December 7, 2015
Should I study abroad? 6 things to consider before packing your bags
Many young college students are instantly drawn to the idea of studying abroad — what better way to solidify your newfound independence and learn more about the world than traveling?
Adventure aside, there’s a multitude of personal and professional benefits to studying abroad. The Institute for the International Education of Students — or IES Abroad — used a recent survey to poll students who have participated in an IES Abroad study abroad program. “The survey found that study abroad may be one of the best ways for students to find jobs sooner after graduation — related to their majors and at a higher starting salary,” says Ashley Houston, outreach coordinator for IES Abroad.
In fact, 97 percent of their survey respondents reported securing a job within one year after graduation, while 90 percent were accepted to their first or second choice graduate or professional school. “Beyond the academic and career benefits a study abroad experience can provide, it can also have a striking impact on an individual’s worldview,” she says.
You may already feel compelled to take the leap, but before you decide if you’ll be taking selfies in front of Big Ben, soaking up the seascapes of Ireland or sipping tea in China, ask yourself these six simple questions to help determine if studying abroad is right for you.
6 questions to ask yourself before studying abroad
1. What do you want to accomplish by the end of the semester?
We know you’re itching to pack your bags and start your adventure, but before you do, it can be helpful to evaluate your goals for your study abroad experience. “You want to be sure you’re interested for the right reasons,” says Alison Krawczyk, public relations manager at Overit Media. “Not because your significant other is going or you heard the parties were insane in that part of the world.”
Studying abroad has the opportunity to reap a number of rewards — but what’s your end goal? Do you want to travel to several countries? Do you want to become fluent in another language? Do you want to fully immerse yourself in a new culture?
Determining your ultimate study abroad goals can not only help you decide if the experience will be right for you, but it can also help you narrow down your destination options.
2. Can you afford it?
There are scholarship and loan opportunities available for study abroad students, but you must ask yourself if you’re truly willing to make the financial commitment that comes with studying internationally.
“It’s no surprise that studying abroad is expensive,” says Paul Wilkie, consumer technology expert at Havas Formula. Is it something you have the means to afford, or something you’re willing to take a loan out for? For Wilkie, the answer to that question was a quick and resounding ‘Yes!’ He took out a loan to pay for his international experience, and he still maintains that it was worth it. “I studied abroad for a year in a small city north of Rome, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
It can also be important to check with your academic adviser to be sure studying abroad can fit into your program curriculum. If it doesn’t fit as perfectly as you hoped, don’t sweat it. It may just mean spending an extra semester in school, but it all comes down to that one question: Is it worth it in exchange for a life changing experience?
3. Can you step out of your comfort zone?
“Studying abroad, unless you’re with friends, can at first be a lonely experience,” Wilkie says. It’s likely you’ll be in a country in which English isn’t the spoken language, you’ll be unfamiliar with eating customs and you’ll have to adjust to the various cultural norms.
For some, this sounds like an energizing invitation! For others who rely deeply on the comforts of home, this may sound a bit intimidating. If the second statement resonates louder with you, that’s OK, it doesn’t mean studying abroad will be impossible for you. It just means you’ll have to be more selective with the program you ultimately choose.
“If you don’t do well on your own, make sure the program has strong ties in the country you want to visit and that there will be a community waiting on you,” says Clair Jones, technology expert at LocalInternetService.com.
4. Are you accepting of cultural differences?
Some cultures may not feel all that different than what you’re used to in the U.S., but others will feel like an entirely different world. Our experts agree that fully immersing yourself in the culture of your destination is the key to a fulfilling study abroad experience.
“The people who have the most rewarding experience are those who are open-minded, adventurous and independent,” Krawczyk says.
Wilkie agrees: “You need to be able to put your culture aside for a time while studying abroad to immerse yourself in a new one. There are limitless nuances to learn and accept.”
5. Are you willing to unplug?
It is true that many study abroad destinations will have ample access to internet and mobile phone service (be sure to bring your travel adapters!), but it is also true that many countries have limited connectivity and, in some cases, frequent outages. “If you’re addicted to your smart phone and can’t live without a high speed internet connection, studying abroad might be challenging for you,” Jones says. “Many countries have unreliable cell and broadband connectivity and some may even limit the sites you can access.”
It is important to ask yourself if you are comfortable letting go of technological luxuries and if you can survive with limited communication from family and friends back home. For some, this may be a cinch, but for others, this can pose a serious obstacle to enjoying your experience abroad.
Look at this as a detox opportunity — here’s your chance to get back to the basics and thoroughly enjoy your surroundings!
6. Are you willing to fall in and out of love?
“Oh, you will fall in love,” Wilkie says. “Not necessarily with another person, but with your new culture. You’ll love dinner with your new friends, traveling and meeting new travel companions. You’ll love the sounds of the morning train ride and the touch of centuries-old architecture. You’ll love instantly fulfilling your wanderlust with a quick day trip. And eventually, you’ll be forced to leave it.”
Students who have spent semesters abroad often discuss the two forms of culture shock: one when you first arrive to your destination, and one when you arrive back on U.S. soil. You may find yourself instantly itching for your next big trip — be prepared to tame your inevitable travel bug!
Are you ready to pack your bags?
There is no secret formula that makes for a perfect study abroad candidate. If you’ve considered the above questions, spoken with your family, close friends and academic advisers and you still feel ready to board that plane, go for it!
Take a look at 13 distinct study abroad opportunities The College of St. Scholastica offers for its undergraduate students and begin your dream of fueling that insatiable wanderlust!
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