I wish I didn’t have to write this article. This article shouldn’t have to be written but, alas, I am writing it. Thus, I have to explain to you why more students don’t study abroad.
Though finding your way to this page may mean that you’re more in the loop than most, the facts still stand that only 2% of US Students study abroad per year. One percent in 2012 was under 300,000 students. Guys, the population is 361 million. This is an issue! Though there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of students studying abroad, we still aren’t where we want to be (everyone, basically).
Remember, you get four years of college. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience.
Studying overseas is an incredible opportunity that has amazing benefits in all areas of life. So why aren’t more kids interested in taking the road less traveled? Here are some of the most common excuses -- and a few recommendations on how to overcome them!
Money Don’t Grow on Trees
This is probably the most common excuse for not studying abroad -- and rightfully so! Just last year, Fox Business published "Thinking of Studying Abroad? It's Not All About Cost" in which they stated “the average cost of studying abroad for one semester was $17,785" This is a crazy amount of money for anyone to have to spend on a few months of school -- never mind a teenager!
However, there a tons of ways to save up, scholarships, grants, budget savvy destinations, and more affordable programs that match up with what you're willing and able to spend. Seriously guys, we talk about this stuff all the time:
- 60+ Study Abroad Scholarships and Grants
- 5 Affordable Study Abroad Programs
- The Go Overseas Guide to Financing Your Life Abroad (PDF)
Definitely shop around for that ideal mix of affordable program and destination. For example, at the University of New Hampshire, I had the option of studying in Rome or Florence with an outside study-abroad company like ASA but instead chose the UNH program in a smaller town -- this option actually turned out to be less than the price of a normal semester in the US and there was no worry with credit transfer or additional fees because it was a UNH-run program!
Also, sometimes the smaller programs are better anyway for their attention to detail and off-the-beaten-path locations that’ll gain you more experience and immersion in the culture you’re looking to discover.
Colleges Forget to Get as Excited as I Want Them to be About Study Abroad
When writing this article, I quickly researched ten well-known colleges all with different financial quotas and looked to see how easily it was to find and access study abroad information from the homepage of their websites.
My findings? There were only four that had their study abroad website accessible without looking too hard. The others needed to be typed into the search bar which would open another page or a completely different website altogether. Sometimes, the study abroad site was even listed under Special Academic Opportunities -- something needs to change.
Yes, there are study abroad fairs and perhaps an advocate of a specific program in your university will come in and speak in class about the wonderful opportunity you could have -- but is there truly a push? Study abroad is still an optional practice at most universities and many universities treat it as such.
How to help? Ask questions. Spread information. Help out in the study abroad office, after you become an alumni of the abroad life, head back to campus and spread the good news! Most programs will have ambassador programs to help you help your classmates get involved.
Someday, we’ll be able to up our numbers abroad but it is going to take activists to get this topic on the plates of big universities that may not realize just how incredible this opportunity is to their students – but also, it benefits them as a university!
Fear of Missing Out on Important Life Events
College in the US has become sensationalized (I mean, we know it’s pretty sensational, but really this is getting ridiculous) to the point that most of what we picture college to be is what we see in the movies -- full of football tailgates, homecomings, frat parties, and utterly fun chaos with a few hours of studying and classes thrown in.
This is all fine and dandy, until you miss out on worldly opportunities because someone was too scared to miss homecoming. Of course homecoming is amazing! I was upset I missed it at UNH this year and I graduated in 2011!
Though the study abroad American student population has risen in the past year from 1% to 2% we still have a lot of work to do.
But if you watch the UNH Homecoming Video (the alpaca doesn’t count -- that is just pure UNH awesomeness), and then watch my friend Alyssa’s study abroad video, well -- you tell me which one you’d like to experience.
Remember, you get four years of college. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience -- sometimes a twice in a lifetime experience if you're lucky! Yes, of course you'll miss your home and friends, but believe us, study abroad will be worth it. You may even make new friends and a second home out of your study abroad destination -- and end up missing that when you come home!
You'll Be Far From Your Family
Speaking of thinking you’ll be missing out; it may be your family that is deterring you from your dream of studying abroad (and if it wasn’t your dream before reading this article, we hope it is by the end).
Especially if you decided not to wander too far from home for your college experience, studying abroad will be the first time when you’re not in driving distance from your family. Though you may be worried about missing out or missing home, your family is also feeling the consequences of your decisions and may not like them.
An overprotective Mom, Dad, sibling or grandparent may start guilt tripping you into staying home or cutting your dream of a year abroad a bit short but stay resilient!
One of the most difficult things to do is to realize that at this incredibly fragile time in your life, this is your life. Not your families, not your friends -- and if you want to launch yourself into the unknown and learn new languages and cultures and skills that’ll help you in your profession, then you can’t let anyone stop you!
It's Not Relevant to Your Degree
If you're studying Spanish, French, or International Relations, getting some international experience while you're still in college makes perfect sense. After all, what better way to become fluent than to immerse yourself in a language abroad?
On the other hand, if you're a STEM major, business major, American History major, Education major, or one of the many majors that don't directly focus on international experiences, the relevancy of study abroad may not be directly apparent. But it is.
As mentioned, student athletes are starting to head abroad more often now, and are excelling because of it.
No matter what your major, your studies will benefit from studying abroad. Studying abroad teaches you versatile skills you can apply to any job, and simply being exposed to a different worldview and getting out of your comfort zone is just a huge life-education experience (hey, college isn't just about learning a subject, it's about becoming an adult too.)
Furthermore, if you want to make sure you continue to study classes relevant to your degree while studying abroad -- do it. Direct enroll at an English speaking university and check their course catalog to make sure they offer courses in your major. I bet you'll be happy with what you find.
I’m an Athlete/Nurse/Other, so I Don’t Have Time
As I wrote in How to Study Abroad as a College Athlete, if you’re heading to college on a scholarship or just simply on a team, the thought of studying abroad may be diminished by your own competitiveness, your teammates, or our coaches and teachers that tell you studying abroad would ruin your career as a student athlete.
However, in recent years, there has been a stirring in the traditional views of athletes that this can soon be a thing of the past. As mentioned, student athletes are starting to head abroad more often now, and are excelling because of it.
Truthfully, if you can persuade your coach to agree -- playing your sport in another country may be the best thing for your game!
This also is true for the pre-med students and others in fields that traditionally have full schedules. Try discussing options with multiple professors and offices in your school before you write off this wonderful chance!
No More Excuses, Guys
Though the study abroad American student population has risen in the past year from 1% to 2% we still have a lot of work to do. So spread the word, (we assume that you are interested in the topic, seeing that you’re still reading this) and tell your siblings, your cousins, random people in your school or community.
Study abroad! It's possible! For every excuse there's a solution. If you need more persuasion, peruse the other articles on Go Overseas for everything from scholarship suggestions and ways to persuade your parents to go along with the idea of going abroad! The opportunities are endless once you join the 2% of our population traveling across borders. Get to it!Photo Credits: Courtney Dorazio, Fredella Surjono, Zach Omer, and Danielle Slowik.