It’ll come as no surprise that the number of students choosing to study abroad increases each year -- and why wouldn’t it? If you’ve not yet got the memo, it’s worth noting that spending a semester or even a full year abroad is a powerful gift to you and your future self.
As someone who has now studied abroad in two different continents and spent five years living abroad after I caught the 'bug,' I know full-well how pushing myself out of my comfort zone on that initial trip abroad was the life-changing experience that I needed to put me onto the path that I follow today.
Don’t believe me? Here are seven reasons why you should study abroad.
1. Study Abroad is a Great Way to See the World
Before I set out to spend a semester studying abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland, I’d never been further afield from my home country of Britain than neighboring France. While it wasn’t exactly that much further away, the experience of gorging myself on fondue and savoring French and Swiss literature was one that sparked a love affair with travel that still continues to this day, over ten years later.
While a passion for travel is a great reason to choose to study abroad, a love of profound, life-enhancing travel is even better. There’s nothing quite like really getting under the skin of a place, and an extended period living and breathing a new country is precisely the way to do it. But here’s the drag: the opportunities to spend months living abroad are few and far between as you get older. Embrace them while you can.
2. You May Discover a Love (or Talent) for Languages
One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad during university was because of my deep love of the French language -- and an insatiable desire to be able to communicate with people beyond the limits of my own country and tongue.
Studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity to get your brain around the nuts and bolts of that language you’ve been trying to learn for years. Suddenly, surrounded by native speakers and thrust into speaking it every day, fluency becomes an attainable goal. And, once you’ve learned one new language, the second isn’t hard to get to grips with either, so studying abroad might put you well on your way to becoming a veritable polyglot.
3. You'll be Significantly More Employable
In an increasingly globalized world, there’s one sure-fire way to stand out of the crowd when it comes to graduate school and job applications: studying abroad. Nothing says “hire me” like an applicant who’s demonstrated an interest in challenging themselves and throwing themselves into new and diverse situations -- and coming out of it smiling.
Prospective employers want to know that you can deal with anything that the workplace will send your way and, after having to navigate a completely new culture, language, and country, you find yourself having these characteristics in spades.
What’s more, language skills are increasingly necessary to have in the workplace, even if fewer students are studying them. Having linguistic abilities in any languages beyond your own immediately sets you apart from your peers, while cultural understanding -- learned from an extended period in a country -- is an integral and often overlooked feature of doing business.
The necessity of small-talk before a deal in Chile or being blunt and to the point in Germany are subtle but important cultural codes and norms that can only be gleaned from living there and have enormous value in business environments.
4. You Gain Independence & Other Transferrable Skills
While many people focus on the employability aspect of studying abroad, the personal benefits shouldn’t be overlooked. Studying at college in your own country is one experience, where parents or other like-figures are never more than a phone call away. But doing so abroad is quite different.
Sure, we’ve never been more connected, but moving abroad to study makes you learn very quickly what it means to be an independent human being. Even basic bureaucracy, such as setting up accommodation, bank accounts, and bills, becomes 100 times more difficult because it’s in another language or just runs completely differently to how you’re used to back home.
For problems that can’t be solved over the phone, you’re very much on your own, and you’ll learn quickly. Except, you’re never actually on your own. Studying abroad practically always guarantees a new circle of friends, mentors and other figures cheering you on towards your journey to becoming independent -- and they’re still there to help you out when you need.
Independence might be the headline quality that studying abroad gives you, but the transferable skills you learn are endless. You dig into everything from problem-solving and pragmatism to map reading to money management, all of which will serve you well throughout your life. Studying abroad during college can be a life-changing opportunity, particularly as you realize that you’ve blossomed into a fully functioning adult when you step back on home soil.
5. Your Social Circle Will Become Global
Nothing helps you bond with another person more than finding yourselves on public transport heading in the wrong direction in a new city where you don’t speak the language or just the shared experience of being together in a brand-new place. The study abroad circles at universities are tight-knit and hugely supportive, and it’s not unusual to return home with new friends that you know are for life, particularly given technology now makes it so easy to stay in touch.
The best bit, however, is the likelihood that they’ll hail from all across the world. Study abroad programs attract people from every walk of life and every country imaginable, and the cross-cultural exchange you have isn’t just one with the country you’re living in.
No: you’ll swap recipes, jokes and television programs with your new buddies and find that, regardless of your language or background, you have far more in common than you would have ever realized.
6. You May Find Your Sense of Direction & Purpose
When I first boarded a plane to Switzerland in my second year of university, I never knew that it would spark an enduring love of travel -- or a career in that industry. The experience of finding my way in a new place, without guidance from anyone else, was an irresistibly addictive feeling and one that I still hunger for on each and every trip abroad that I take.
Getting the chance to study at a new university specializing in an area you’ve never come across before or encountering a hobby that you’d never even heard of, all can spark a life-long interest that may well even shape your career prospects and everything you do afterward. There are plenty of unique study abroad programs out there with your name on them!
7. Study Abroad Widens Your Awareness of the World
With xenophobia on the rise, learning to appreciate and accept difference and not be fearful of it is an increasingly important global commodity. But it’s one that so few people realize. Studying abroad grants you an amazing array of new connections and networks with unexpected people in unexpected places.
Human beings learn through experience and being thrown into a new culture is an excellent way to realize how many misconceptions we all harbor about foreign cultures and countries.
Everyone from your new classmates to your host family will have an impact on your development during the time you are away, and their perspectives, beliefs, and lifestyle will have a profound influence on the person you come back being. Studying abroad is guaranteed to open your eyes to other people’s perspectives, making you more accepting and understanding of people who don’t look, talk, or think like you. These empathetic qualities shouldn’t be under-appreciated.
Ultimately, the positive consequences of studying abroad can’t be understated. The only question left is: why not study abroad?