If you weren’t considering it, you wouldn’t be reading this! 😛
Seriously though, I know the economy sucks and university tuition is rising every year, but studying and living abroad is LIFE CHANGING.
Having graduated from college awhile ago, years later, I still feel the same way. Obviously there are things I would have done differently, knowing what I know today, however the overall experience was great and I would never trade it for anything in the world.
You know those old Master Card commercials? This is how mine would go…
- Tuition: $15,000
- Housing: $5,000.
- Plane Tickets: $2,000.
- Study Abroad Experience: PRICELESS.
Based upon personal experience, I have included a list below of the pros and cons of studying abroad and how the experience may impact you and your life, back home and abroad.
Experience A Different Environment
You will will gain a completely different outlook on life, through the culture, food, and the people. Living like a local changes the way you see things, good and bad. Plus you will also get an opportunity to live outside of your home country and in doing so you will gain a different perspective than that you would have had you just stayed in the comforts of your own home.
One of the places I studied was Hong Kong, check out my list of best local eats in Hong Kong.
Learn Another Language
You will gain the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and learn the local language. You will also become more proficient because you’ll actually need to use it while you live there! There’s no better way to familiarize yourself with a language than actually use it!
Gain A Different Level Of Independence
Sure if you left home for college you’re forced to become more independent anyways. So I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m mentioning this… Imagine having to deal with a serious situation in a completely different language and not in your home country. It makes things infinitely more difficult and you’ll be surprised and proud of yourself at the end of it because you’ve learned important lessons in life.
I had to call Bank of China customer service and talk to the English customer service representative in broken Mandarin because they had no clue what the hell I was talking about in English. I understand that I was in a foreign country but simple issues can be a lot more difficult to resolve with language barriers and that was definitely a learning experience for me.
To be honest, this is something I wish I had done more of. But one of the best things about studying abroad is the ability to travel and see the world from a closer jumping point. You can visit other countries (don’t forget to figure out if you need a visa!) or go to nearby towns and cities.
One of the best things about studying abroad is the coursework counts towards your degree! Obviously this applies only if your school has its own sanctioned program with the educational institution abroad, which it was for me. Some schools allow you to apply for other universities that don’t have official foreign exchange student programs with your home school, but it could make transferring credits/units much more difficult. I went with the “easier” route and applied through my home university to the foreign schools. My university also had a pre-existing list (based upon previous foreign exchange students courses) of pre-approved coursework based upon the major. So we could essentially take any course, it was just a matter of whether it would be transferable. However, you should talk to your study abroad office and nail down those details as every school is different.
You will have an opportunity to meet new people, through your own program, other exchange students, and locals. You get to see a variety of perspectives and potentially maintain these friendships for years to come. Though it does get difficult to keep in touch over time, I still talk to a good number of these friends. 🙂
Crazy Stories, Or Not
This could be a pro or a con depending on how you see it 😉 For me, it was a definite pro, post-studying abroad I came back with so many outrageous my friends couldn’t believe stuff like that actually happened. Even if I may not have enjoyed the situation in the moment, I found them to be amusing and took them to be a learning experience.
Wanderlust IS An Addiction
This could also be a pro or a con, the con mainly because traveling is, let’s be real, expensive. With that said, studying abroad was the primary catalyst for my love of travel, living abroad for months gave me experience in surviving on my own in a foreign country. To this day, I am more thrilled by traveling than afraid of what might happen to me abroad. (Of course I like to think I am street-smart and don’t do stupid things.) Studying abroad also gave me the confidence to travel solo and ensure I get to experience things I want out of my life. You will, most likely, have a life-long addiction to traveling.
It Can Be Expensive
The price tag obviously varies depending on where you go, but realistically speaking it’s going to be an additional cost because you’re going to be footing plane tickets and a visa, amongst other expenses. Some countries are also going to be less expensive than others simply due to the cost of living, for example, Vietnam would be cheaper than Japan, and Paris would likely be more expensive than Greece. Alternatively you could also consider studying abroad for shorter lengths of time, like 1 semester or quarter instead of an entire year, or even for a summer. Scholarships are also available for study abroad programs, some are offered by the schools, but they do tend to be more difficult to come by.
You could also try to find a job abroad. Many countries may not allow students to work while on a student visa however sometimes arrangements can be made. I had friends who interned in Shanghai (China) for a stipend, so it can be done, but most internships I’ve seen were unpaid. It may also be easier to volunteer abroad and gain experiences that are irreplaceable back at home. Sure it might not be salaried, but it beats no job experience at all, right?
Homesickness Is Real
When I left for college, I was actually only about 1hr drive away from home, so I was pretty close. I was never one to enjoy staying at home all the time so I was never homesick my freshman year nor did I expect to be while abroad. I was so wrong, SO SO wrong. The month after I began my semester, I called my mom and immediately began crying at the sound of her voice… I was 7,000 miles away and I had no idea what was going on. My parents came to the conclusion that it was probably because I was homesick. Big surprise on my end! In all honesty, you have fun, you get over it, and it’s not a huge deal anymore. It never happened again. :p
You will most likely have difficulties adjusting to the culture because it’s not what you’re used to. Even within the U.S., the west coast is drastically different from the east coast, let alone a-whole-nother country! Honestly, culture clash happens; you just have to maintain an open mind and understand that you’re no longer home and things are different. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” applies greatly. Adjusting to the culture takes time, but eventually you’ll be fine. 🙂
You may risk delaying your graduation if your coursework doesn’t transfer over, especially if your graduation counts on specific, required coursework. Like I mentioned previously, some schools will have a list of pre-approved courses for your major. Please consult your university for major specific information and recommendations.
Depending upon which semester/quarter you plan to study abroad, you may also have to skip your graduation. My spring semester began mid-February and was supposed to end in the beginning of July due to the Lunar New Year holiday. However we had a number of people in our classes that were graduating seniors and as a result, our program allowed our entire group to take our finals early and go home so that they could walk in their graduation. The rest of us, who weren’t graduating, were also allowed to leave the country earlier if we wanted.
Friendships/Relationships May Fail
This can be huge especially when you’re young and/or in your first significant relationship. Your friends will still be living their same lives back home so they and you may not have the time to keep in touch like when you lived in the same dorm room or apartment. Long distance is also tough on relationships, I knew people in my exchange student programs who made it work, but the distance and time difference is tough so both of you would need to make it work. Some of my friends significant others also took the time and money to visit them while they were abroad. You just have to be committed to making it work.
Travel Withdrawals Are Intense
To put it bluntly, you will come home to friends/significant others not understanding what you’ve been through in the past few months and how you’ve changed. You will feel like the world at home has stood still while you changed drastically while you were off exploring another country. You will yearn to spend weekends traveling and exploring nearby cities and countries. THIS was what I was talking about when I said wanderlust IS an addiction.
Would I Still Do It, Today?
For the record, I don’t think I could’ve written this article immediately after returning because hindsight is 20/20. Since my original time living abroad, I have gained more perspective on life than I ever could have imagined and I still stand firm on encouraging others to experience more in life by studying abroad.
This post was much longer than I anticipated; however, I believe I presented both the pros and cons of studying abroad thoroughly and accurately. I hope this helps those of you who are interested in becoming a foreign exchange student and are on the fence about it.