This is the first in a series of posts about “who-what-when-where-why-how to study abroad.” Today we’ll start with “why.”
So you’ve heard of this “study abroad” thing and you’re wondering what it’s all about, if it’s for you, and how it works. You’ve come to the right place, although I should warn you that I’m a bit biased in favor of study abroad. I studied in Prague, Czech Republic for a semester during my BA, then did a two-year MA degree program in Germany (for FREE, by the way, but we’ll get to that), then a one-year MS program at a business school in France. Let me tell you now, study abroad is pretty great. However, it is not without challenges and difficulties, and the whole idea can seem very daunting especially if you haven’t spent much time out of your home country. So let’s take it one step at a time! For this post I want to suggest a few reasons why you should seriously consider studying abroad. It’s not difficult to find lists of up to 100 reasons, but I’m going to narrow it down to the ones I find more significant.
INDEPENDENCE AND PERSONAL GROWTH
This is not an easy thing to do, and that’s kind of the point. As intimidating as living in a foreign country might seem, take a moment to imagine how you’ll feel at the end of the program as you’re preparing to come home. There is incredible power in knowing that you faced every difficulty and learned how to stand on your own two feet in a different culture, and had a lot of fun doing it! You’ll learn how to navigate a new environment (probably after getting lost a couple times, but you also learn that it’s okay to get lost), to be comfortable with new people, to deal with the unexpected more confidently, to simply be more comfortable in your skin. I truly believe there is no faster way to grow up than living abroad, outside your comfort zone. Later, when you consider how nervous you were at the beginning and how much fun and adventure you ended up having, no challenge or problem will seem as intimidating again. But don’t take it from me, if you look through the thousands of study abroad student reviews on Abroad101 it will only take you a minute or two to find students using phrases like “life changing” and “I learned to be independent” and “my confidence skyrocketed.” These students have earned the right to say to themselves: “I’ve been places, I’ve explored boldly, I have proven that I am brave and strong.” All it takes is jumping into the experience, and the confidence you gain is something no one will ever be able to take away from you.
There is a wide range of skills that you can learn faster and better being abroad. Language is the most obvious example, and you’ll find that six months of immersion in a language is equivalent to years of classroom study, if you approach it correctly. Other skills like writing and photography might suddenly blossom because everything around you is new and interesting, and the creative part of your brain will work overtime trying to capture the magic of your surroundings. There’s also the high potential of discovering passions you never knew you had by coming into contact with your host country’s sports, games, cuisine, fashion, history, landscape, etc. If you do get fascinated by something culturally specific like a Chinese martial art, or cricket in India, or French wine, or Spanish cooking, or Japanese flower arranging, then where better to develop your new skills than in the country that created it? You will very likely return home with abilities and interests you never knew existed. Not only does that bring joy to your life, but it makes you an interesting person who stands out from the crowd.
Broadening your horizons and perception of the world is kind of a skill in itself, but it stands alone as an extremely valuable reward of living abroad. Without seeing the real world beyond our own country with our own eyes, it is difficult or impossible to really grasp the complexity and diversity of our planet. The first few weeks abroad your mind will be working overtime to process everything that seems familiar but is so different, and everything that seems so strange but is actually quite logical. The result will be a much more tolerant, intelligent, and mindful approach to life, informed by a new understanding of how you impact the lives of others and how they impact you. The more you open yourself to new experiences and ideas, the more you’ll have the sensation of not being rooted to one small corner of the world, but of being a true citizen of the world. The freedom, excitement, and fascination that comes with this realization is truly life changing in all the best ways.
Job and College Applications
I suppose you can see where I’m going with this one. These days, whether you’re applying to universities or writing a cover letter for your dream job, the name of the game is to stand out and be exceptional. While everyone can talk about their maturity, determination, self-sufficiency, and willingness to try new things, no one can prove those things more easily than someone who made the choice to live in a foreign country. In 2014 the number of Americans studying abroad was less than 1.5% of the total number of students in higher education in the US. Anything that puts you in a category of the most confident and experienced 1.5% of students is probably going to benefit you greatly, sooner rather than later. This will make admissions departments and prospective employers sit up and take notice.
Fun and Memories
Let’s not forget, living abroad is an incredible experience that will fill your life with more adventurous stories and happy memories than many years in your comfort zone. Every day offers something new, you meet locals who enrich your life and like-minded internationals to share in your experience. Every person’s story is different, and that’s the beauty of it, but everyone agrees that it’s most satisfying and worthwhile experience imaginable. Again, look through the 28,000 student reviews on Abroad101, and while you’ll see a few that had more difficulties than they expected and left negative reviews, I challenge you to find one student who says they wish they had just stayed home. If you find one, then feel free to stay home as well, but otherwise it’s time to consider joining the thousands of study abroad alumni in embracing this life changing opportunity!
Next week I’ll discuss why Study Abroad is the best way to experience international living, and why sooner is better than later. To find a study abroad program that suits you please visit www.studyabroad101.com
– Caleb House
Caleb House grew up in Northern California and has lived in the Czech Republic, Japan, India, Tanzania, France, South Korea, Germany, and Côte d’Ivoire as a student, teacher, volunteer, backpacker, researcher, and school administrator. He holds an M.A. in Modern Global History from Jacobs University Bremen and an M.S. in International Management from the Burgundy School of Business. He recently married his French soulmate in her tiny village in the north of France, and the two currently find themselves in Washington D.C. He is preparing the launch of his website, HowToGoAbroad.com, and in the meantime can be contacted on his facebook page “How To Go Abroad” or on Twitter @HowToGoAbroad.