Study Abroad: What Are You Waiting For?
I’VE HEARD IT all before: “I don’t have enough time,” “It’s too much work to plan,” “It costs too much money,” “I don’t see what benefit it will have on my life.”
As an alumnus of multiple study abroad programs, I’m passionate about helping others take the big international leap. But it seems no matter what I say, no matter how much I assuage fears and offer sound advice, some students are still not convinced.
There’s always something (real or imagined) holding them back from what most former study abroad students will say was the best thing they’ve ever done.
Not one to be easily discouraged, I’m giving it a final shot: If you’re one of those students who still hasn’t gotten up enough gumption to give it a go, here are five reasons why you must, finally, once and for all, say “yes” to study abroad.
1. Someone will plan the trip for you.
Planning is a huge component of international travel. You have to think about visas, plane tickets, lodging, on-the-ground logistics, and creating an itinerary. But when you study abroad through a university or study abroad agency, many of these details are taken care of for you.
When I went to France in 2001, my university’s international education office organized nearly everything, from my visa application to sightseeing weekends. We still had plenty of time for independent activities, but many of the big-picture details were already arranged. Take advantage of it now; traveling abroad will never be this easy again.
2. Funding is readily available.
Worried about the cost of study abroad? Don’t be. Not only are good, federally funded student loans available if you need them, but many abroad programs don’t cost any more than studying at your home university. For the same price you pay to spend a semester in the U.S., you could spend a semester overseas.
A few things might cost extra, such as the plane ticket and any spending money you wish to have on hand, but this money can easily be obtained through a summer job or loans. I’ve never regretted a single dime I spent to study abroad, and neither will you.
3. It’s all about you.
No one returns from a long-term overseas trip as the same person they were before. It’s impossible to not have been so deeply affected by the things you’ve done, seen, accomplished and overcome that it transforms your entire being.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say you’ll learn more about yourself in one semester than you did during the entire length of your pre-study abroad existence. Many students who complete trips abroad find that they are more confident, more self-aware, more independent, and a heck of a lot more knowledgeable once it’s done.
They also have a lot of interesting things to talk about at dinner parties. The new you might take any number of forms, but I guarantee you’ll be pleased with the results.
4. You’ll avoid regrets.
As a student worker for my university’s alumni office, I made regular phone calls to former students. Mostly this was to ask for donations, but we would inevitably spend time chatting about their experiences as a student. The most frequent comment my colleagues and I heard was “I wish I had studied abroad.”
The number of alumni who held this regret about their time in school was staggering. They had let the opportunity pass them by (often for no good reason) and now can only listen as their friends from college rave about their semesters abroad. A visit to your school’s study abroad office is all it takes.
5. Studying abroad is fun.
There’s a dirty little secret: your university doesn’t want you to know about studying abroad. Don’t tell them I told you, but in general, your academic load will be much lighter overseas than it is here at home. Everything depends on where you go and what you study, but you will probably have less homework, fewer commitments, and possibly even less class time.
Your newfound freedom leaves plenty of time for exploring, traveling to nearby countries, mingling with attractive locals, and – if you’re an American who’s under 21 – taking advantage of the much lower legal drinking ages that exist in foreign countries.
There are a lot of things your school doesn’t show you in the official trip pamphlet. Trust me when I say you don’t want to miss them.
Still need some financial planning help for studying abroad? Check out Evan Miller’s article “How to Get Your School to Pay for Your Travel.”
Share your study abroad experiences–or regrets– in the comments section below!