I go next?
My study abroad program affected me so profoundly that I ended up working at my university’s study abroad office for three years. I then lived in Paris during my graduate studies and again while writing a book about my study abroad experience: Pas Possible: Falling in and out of Love with France, available on Amazon. I invite you to read the book if you’re curious about what it’s like do an immersion program, live in France, or both. Still not sure? Go out there and see for yourself!
Read Jessica’s study abroad review on Abroad101.com
Guest article by:
M.A. French Studies NYU