Study Abroad

How to Encourage Your Friends to Study Abroad

Lauren Salisbury

A California native, Lauren has worked, taught, and lived in four countries, including the United States, Australia, Spain, and Costa Rica.

So you’ve returned from studying abroad and your time overseas is all that’s on your mind. At this point you’ve already uploaded all your travel photos to Facebook and Instagram, and even printed out some of your favorites to scrapbook alongside train passes, museum tickets, and that wrapper from your favorite new type of candy that you can’t find on the shelves in the United States. And your friends are so sick of your stories from Paris, Beijing, Lima or whatever foreign local so captured your heart that they’ve started to tease you every time you start a sentence with, “this one time, when I was studying abroad…"

But eye rolls aside, having a friend who's studied abroad can be a powerful influence on others doing the same. Think about the ways study abroad has changed you. Have you learned a new language or delved deeper into a subject of study you are passionate about? Has your worldview been forever changed by the sight of the Coliseum or cultural interaction with children in the Andes?

Even if your time overseas didn’t go quite as you envisioned or was full of more challenges you expected, chances are the experienced helped you grow in some fundamental ways, helping you to be more independent, global-minded and develop new skills you can use in the workplace. And as a successful study abroad participant, wouldn’t you want your friends to have similar experiences?

Why You Should Encourage Your Friends

With increasing globalization, the world is changing and employers are more and more looking to hire employees who have skills and experience relating to overseas. Indeed, experts across the board agree that international experience is one of the most important components of a 21st-century education. However, less than 10 percent of U.S. students study abroad. You, a savvy veteran of study abroad can’t let your friends miss out, can you?

It’s true – good friends don’t let friends skip studying abroad. Stuck on how to convince your friends to join on such a fun and once-in-a-lifetime experience? Here’s our tips for how you can encourage your friends to get on board and join IIE’s generation study abroad.

1. Think About Your Friends Who Would Be Most Receptive to Studying Abroad

As a study abroad veteran, you know first-hand that the experience may not be for everyone. Studying abroad takes a great deal of maturity, desire, and all around gumption. Think about which of the friends or acquaintances in your life would be most receptive to the experience of study abroad so that you can target your efforts.

It can also be good to target friends who have particular interests that will be benefited from studying abroad. For example, your friend who loves art might really thrive in Florence where he has access to world-class museums and is in the setting that inspired the Italian Renaissance. Or your friend who hopes to go into international business may receive a huge boost from spending time learning in Brazil, one of the world’s fastest growing economies. That friend whose always wanted to learn Arabic? It’s a sure bet they could gain a lot from a semester in Jordan.

2. Start One-on-One

While it’s great to fill in all your friends about your experiences together in a big group, to best share the message of encouragement, schedule time to meet with friends you want to convince to study abroad one-on-one. Ask your friends to meet up for a coffee or meal and let them know ahead of time you want to talk about study abroad.

Meeting with friends individually rather than in a group will help you to keep the conversation more focused on the topic at hand and also allow you to tailor the conversation specifically to the individual in front of you, rather than a wider audience. Also, connecting one-on-one instead of in a group can build a closer bond and lend to more authenticity.

3. Share Your Story

Maybe you studied indigenous cultures in Chile or took a deep dive into tropical ecology and Marine biology in Panama. Perhaps you spent a year in England familiarizing yourself with Shakespeare and history, or a semester in Australia soaking up the field of politics, kangaroos and sunshine.

Whatever your study abroad story is, it is a crucial key in inspiring others to follow suit. After all, it’s this story that makes you such an advocate for expanding your comfort zone by study abroad in the first place!

The first step in encouraging your friends to study abroad themselves is to share your own story in all its glory. If you haven’t done so already, fill your friend in on the basics of your experience – where did you go, what did you study, what did you see, who did you mean and what did you learn both about the world and yourself? Be honest about your experience and don’t sugar coat any of the negative experiences you had.

Chances are your friend will also encounter some negative experiences along the way and being honest can help you develop a truthful bond and be a greater support system.

4. Share the Tangible Benefits

While anecdotes about fun and memorable experiences can go a long way to paint a picture about the positive social benefits of studying abroad, appeal to your friend’s logic with other benefits as well.

Let your friend know what skills you’ve gained overseas – whether it’s business experience at an internship in Germany, language skills in China, an increased sense of independence from living in a rural village in South Africa, or even just a greater understanding of World War II from your travels around Europe.

Many students are worried about one thing after they graduate – finding a job. AIM Overseas has reported some statistics that make a pretty good case for study abroad leaded to higher rates of employment. They found that 61 percent of employees agree than an overseas study experience is a positive on a resume, 72 percent of employers agree that knowing a second language makes a prospective employee more attractive, and that 95 percent of students found experience abroad to be helpful to their future career plans.

Need some more data to help make the case? According to a survey by IES abroad, 90 percent of study abroad alumni find their first job within six months of graduation. How's that for tangible?

5. Ask Meaningful Questions

Of course, you don’t want to be the only one talking when you meet with your friends. Ask your friends meaningful questions relating to study abroad. Be sure to listen carefully and take note of their answers. Listening carefully will be crucial in providing the most helpful support. Here are some examples:

  • If you could study abroad anywhere in the world where would you go?
  • What is your major and how could studying abroad relate to your field of study?
  • What would you be most excited about when studying abroad?
  • What would you be most nervous about when studying abroad?
  • What’s stopping you from studying abroad?

Asking such questions will not only give you information to better help your friend, it will also help your friend to think deeply about the prospect of studying abroad. Perhaps these questions have been on their minds for a while, or perhaps they’ve never even thought to ponder such subjects. When we are asked questions it forces us to reflect, and this can lead to new thoughts we’ve never explored or discovered before.

6. Make Meaningful Suggestions

Once you’ve shared your story and listened to what your friend has to say, make some meaningful suggestions. For example, if they are unsure of how their major can benefit from studying abroad, let your friend know about your own journey of finding a destination, program or classes that fit your major.

If your friend shares fears that are similar to ones that you faced, share how you overcame these challenges and moved on to have a positive experience. Make suggestions that will have an impact and help your friend make the leap no matter where they are at with the study abroad process.

It’s important to make sure that your suggestions are meaningful, and not just for the sake of making suggestions. If you suggest things that your friend has already mentioned, they may feel as if you are not listening. Additionally, as you know from your own experience, studying abroad, or even just preparing to study abroad, can be an overwhelming experience, so it’s important to only make suggestions you feel will add value to their experience.

Keep in mind the suggestions that were most powerful to you in your personal study abroad journey. Chances are they will be the same for many of your friends.

7. Share Your Resources

What resources helped you have a positive study abroad experience? Did a councilor in your university’s study abroad office point you in the right direction? Did a certain language professor arm you with much needed skills before you left the country? Did you download specific apps to your phone before leaving home to help you navigate life abroad? How did you navigate language challenges in your adoptive country or learn to make new friends in a foreign culture? How did you make travel plans while abroad or figure out the local transportation system?

As a study abroad alum, you have countless resources on hand to share with your friends to help them have a successful time abroad as well. Spread the wealth and let your friends know exactly which resources led to your success.

It can be a good idea to email a list of resources you have to your friend as well. Sometimes when we need help the most we cannot rely on our memory or a hand written list. Sending your resources in an email format will ensure that your much-needed pool of knowledge is always accessible virtually.

8. Continue to Check In

As you know from personal experience, the decision to study abroad can sometimes be a lengthy process full of winding curves and many ups and downs.

From researching which program provider or direct enrollment option is right for you and your course of study, to preparing to move overseas for up to six months or a year, to making friends and navigating the streets of a new city, to balancing the feelings of homesickness and glee at being in a new place, study abroad is a real rollercoaster.

Be someone your friend can talk to during the entire process and continue to check in from time to time on their progress. It may be helpful to schedule Skype or Facetime check-ins ahead of time. Once you know your friend’s address, you can even send postcards or small care packages from home to help remind them they are loved.

Of course, social media makes it easy to stay connected, and likes and comments on posts go a long way as well! You may even remember some tactics your own family and friends employed from back home while you were overseas that brightened your days.

9. Nominate Them to #GoStudyAbroad and Potentially Win a Scholarship

Go Overseas has partnered with IIE as part of the generation study abroad initiative to help encourage more students to study abroad. One way we're doing this is by letting study abroad alumni (that's you!) nominate your friends to study abroad. In exchange, you'll be entered to win a flight back to your host country, and they'll have a chance to win a study abroad scholarship. Nominate your friends now.

Above All, Be Positive and Supportive!

Keep in mind that most of the time nothing will help your friend better than someone who is positive, so above all else be supportive. Whether they are just starting paperwork, about to embark on their flight to a new country or settling in after the first part of their course, your friend is going to have an epic adventure and you get to be there to cheer them on along their journey!

And there you have it – our suggestions on how you can help your friends join IIE’s generation study abroad.