Most people choose to study abroad during their junior year in order to not “miss out” on senior year. But are you really missing out if you’re meeting wonderful people from all over the world and having the world in your hands at 21 or 22 years old?
Studying abroad during the fall semester of my senior year was the best decision for me. As a student that did not ‘go away’ to college, study abroad in Ireland gave me the perfect opportunity to gain independence, meet new people, and see the world. I was able to travel to five other countries while abroad (including the smallest country in the world, Vatican City!). Going during the fall semester allowed me to have a great, fun semester and still come back home for my final semester of college.
Choosing to study abroad during my senior year also created less academic pressure than my junior year. During my junior year, I was able to finish most of my core course requirements for graduation, meaning that I had more options for classes to take abroad. Many people take this opportunity to take a cultural course, which could be language, music, art, etc.
As for any experience, there are positives and negatives to it. In my opinion, the positives completely outweigh the negatives for a study abroad experience. Let’s talk about each one, so you can better understand if studying abroad in your senior year is the right move.
Pro: You Will Appreciate the Experience More
As you get older, you appreciate each moment more. I knew that by studying abroad later in my college career, I would truly enjoy the entire experience more. I was more open to different experiences and learning about cultures. I wanted to meet new people, make new friends, and explore cultures that I was never exposed to before, first hand.
I had heard that Ireland has some of the friendliest and most welcoming people. One experience that stands out is when I visited Malin Head and stayed at a hostel. The couple that owned it was so kind-hearted and sweet. My friends and I were filling out paperwork and the wife offered to make us all tea while we waited and got everything ready.
While I can’t say that some people aren’t appreciative and open to new experience during their study abroad time as a freshman, sophomore, or junior, for me, senior year was the best time when I was most aware of how great an impact study abroad would have -- and how much I would enjoy it.
Con: It’s Hard to Study Abroad Again During Your Undergrad
Let me be completely honest: it’s not just hard to study abroad a second time if you study abroad as a senior -- it’s almost impossible.
In order to study abroad again, your college or university may require you to go through the application process all over again. This could take some time and you may not be able to get it all completed in time for your last semester.
I fell in love with Ireland just days after I arrived! As the semester went on, I began to realize that I wouldn’t be able to study abroad again during my undergrad. If I had extended my time abroad to a full year, I would not have graduated at the end of my spring semester with my graduating class. That wasn’t a price I was willing to pay, so unfortunately, I was unable to study abroad a second time as an undergrad.
You may face a similar decision, and it’s an unfortunate reality of choosing to study abroad this “late” in your college career.
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Pro: You Will Experience Amazing Cultures, Gain Knowledge & a New Perspective for Your Future Career
When abroad you get to learn the difference in values in other societies. Immerse yourself into the culture whether that’s eating the food, exploring the area, or attending local events. You never know what kind of doors this might open later in life!
From the moment I stepped off the plane in Limerick, Ireland I was in awe of the culture and hospitality of everyone. For me, I went to the local pubs all the time (not just for the pints); but also, to experience another part of the Irish culture and be surrounded by the locals. I went to a rugby match, went on a hike with the outdoor pursuits club at the University of Limerick, and visited castles to take in all the natural beauty and art that Ireland has to offer.
This kind of travel and cultural experience can help you become more certain about what degree you are pursuing and help you find what you really want to do. For me, it assured me that in whatever career I had, that I always wanted to incorporate travel into my life.
Con: You Will Experience Culture Shock
Culture shock comes in different stages and everyone experiences it at a different time and for varied lengths. You may go through the “honeymoon” phase, the “anxiety” phase, the “adjustment”, and the “acceptance” phase.
It may seem frightening, but don’t forget that everyone else studying abroad will go through this with you. You’ll miss how things were at home and what you’re used to. Then you will love everything that is around you and want to take in as much as you can.
Pro: You Will Be Able to Travel During Your Semester if You Have Money Saved from College Jobs
If you work throughout college like I did, then you will have some money saved to travel and see the country that you’re studying in. Having money to spend while abroad definitely changes the experience. It allowed me to travel all over Ireland, travel to five other countries for weekend trips, and just be able to do little things like go get a cup of tea with new friends or go to the pub for a few pints.
I was able to visit the Cliffs of Moher to take in the beauty on the coast of Ireland, take a road trip with my housemates to Malin Head in hopes of seeing the northern lights, and travel to Rome and Budapest in one long weekend.
Con: You Will Stress Out About What To Do After Graduation
This is one of the cons that is probably true for everyone (because that’s just part of being in college), but it’s most true for those of us who study abroad as seniors.
As the semester goes on, you start to realize that it’s getting closer to graduation. You have to look into graduate schools and/or jobs for after graduation. And if you’re like me, you have no idea what you want to do once May comes around. I decided that I needed a break before grad school, I wasn’t even sure that grad school was for me at all. As far as jobs, I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I looked into gap year programs.
Don’t be surprised if you have a similar experience while studying abroad as a senior. You’ll have to make some big decisions -- or at least think about them -- while studying abroad, and that’s a lot harder than making those decisions when you’re home.
Pro: You Will Make Lifelong International Friends
Throughout your semester abroad you will meet people from all over the world who are also studying abroad. I lived with five other girls; two from the U.S., one from France, one from Canada, and one from Austria and I got to meet people from countless other places.
It enhances your experience and allows you to learn about much more beliefs and traditions of the world than the place where you study. After your semester, you now know people from all over the world that you can go visit and vice versa!
The summer after my study abroad a few friends that I met were able to come visit, one from Ireland and one from Minnesota. It was amazing to see them again and get to show them where I am from and the cultures that surround me.
Con: You Will Get Homesick
If this is your first time being away from home for a long period, you will likely get homesick for a period of time while being away for four months. Remember that you are not alone in this; almost everyone else that you meet that is studying abroad will struggle with this too.
For me, I started to feel homesick after being away for about three weeks. This feeling went away after a few weeks of talking to friends and family from home and talking to the new friends that I made that were going through the same thing as me.
Need some tips for managing homesickness? Here is a great list of ways to deal with homesickness while studying abroad (and the comments are super helpful too!).
Pro: You Will Start a Life Full of Traveling Just in Time to be Done With School
If you’re like me after spending months in a foreign city studying and traveling, you’ll probably fall in love with travel and learning about cultures. You’ll go home and end up constantly talking about your time abroad and all of the traveling I did. Since I did not know what I wanted to do after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I decided to take a leap in order to travel more. I took a gap year doing service work and traveling around the U.S.
Since my semester in Ireland, I have been eager to travel and take any opportunity that I have to do so. It has definitely been the most life-changing experience for me thus far. I have learned to step out of my comfort zone and jump at opportunities to explore and learn about cultures whenever they are presented.
In my opinion, if you have the opportunity to study abroad you should definitely take it! Senior year was the perfect time for me and it allowed me to find myself in ways I would not have been able to, had I stayed home. Being later in my undergraduate career, I was more willing to take opportunities and make lifelong friends which were important for my personal growth; leading to an incredible semester full of unforgettable experiences.