A Look at Study Abroad and Your Student Experience
As an avid traveler I’ll disclose now that I know I’m biased in saying this but… studying abroad will elevate your college experience. As an undergrad studying abroad was on my to-do list. Unfortunately, I let my fear hold me in place. I regretted that decision until grad school, where I was lucky enough to be presented with a redo: a week in Ireland. I went as a part of my school’s rehabilitation counseling course. While there I learned about differences between Irish-American and Irish traditions. I learned that Shepard’s Pie is not a traditional Irish meal, and that Irishmen really do love to sing and drink their Guinness. Unfortunately, I did not meet Ed Sheeran or find the love of my life like in P.S. I Love You, but I was able to accomplish so much more. That experience further elevated my love for travel and allowed me to add a priceless experience to my higher education.
However, there are obviously reasons as to why it took me 2 degrees to tick off a much-anticipated educational experience. So I thought it might be helpful to unpack a few of those for anyone else who might find themselves in similar situations.
Roadblock # 1: Studying Abroad is WAY TOO EXPENSIVE
For some the idea of studying abroad isn’t a financially smart idea. While it is true that studying abroad isn’t free, Jesse Ford, Director of Study Abroad says that studying abroad is comparable to living on campus for a semester. This is due in part to students retaining their scholarships even while abroad. So, depending on how the numbers fall a student could even receive a discount to study and live in a new country. When you think of it that way, the price tag seems more reasonable. For students who’s financial aid package is not heavy on scholarships there are also online scholarships websites such as fastweb or Mach25. Not can you receive month for housing, but you’re also allowed to explore outside your comfort zone, socially and educationally, in a safe environment (we’ll talk more about safety later). Moral of the story is, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Roadblock #2: Your Study Abroad Course Has to be Program Related
In undergrad I always told myself that studying abroad wasn’t for me because I couldn’t find a program related to my psychology major. I saw a lot of my friends traveling to destinations like Spain and Thailand but couldn’t figure out how it fit into their college plan. This mindset even kept me from going into the Study Abroad Office to ask for guidance. In hindsight, I should have asked advice from my school’s study abroad advisors, people who have years of experience helping students fit their dreams of studying abroad into the realities of their academic requirements. If I had done that, I probably would have been told that studying abroad was a great use of my free electives.
Instead of taking a foreign language course, I could have learned the language by immersing myself and speaking with native speakers for a semester. Instead of taking an art history class in the states, I could have visited museums to see famous works of art on my weekends off. Now that I work in the Registrar’s Office, this idea makes even more sense to me. Students often stop by my office and question the purpose of free electives. Can you think of a better reason for them than to see the world and experience a new culture?
Myth #3: Traveling Abroad is Scary/Dangerous/Stressful
Traveling abroad can be very scary, this is true. However, any new experience can be characterized as scary. However, what’s great about studying abroad is that you are not alone. You will be studying with a group of students and faculty, and whether they are also experiencing this for the first time are or have already traveled abroad; they are there for you to lean on. That’s part of the beauty of travel- you’re constantly creating external bonds while also strengthening your inner-self. Once you’re acclimated to living in a different country you’ll be surprised at how what once scared you now seems commonplace.
As far as traveling being dangerous, as long as you’re practicing safe travel, being abroad is no more dangerous than studying in the states. Colleges and universities create programs where safety is of top priority and your study abroad advisor wouldn’t promote a program or country that they thought was unsafe. Finally, for those stress-prone individuals who still want to experience wanderlust, preparation is key. Do your research, create a plan, and ask for advice from those who have studied abroad in the past. The more you know, the less stress you’ll feel.
Myth #4: I’m Going to Miss So Much While I’m Gone
Another very true statement. You will miss a lot while you’re gone but imagine what you’ll gain. You’ll gain a new sense of self. A sense of strength from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone; a new sense of accomplishment from doing something you were so scared of at first; and a new sense of wonder because you have now seen the world on a larger scale. When you return, the personal growth you’ve experienced and the memories you’ve made will outweigh the parties you missed, the pictures you’re not in, and the inside jokes that you don’t understand.
I hope that this has shed some light on what studying abroad is really like. The process can be unnerving at times, but with research and preparation it’s definitely possible. You don’t have to have an infinite amount of money to travel, you just need to know how to utilize the resources around you. Also, don’t limit your study abroad options based on specific courses. Get creative and provide yourself with the most memorable free electives possible. And if by chance I still haven’t convinced you that your roadblocks are only minor issues that can be sorted out, read this post from popular Study Abroad Company, Go Overseas, for more information.
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