Why Study Abroad: 8 Clear Reasons to Study Abroad

Why Study Abroad?

Photo by: Kathryn Vajda, Córdoba Spanish Studies Spring Semester 2018

Why Study Abroad: 8 Clear Reasons to Study Abroad

Is studying abroad worth it?

Studying abroad outside the US can be a rewarding experience with many advantages. These include workplace-readiness, language skills, personal growth, new friendships, and more!

Study abroad benefits every student in hundreds of ways — and no, it’s not getting that perfect Insta-worthy image in front of the Eiffel Tower! We’ll share all the great reasons to study abroad and why it’s a valuable investment — not just for your personal development, but your career as well.

Plus, when else will you have the opportunity to live in another country for an extended period?!

Why should I study abroad?

Common question
Rutgers University Students On A Service Trip To San Juan, Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

Students on a service trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Rutgers University Students, Puerto Rico

Students on a service trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Rutgers University Students, Puerto Rico

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

Learning a new language

The American POV

Some native English-speakers don’t see the importance of learning another language. Isn’t English supposed to be the universal language? Yes and no. English is significant, but if you look at the numbers, Mandarin is the most widely spoken in the world.

Also, did you know that the United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, only behind Mexico? In 2015 the US surpassed Spain with the number of native Spanish speakers (41 million). Also, the US Census reports that there are over 350 languages spoken in American households – wow!

Wherever you end up working after graduation, you’re likely to meet people in your job who speak another language, be it in business, healthcare, law, or education. 

Whether you are studying a language or not, going abroad will give you the clear advantages of full-immersion. An immersive experience can help you with the essential elements of a foreign language (if you’re a beginner). Or it can give you the tools you need to converse fluently (if you’re more advanced). 

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela
Alc Fall 2018 First Place Winner Of Spanish Only Contest Robert Fox (berry College)

Robert Fox (Berry College) winning the “Spanish only policy” award in Alicante, Spain (Fall 2018)

How to get the most from your immersion experience

Here are some ways you can make the most of your study abroad by diving into the language:

Homestays

Live with a local family in a homestay for complete linguistic and cultural immersion

Volunteer Work

Take part in volunteer work while overseas and contribute to the local community

Language Exchanges

Make use of local speaking partners (intercambios) and practice talking with a local who wants to learn English

Sports Teams

Join a sports team or club at your local university

Cor Spring 2019 Sydney Jameson With Field Hockey Teammates

Sydney Jameson (Houghton College) with her field hockey teammates in Córdoba, Argentina (Spring, 2019)

And when you return home and want to practice the language, there are plenty of opportunities! Don’t forget; there are over 577 million Spanish speakers worldwide. That’s a lot of potential practice partners!  

Experience a different culture

Beyond the perks of learning a second language, cultural exchange is just as important.

According to Monash University (Melbourne, Australia), intercultural competence is “the ability to function effectively across cultures, to think and act appropriately, and to communicate and work with people from different cultural backgrounds – at home or abroad.”

Further, they explain, “Intercultural competence is a valuable asset in an increasingly globalized world where we are more likely to interact with people from different cultures and countries who have been shaped by different values, beliefs, and experiences.”

Studying abroad gives you firsthand experience in a culture outside of your own. Besides living with a host family, here are some things to look for when choosing a study abroad experience:

Direct enrollment in universities

Students with an advanced language level could take classes alongside local university students. You can improve your language fluency thanks to unique immersion experiences. Plus, you’ll have exposure to practice with native speakers.  

Coursework on the local culture

Look for programs that offer a culture course for your specific host country. It will help you gain a better understanding of the local community, host city, and country as a whole. This context can help you adapt to your new surroundings and ease feelings of culture shock or homesickness. 

Cultural activities

Look for activities outside of the classroom that will help you build new skills and meet others while learning about the local culture. For example, take a surf lesson in Australia or try a cooking class in Thailand. Some study abroad alumni in Spain even learn how to dance flamenco. Get outside your comfort zone and explore!

Students Showing Off The Dance Moves They Learned During Their Semester In Seville

Students showing off the dance moves they learned

A Semester In Seville

Students Showing Off The Dance Moves They Learned

A Semester In Seville

An international education

Developing a new perspective

Studying abroad is an immersive experience both inside and outside the classroom with many benefits. You’ll experience another country’s education system. And you’ll see firsthand how higher education works outside of the US context.

Studying outside the US can help you understand that not everyone sees things the same way. Without traveling abroad, it’s hard to appreciate that our perceptions of the world are primarily from a US point of view. For example, how we are taught US history is entirely different from how it’s taught in say France, Spain, or the UK and may reveal a very different point of view.

Meet people from around the world

Additionally, you might be in a university setting with students from all over the world.

Students at the University of Alicante might have classmates from Japan, Russia, Italy, or Brazil. Talk about an international experience!

When selecting a program, take a moment to think beyond what classes will work for your major or minor. Consider what would be interesting to learn about while you are abroad. 

If you’re a science major, you may want to take your biology and chemistry classes abroad. Consider how a language or culture class may help you understand the local people and place.  

Rebecca Ward (st. Mary’s College, In) And Friends, Seville Spanish Studies Fall Semester 2018

Rebecca Ward (St. Mary’s College, IN) and friends, Seville Spanish Studies Fall Semester 2018

Personal development/challenge

Confidence is a tricky thing – it seems like some people just have it. But true self-assurance is developed by putting yourself to the test. We grow in confidence by placing ourselves in challenging or uncomfortable conditions. Facing such situations is what study abroad is all about. Being in a foreign country is challenging, so you will start to problem-solve and adapt. 

It might be scary at first, but over time you will figure out the transportation system in a new city. You’ll order a coffee in a new language, and learn to enjoy eating new kinds of foods. And these are just some basic examples.

Parents and friends often comment on how changed a person is when they return from a year – or a semester – abroad. One of these changes is how you carry yourself; you KNOW you can handle a lot more than you could before you left. You may not even notice it until later, but your confidence will grow as you manage so many new daily realities.

Beyond helping you build confidence, you’ll also hone your leadership and communication skills. You’ll see in the next section why these skills help with career readiness.

Students From Duke University Conversing With Their Language Partners At The University Of Alicante

Students conversing with their language partners

Duke University Students in Alicante

Students Conversing With Their Language Partners

Duke University Students in Alicante

Graduate/career opportunities

Some studies have shown that US college students who study abroad have better rates of staying in school. They also boast higher GPAs and graduate on time. Who doesn’t want that?

Study abroad has also shown to help with developing skills that employers value. Most importantly, leadership and communication.

The critical takeaway is employers increasingly value graduates with international experience.  Going abroad demonstrates a wide range of skills. These include cultural awareness and perspective on problem-solving skills and self-sufficiency.

Not only that, but one study found that starting salaries were $7,000 higher for those who had studied abroad.

Your peers all share a very similar CV or resume. Once you’ve studied abroad, put simply, you stand out massively from the crowd.

If you’re considering going abroad, it’s essential to think about how your experience can help you down the road. Watch this video for ways to highlight your journey and new-found skills:

Starting salaries are $7,000 higher for those who have studied abroad

IES Abroad

Friendships to last a lifetime

Ask friends and family who have studied abroad, and we bet they made great friendships during these experiences.

More than likely, you’ll have plenty of chances to meet new people as well. Find new relationships amongst international students at your university or students on the same program and even your homestay family. The shared, intensive experience of studying overseas can lead to forming close ties with other similarly open-minded students.

At Spanish Studies Abroad, we can attest to this firsthand. Most of our US staff studied abroad in college, and even years later, we still have close relationships with friends and host families!

Jessie Lewis (Mercer University) With American And Local Spanish Friends In Seville (practicum In Education, Summer 2019)

Americans and local Spanish friends In Seville (Practicum In Education, Summer 2019)

Jessie Lewis, Mercer University

Americans and local Spanish friends In Seville (Practicum In Education, Summer 2019)

Jessie Lewis, Mercer University

Finding new interests

Are you sick of the same old routine? Imagine being thrown into a new place with different customs, traditions, and activities! Going abroad can give you the chance to try things for the first time. You may even discover new passions and interests.

New experiences and activities will surround you. The Spanish play a game called ‘padel‘, which is a mixture of squash and tennis. The British play several sports unique to the commonwealth, such as cricket and badminton.

Students in our programs love learning how to dance salsa, bachata, sevillanas, and more! Maybe you’ll learn how to cook a traditional dish or try water sports on the Mediterranean like kayaking and paddling boarding for the first time.

What’s the number one interest that most of our students develop after their experience? A love (or obsession some might say) for international travel! We are warning you now; study abroad carries an enormous risk that you will get bit by the travel bug.

Fall 2019 Students In Cuba Learn How To Make Ropa Vieja, (the National Dish Of Shredded Flank Steak Simmered With Veggies And Spices).

Fall 2019 Students In Cuba Learn How To Make Ropa Vieja, (the National Dish Of Shredded Flank Steak Simmered With Veggies And Spices).

International travel

In the US, colleges find ways to help their students have study abroad experiences, from faculty-led programs during spring break or January term to semester and academic year programs. Most universities offer this through their education abroad offices. They may provide opportunities for funding and allowing credits to transfer back. They may even host events for students like study abroad fairs to meet with representatives from different programs.

US employers, on the other hand, are notoriously stingy with vacation benefits. Did you know that the United States is the only advanced economy that does not federally mandate any paid vacation days or holidays?

Many Americans now work in the “gig” economy, with no paid time off, and a typical company may start you with only two weeks of paid vacation (if you’re lucky). If you want to see family during the holidays, it will cut into these two weeks. That doesn’t leave much time for that dream trip to Italy or Thailand!

Your best time – until you have more resources and paid vacation – may very well be during your college years. Study abroad may allow you to take advantage of long weekends and holidays to travel around your host country as desired. Europe is the most popular study abroad destination for American students (in particular the UK, Italy, Spain, and France). And with good reason, students can take advantage of the inexpensive flights and trains between cities and countries.

There is no better time than now to start exploring the world. Need some inspiration? Check out our photo contest submissions here!

Córdoba Students Traveled To Ushuaia, The Southern Tip Of Argentina During Their Spring Semester In 2019.

Córdoba Students Traveled To Ushuaia, The Southern Tip Of Argentina During Their Spring Semester In 2019.

Trip to Ushuaia, Argentina

Córdoba students traveled To Ushuaia, the Southern tip of Argentina during their Spring Semester In 2019.

Trip to Ushuaia, Argentina

Summary

As you’ve seen, there are many reasons why you should study abroad. Benefits include personal development and career readiness to being able to see the world, reduce cross-cultural boundaries, and make new friends.

Wherever you decide to go, you’ll have a life-changing experience, so we hope you end up studying somewhere. Make the most of your time abroad by integrating into the local culture, soaking up your surroundings, and learning something new!

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