You’ve been probably dying to stretch your wings and embark on adventures across the world ever since your freshman year. Now that your school-sanctioned year for study abroad has arrived, as a junior, all your wading through the numerous questions, applications, and visa requirements has finally paid off!
Assuming you consider all of your options, you will probably have the least trouble during your junior year in terms of academic credits, program variety, and your overall choice of destinations, but perhaps a bit more to deal with personally and emotionally. Below is a list of the pros and cons to consider ahead of the big journey:
Pro: You Have More Time to Settle Your Affairs at Home
The world at home keeps going as you grow and change in a new country, meaning that your personal affairs may evolve and become more challenging without you.
Use your first two college years to create a stable school community and environment as well as settle any affairs with friends and family back home. While a junior, you will likely create a stable circle of friends and advisors at your school who will support you before, during, and after your time abroad as well as strengthen ties with your family and friends at home during much-needed return trips during school breaks.
Plan, professionally and academically, ahead to ensure that you ultimately acquire the number of credits you will need to graduate on time. Your sophomore year will provide ample time to understand your options for fulfilling credits for your major and for graduation, as well as understand the logistics of study abroad programs by country, major, or curriculum type.
In addition to preparing for graduating on time, waiting until your junior year will also allow you to save up financially in case your program turns out to be more pricey than expected. Whether you provide tutoring or take on an extra on-campus job, your efforts will also pay off in terms of adding to your professional experience (in case you would like to complete an internship abroad during your semester or year) and will provide you with extra money to enjoy your time inside and outside the classroom.
Con: Reverse Culture Shock Hits Hard When You Return Home
As you finish your program abroad and begin the return home, the phrase "reverse culture shock" may come up and become a part of your experience during your senior year.
Reverse culture shock can occur when you realize that not only have your experiences changed you but also that the community that you considered your home base has also changed with time. Your friends may have likely had their own experiences in other countries or at home that may have informed their identities, while groups you were affiliated with may have changed or dissolved. While you may be expecting to return to friends, family, academics, and activities that were once completely familiar, your experience of returning home may include bumps and challenges, which is entirely normal and to be expected.
It will take time to integrate your new knowledge and skills with your life back home, but in time you will combine your life pre-study abroad with your life post-study abroad to enjoy a lifetime of relationships and experiences that will enrich your life and community.
Pro: You Have More Time to Decide Your Study Abroad Experience
As you enter college as a Freshman, and then return as a sophomore, your academic, personal and professional goals can change several times throughout a very short time span. You may have entered your first year excited to complete a degree as a pre-med student and then by the end of your sophomore year have just started taking classes for a degree in art history.
Allowing yourself to wait until your junior year to study abroad gives you a good amount of time to make a final decision about your major as well as explore related professional career options. Taking time to consider your personal goals is also a great way to make the most out of your time abroad. For instance, if you are hoping to learn a new language or become more fluent, you may want to explore ways to incorporate language learning into your personal interests.
As an undergraduate, I majored in sociology and Chinese language, and was very involved with our campus LGBTQ and Allies group. While studying in China, I found a way to develop an extended community outside of my school and develop a better understanding of LGBTQ activism globally by interning with the Beijing LGBT Center. My experiences working with LGBTQ non-governmental organizations in China became the inspiration for my undergraduate and graduate thesis projects and has allowed me to become a part of several communities that inform me as a professional and as a person.
Con: Fulfilling Academic Credits Abroad Can Be Challenging
You may have to fulfill certain academic credits to graduate on time, so it’s important to study your school's accreditation system and review your study abroad programs’ offerings to make sure that they can act as an equivalent of courses you would have taken to complete your degree domestically. If you expect that you will need to fulfill credits or courses abroad, you will have to have long talks with your advisor and perhaps your registrar about what you can do to gain the credits you need to graduate while studying abroad.
Be sure to communicate with both your home university as well as your study abroad program and keep a continuous eye on courses offered with your program. Many programs can cancel courses if enrollment quotas aren’t reached, so be sure to have a back-up for how to fulfill credits as well.
If your university has a thesis or written project that is an essential part of your graduation requirements, check with your study abroad program to see if you can work with a teacher there to set up a course that will act as a thesis preparation class. It’s a great opportunity to get more practice for completing research and developing your final thesis!
Pro: You Have More Time to Prepare for Your Destination
Many study abroad programs focus on experiential learning and may not require you to have secondary language ability or take language classes. However, whether or not your ultimate goal is to become fluent in another language, speaking the language of your destination will allow you to have a far more fulfilling experience during your time abroad and provide you with skills that you will be able to learn throughout your lifetime.
Waiting to study abroad until your junior year will give you more time to take courses that will prepare you with knowledge of the local language, culture, and lifestyle which will, in turn, better equip you to deal with culture shock and homesickness as well as create a truly unique experience for yourself as a temporary local.
Con: You May (Read: Will) Miss Important events at Home
Depending on where your school is located and the school itself, your junior year can include numerous events, preparation, and experiences that are important and influential in terms of your experience as a university student.
When deciding to study abroad, it will be important to consider not only what you will be doing abroad during your program or stay, but also what you will be sacrificing or missing back home or at your university. Missing out on family deaths, births, and landmark events or having a gap in your timeline as a student and budding professional can negatively impact your ability to make professional and personal connections. While you can't prepare for every future event or change within your life, you may want to consider both personally and academically what is most important to you.
No matter which year you choose to leave the nest and embark on your international adventure, preparation and a sense of humor will get you through 99% of any difficulties you may encounter both at home and abroad.
If you choose to study abroad your junior year, you will be sure to have time to prepare and become fully immersed in your destination from your first confusing day at your new school to your last tearful departure from the airport.