This is the second in a series of posts about “who-what-when-where-why-how to study abroad.” This post will continue the question “Why Study Abroad?” In the previous post you may have noticed that most of the arguments for studying abroad apply to living abroad in any capacity, as a student, teacher, volunteer, or businessman abroad. So this post is targeted at students who find the idea of living abroad appealing, but are considering finishing their education first and finding a way to go abroad after their studies. While that’s a perfectly reasonable option, I think that if you have the opportunity to go abroad as a student then you should seize it. Why? Read on!
LEARN TO SWIM BEFORE JUMPING OFF THE BOAT
Study abroad is to life abroad as university is to “real life.” It’s designed to be a transition that guides and prepares you while maintaining a security net to protect you from the harder falls. In short, it offers nearly all of the benefits of living abroad while excluding the more annoying difficulties. This is because there will be at least two and possibly three entire offices of professionals (your original school, the school abroad, and often a third study abroad “provider” that organizes the exchange) dedicated to making the experience as smooth and rewarding as possible. There is no other opportunity to live abroad that will offer you that kind of support. This means that some of the most frustrating elements of living abroad (finding a place to live, getting through visa bureaucracy, learning how to get around, paying bills correctly, even going to the post office!) will all be made much easier for you, if not taken care of entirely!
In most cases, you’ll have a much better start socially as well. Living in a foreign country can be a very lonely experience even for the most outgoing people. While study abroad programs vary widely according to whether you spend most of your time with locals, other internationals, or students from your own country, in almost all cases you are immediately introduced into a social group that you’ll spend a lot of time with and you’ll have a lot of social opportunities from the beginning. Very few other opportunities abroad offer this kind of “ready to wear” social environment. This is critical, because in my experience living in nine different countries, what makes or breaks the experience is the friends you do or do not make.
CLEAR VALUE, NO QUESTIONS ASKED
Finally, there’s the long-term structural benefit of studying abroad. You won’t need to take “time out” from your long-term goals to experience life abroad, and soaking up a foreign culture and language while taking your necessary classes is like catching two fish with one net! It’s also easier to explain that fact to others, like parents, university admissions departments, and prospective employers. Whether it’s the only time you’ll live in a foreign country or the beginning of an international life, study abroad translates onto résumés and application letter better than any other experience abroad (with the possible exception of something prestigious, like the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders). Teaching in Korea, or volunteering in Tanzania, or backpacking across India, as wonderful as the experiences are, need to be explained and carefully translated so that the gate-keepers of your next life-step understand how the experience made you more valuable to them as an employee or student. Depending on the person you’re trying to convince, it’s not always easy. Study abroad, however, is a universally accepted concept that everyone understands (or thinks they do), and it is always seen positively.
PLUS EVERYTHING ELSE!
Of course, these are the advantages to studying abroad compared to other foreign opportunities, and study abroad comes with all the rewards discussed in earlier posts that apply to living abroad in any capacity. The adventure, increased independence and tolerance, foreign language experience, the revolutionized worldview, the way it enriches your passion for the world and makes you a more interesting person, and the excitement of stepping out of your comfort zone and really “living life,” these are all benefits of living abroad, and no less so for study abroad! So if living abroad is on your bucket list, there’s no time like the present!
Next week I’ll discuss who should study abroad, and how to know if you’re “ready.” 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 community page, “How To Go Abroad,” or on Twitter: @HowToGoAbroad.