You've probably heard it before: study abroad is a life-changing experience. For many students, it's the single most memorable experience in their college careers. Personally, studying abroad was a pivotal moment in both my personal and professional life and I know that I wouldn't be where I am today without the seeds that my study abroad program planted within me.
Whether you're on the fence about studying abroad or you're trying to convince your parents to foot the bill, it's important to understand the concrete benefits of living and studying in a foreign country. Whichever study abroad program you choose, it will likely improve your life in a myriad of ways outside the classroom you probably haven't even thought about. From higher salaries to lifelong friendships, these are the real benefits of studying abroad.
1. You'll Get to Travel the Globe
This is the most obvious benefit of studying abroad. Living in a foreign country while you're in college gives you access to travel and exploration like never before. Many programs have excursions and field trips built into them. If yours doesn't, you're likely surrounded by other study abroad students eager to see the world, so you have travel buddies built in from day one.
Not only will you get the opportunity to see plenty of the country you're studying in, but many study abroad students find that it's much easier to travel to other countries while they're studying abroad. You'll have weekends and holiday breaks to travel. If you're studying in a continent like Europe, you'll find it's much easier and cheaper to travel around to a number of different countries than it would be back home in the United States.
Study abroad students often end up visiting several countries outside of the country where they choose to study. If you really want to fill up your passport, you could even look into doing Semester at Sea, a study abroad program that visits 10 to 12 countries across several continents, all in one semester.
2. You'll Expand Your Worldview
Living in a foreign country opens your mind to new perspectives and lifestyles in a way that simply visiting for a week or two cannot. You'll find that your way of seeing the world will likely be challenged more than once. Some of your values will likely shift, while the ones that really matter will be solidified, and you'll come out of it all a better, more well-rounded person.
You'll also find that interacting with different cultures has a lasting impact on your own way of life. You'll probably find a few things that these other countries do better than your own, and you can incorporate those into your own life. Ultimately, these new perspectives and different cultures create a strong, holistic foundation from which you can build your own life and achieve your potential.
3. You'll Impress Future Employers
Some might think that traveling and going abroad hampers your career when in fact it's quite the opposite. When done in a way that advances your skills and teaches you new things, international experience is actually incredibly desirable in the current globalized job market. What better way to get that international experience than through study abroad?
In fact, a study done by IES Abroad found that 90% of students who studied abroad found employment within 6 months of graduation as compared to just 49% of the general graduating population. Study abroad students also landed starting salaries that were $7,000 higher, on average, than non-study abroad students. (source)
4. You Might Learn a Foreign Language
Speaking of impressing new employers, learning a foreign language can greatly improve your job prospects. Studying abroad allows for immersion, which is the most effective way to learn a language quickly. Demand for bilingual workers has more than doubled over the past five years (source), and it's likely to continue increasing. It's estimated that learning a foreign language will earn you, on average, a 2% "language bonus" on your salary throughout your lifetime, however, some more in-demand languages can earn double that (source). It might not sound like a lot, but compounded over your whole career, it will add up.
Learning a foreign language also has its own intrinsic value apart from the monetary bonus. You'll learn so much about the way language and communication work in general, and speaking the local language also allows you to interact with other cultures on a deeper level. Plus, while learning another language is challenging, it's also incredibly gratifying when you can finally express yourself in a way that locals understand!
5. You'll Learn How to Communicate with All Types of People
Even if you only learn a few phrases or study in an English-speaking country, studying abroad greatly improves your communication skills. When I studied abroad, I had countless conversations that were made up largely of body language, gestures, and doodles on a napkin because I was trying to communicate with someone I didn't share a common language with. While this is difficult, it was perhaps the most valuable lesson in effective communication I've ever had.
But learning to communicate better isn't just about bridging language gaps. Study abroad forces you to interact with people who are different from you -- who practice different customs and approach the world differently -- on a daily basis. This includes people in your own program. Often, study abroad programs mix students from all different countries together in one program, so you'll get to meet and befriend people from all over the world every day.
6. You Can Give Real-Life Context to Your Classroom Learning
Many study abroad programs incorporate in-the-field learning experiences that enrich and complement your classroom learning. Imagine studying world history and then going to visit the Roman Colosseum with your professor, studying art and then visiting the Louvre, or taking a world religions class and then visiting Buddhist temples in Thailand.
Some study abroad programs are specific to your field of study or even give you the option of doing an internship. Archaeology students can study in Cusco, Peru with ISA and learn from Incan archaeological sites as famous as Machu Picchu. CAPA London offers customized internships for study abroad students who want to go to England to learn about a different industry they might want to pursue after graduation. Not only do these programs allow you to get up close and personal with your major, but you get to see your field in a different light by learning about it in another country.
7. You Might Save Money on Tuition
You might have heard that the United States has some of the most expensive universities in the world. This is true whether you're studying at a private or public institution. With the average cost of public universities topping $20,000 including room and board and private universities nearing $50,000 ( source), it's not hard to find programs abroad that cost significantly less than college in the U.S.
Even when you factor in travel costs, you may be able to actually save money by studying abroad. If you're on a budget, look into direct enrollment rather than third-party study abroad programs that take care of everything for you. Also, consider countries with a lower cost of living if you're studying abroad on a budget.
8. You'll Make Lifelong Friends
Going through an experience as impactful as study abroad means you grow very close to your fellow classmates who are growing and learning along with you. People tend to find that the friends they make while studying abroad remain some of their closest lifelong friends.
You might be worried that it'll be hard to make friends while studying abroad in a foreign place surrounded by new people. However, making friends while studying abroad is easier than it sounds if you pick a program that interests you and get involved. Many study abroad programs have social events and activities built in, and you might even get the chance to meet some of your classmates before the program starts.
9. You'll Gain Confidence
Living in a foreign country on your own will give you a newfound sense of independence, even if you're used to studying far from home. The process of figuring out how to live abroad -- from learning how to use public transportation to ordering a meal in the local language -- is one filled with self-discovery. That process helps you realize just how capable you are.
This is why so many students feel like a completely new person when upon coming home from a study abroad trip. The experience sets you up with an unshakeable sense of confidence and a new perspective on the world. This also translates to great leadership skills, which is likely part of why employers value study abroad on a resume.
10. You'll Become a Global Citizen
Moving abroad to study for a semester or a year will connect you with the rest of the world in a way that's hard to achieve from home. You'll develop a sense of how people from other cultures think and feel on an individual level, but you'll also build a deeper understanding of global issues and how events in the world affect countries on the other side of the globe.
Upon returning home, you'll often find that stories in the news about faraway places that once seemed foreign and distant now feel more personal. You've been to and made friends who live in these places, and they've become like second homes. This process of connecting to foreign places and building empathy with people from other cultures will make you a better global citizen, which is a crucial part of living in a global society.
All of these skills are benefits you'll carry with you for life. Even if you never end up returning to the country where you studied abroad, you'll use the things you learned on a daily basis in both your career and personal life. Study abroad might be the single most valuable thing you can do while in college, so what are you waiting for?