If you’ve ever wanted to experience a new culture, learn a language, make connections overseas, or simply sight-see, then studying abroad is an excellent option for college students looking to travel with other people with similar age and interests. Not only will your school help you make safe living and travel arrangements, but your semester studying abroad is often the same cost as attendance back home.
In this BrokeScholar article, we lay out all the benefits of studying abroad, as well as address some more practical questions such as how it's paid for and what programs are available.
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Studying abroad has some advantages over simply traveling, in that you get to live for an extended period of time in another country, just as the natives of that country do. This opens up many more doors than you would have as a “tourist,” because you have the time to really explore your new surroundings and meet native people. The extended length of time abroad also gives you the chance to take a foreign language class and practice that language outside of the classroom with native speakers.
In some cases, your college will set you up with a host family with whom you will live. Often, your host family will consist of students your own age, who can show you the local activities, events, and nightlife. When you live with a host family, you’re immersed in the local culture, you get to eat local food, converse with native people on a daily basis, and get a first-hand view of typical family life in that country. Many times, students form close relationships with their host families, and stay in contact with them for years to come. Living with a host family provides you with a rich and eye-opening experience abroad.
Of course, the idea of living overseas for months can be overwhelming. But students who have studied abroad claim to have increased self-confidence, a greater awareness of their own cultural values and biases, and a lasting impact on their view of the world. Whether your study-abroad experience is wonderful, or terrible, it’s always unforgettable, educational, and almost always certainly worth it.
Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits of studying abroad.
One of the chief benefits of studying abroad is the opportunity to build and sharpen your foreign language skills. A lot can be gained by studying a language in a classroom state-side but being immersed in another country and having to use your language skills on a daily basis is often the key to becoming fluent. Crucially, studying abroad can give you the opportunity to learn conversational language that you otherwise might not learn in the classroom, allowing you to speak like a local. Numerous studies have shown that immersion programs, in which students are placed in circumstances where another language is prevalent, increase vocabulary and oral proficiency for most students of a foreign language, as well as listening comprehension, and the ease of reading and writing in another language.
Studying abroad can help boost your career prospects and make you more competitive in the labor market. Studying abroad provides both direct and indirect benefits to you as a candidate for employment. Arguably the most direct benefit it can provide is proficiency, if not fluency, in a foreign language, something which is highly prized by many employers. The daily cross-cultural communication you experience while studying abroad can be a major asset in the workplace, both with interacting with fellow employees and with customers and clients of diverse backgrounds. With the continuing growth in globalized business networks and the economy in general, being fluent in a foreign language is more important than ever.
Companies value the experience gained from studying abroad. According to a survey by Erasmus Student Network, 64% of employers consider study abroad experience to be important for recruitment. Besides developing your language skills, studying abroad can give your resume an international flair, which can be especially useful when you might not have much professional experience as an undergraduate. The same survey found that 70% of study abroad students have better employability compared to all students.
Related to the benefits studying abroad has on your employment prospects is the opportunity to actually find a career while studying in your foreign host country. Depending on your field of study, you can tap into resources provided by a particular host country. For example, if you’re studying art, then consider studying abroad in one of the renowned centers of art such as France and Italy. If you’re studying finance, then studying abroad in a place like London and Hong Kong. If you’re studying international relations, then studying abroad in a country like Switzerland, with its Geneva School of Diplomacy, can be an asset.
If you’re looking to work for an international organization after college, they commonly want to see evidence that potential employees can succeed in a global environment. Experiences like cross-cultural awareness and communication or knowledge of international governments and policies can be huge boosts to your resume.
Related to the employment benefits of studying abroad is the boost it can give to networking. Studying abroad can help you build vital relationships with people across the globe. By taking part in a study abroad program, you can open up international connections, interacting with people that could become good friends and professional contacts. These connections can enhance your employability by giving you personal experience with people of diverse backgrounds and by potentially becoming significant parts of your professional network. By broadening your network, you increase the likelihood of being connected to novel and engaging career and social prospects.
One of the benefits of studying abroad, related in a way to improving your job prospects, is that it can improve your prospects when it comes to graduate school admissions. It has been found that graduate school admissions boards look very highly upon candidates with experience studying abroad. This is because students that study abroad often demonstrate diversity in their understanding of the world and convey the fact that they can take on new and diverse challenges as well as succeed in difficult or unusual circumstances. Graduate schools frequently look for candidates who will bring distinctive, unique characteristics to their university. Students that have studied abroad can demonstrate that they possess broad interests and educational expertise to become a leader at a graduate school.
Another one of the major benefits of studying abroad is the exposure to a different culture and diverse worldviews. By exposing yourself to different cultures, you can gain significant insight into understanding the world and broaden your own outlook. This opportunity to encounter new perspectives and expand your cross-cultural awareness is one of the key study abroad benefits.
Learning about new and different cultures can have a beneficial impact on your professional life. With companies increasingly internationalizing their businesses, having prior experience with foreign cultures and perspectives, not to mention foreign language, can be an invaluable asset. It can help you work and develop close relationships with fellow employees who are from different countries as well as connect with customers or clients who aren’t from the US. Expanding your cultural awareness can help enhance your flexibility and ability to adapt to different situations. Acquiring a diverse range of perspectives can help you look at experiences in a wholly new manner. By taking part in a study abroad program, you’ll meet people who can have wildly different backgrounds than you typically encounter in the US., and this can help you broaden your horizons.
When you immerse yourself in a different culture, it gives you the ability to develop effective life skills necessary for personal growth, such as autonomy and adaptability. Developing such skills can provide you with greater confidence in your personal and professional life. When you study abroad, you’ll often face difficult obstacles, but overcoming these challenges can help you grow into a more mature person. By seeing that you can succeed in a new, diverse environment, you can develop greater confidence in yourself for dealing with different situations at home, be it in your personal or professional life.
One of the more obvious benefits of studying abroad is that it enables you to see the world, traveling to places you might not otherwise have visited. Once you enter the business world after graduating, it can often be difficult to make time for traveling the world. Studying abroad while in college is thus a great opportunity to engage in extensive travels in foreign countries. Even if you do manage to travel abroad amid a hectic work schedule, it usually won’t match the amount of time you’ll get from studying abroad for a whole semester while in college. While taking part in a study abroad program, you can explore the new city you live in, visit other regions of the host country, and visit nearby countries as well. Rarely will you have the opportunity for long immersion in foreign countries, unless you get a job that requires living abroad or make time for it during retirement.
Depending on the country you live in and attend school, the style of teaching can vary significantly. This is one of the benefits of studying abroad, exposure to diverse forms of teaching that you’ll encounter in your host country. Studying abroad can help you broaden your academic horizon and develop the ability to adapt to different educational settings. This can be especially useful for later adapting to different workplaces and work styles. For instance, adapting to diverse styles of teaching can also help you modify to various management styles you may encounter in your professional career, which makes you more flexible in the workplace.
Studying abroad offers the unique opportunity for you to discover new interests and activities that you might otherwise not have noticed if you had stayed state-side. You could discover that you have an unknown aptitude for skiing, cricket, hiking, handball, jai alai, and other global sports that aren’t as prevalent or competitive in the U.S. Beyond discovering new sports, studying abroad offers the opportunity to discover new types of entertainment. It could be opera, ballet, dancing, theater, film, festivals such as Octoberfest or national celebrations like Bastille Day. And, of course, when it comes to art, foreign countries have their own museums filled with pieces of art that you may never get to see at American museums.
Studying abroad is an enriching experience that many college students aspire to, but it often comes with substantial costs. To afford such opportunities, many students turn to scholarships and grants specifically designed for international study. Various organizations, colleges, and governmental agencies offer these financial aids based on academic merit, need, or specific areas of study. For instance, the Fulbright Program offers opportunities for students to study, teach, or conduct research abroad, while the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship provides grants for U.S. undergraduate students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad. Additionally, some universities have partnerships with institutions in other countries that include financial agreements, making it more affordable for students to study at the partner institution.
Besides scholarships and grants, students also explore alternative funding methods. Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe or Kickstarter have been utilized by students to raise money for their international endeavors by pitching their study abroad plans and aspirations to potential donors. Moreover, many students opt to work part-time jobs, either in their home country in advance or in the host country (provided their visa allows) to offset daily expenses. Some also consider studying abroad in countries with lower living costs, ensuring that their money stretches further.
On the administrative side, universities might offer payment plans or financial counseling to help students manage the costs associated with studying abroad, making the dream more attainable for many. Federal loans available to students or their parents can help pay for study abroad as well as at home, whether it's for a semester or your entire degree program. They are often less expensive than private loans, with fixed interest rates and more flexible repayment schedules.
One of the most notable high school study abroad programs is the AFS Intercultural Programs (formerly the American Field Service). Founded during World War I, AFS started as a volunteer ambulance driver corps and evolved into a prominent intercultural exchange organization after the Second World War. The program offers high school students the chance to live with host families and attend local schools in over 50 countries worldwide. For instance, a student from the US might choose to spend a semester in Japan. Under AFS, they'd be matched with a host family in Tokyo and attend a local high school, immersing themselves in Japanese language and culture. This hands-on experience not only helps students with language proficiency but also offers a deep understanding of the societal and cultural nuances of the host country.
Another remarkable program is Youth For Understanding (YFU), which has been fostering global citizenship and understanding through student exchange for more than 60 years. YFU provides opportunities for high school students to spend a summer, semester, or entire academic year with a host family in one of around 70 participating countries. For example, a student from Germany might opt to study in Argentina. Once in Buenos Aires, they'd experience the Argentinian way of life, from attending a local school and partaking in local traditions, to understanding the subtleties of South American history and politics. Participants often report that the program not only enhances their academic perspectives but also transforms their personal worldview, as they navigate and appreciate the differences and similarities between cultures.
Determining the optimal year of high school to study abroad can be a complex decision, dependent on several factors including academic goals, personal maturity, and future aspirations. However, many education experts and study abroad counselors often recommend the junior year (or 11th grade) as an ideal time for such an experience. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, the freshman and sophomore years (9th and 10th grades) serve as a transition period where students adjust to the rigors and expectations of high school after attending middle school. By junior year, they have typically acclimated to these demands, yet still have time upon return to incorporate their abroad experiences into college applications. Additionally, the senior year (12th grade) is a pivotal time with college application deadlines, final exams, and graduation activities, which can make an extended absence more challenging. Junior year provides a balance, allowing students to venture out when they're academically prepared and personally mature enough to make the most of the experience. Moreover, experiences from studying abroad can be pivotal in shaping college essays and interviews, giving students a unique perspective and story to share. However, each student's situation is unique, and factors like course prerequisites, extracurricular commitments, and personal readiness should all be weighed in the decision.
The myriad benefits of studying abroad are undeniable. Immersing oneself in a foreign culture fosters a global perspective, encourages adaptability, and promotes personal growth in ways that staying in one's home country simply can't. Not only does it enhance language proficiency, but it also provides students with unparalleled opportunities to understand global politics, economics, and societal nuances from a first-hand vantage point. This broader worldview can be invaluable in today's interconnected world, aiding young individuals in becoming not just national but global citizens. Additionally, the life skills gained—like problem-solving, resilience, and enhanced communication abilities—are assets that prove advantageous in both personal and professional spheres.
However, while the advantages are plentiful, the costs of studying abroad can be prohibitive for many families. Tuition, travel, accommodation, and living expenses in a foreign country can quickly accumulate, making the dream of international study seem out of reach for many students. This is where scholarships and grants come into play. Numerous organizations, educational institutions, and government programs recognize the profound value of international experiences and offer financial assistance specifically for study abroad endeavors. These funds can significantly defray or, in some cases, entirely cover the costs, bridging the financial gap and making the transformative experience of studying abroad accessible to a more diverse range of students. Aspiring students are encouraged to research, apply, and leverage these opportunities, ensuring that financial constraints don't deter them from reaping the lifelong benefits of international education.