In the months leading up to my freshman year of university, I read a variety of self-help articles and books about ensuring a successful college experience. Like any high-achieving student, I was open to any and all advice to help me make the most of my four years in college.
The common consensus among everything I read was that studying abroad was one of the most enriching and unforgettable experiences that you could have in college; it was not to be missed. A few years later when I studied abroad in Paris, France, I saw firsthand how my own studies abroad shaped and changed me for the better.
When I first broached the subject of studying abroad with my empty-nester parents, my mother’s automatic reply was, “Oh, but you’ll be so far away! Do you really have to go?” While it wasn’t absolutely necessary for me to go on exchange, there were a multitude of reasons why I chose to do so and why I believe every student should too, if presented with the opportunity.
Here are some of the incredible reasons why you should study abroad, based on my experience.
1. You'll Gain a Better Appreciation for Your Home
One of the biggest takeaways from my own experience studying overseas was the ability to see my home country and school through a new lens. Integrating myself into a foreign school system opened my eyes to new perspectives from classmates from around the world. Hearing their interpretations of various events or figures gave me insight into how my country is perceived and how different people approach various situations. It gave me a chance to reflect on myself and my own ways of thinking and how to improve them.
2. You Can Take a Class You Can’t at Home
Every university has a few classes that are unique to the school or its location. Studying abroad at a foreign institution offers you an opportunity to enroll in classes you otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to take. For me, I capitalized on the occasion to take a modern world history class taught in French.
Since I already had what I thought was a thorough understanding of world history, I thought my main challenge in this course would be learning entirely in French. I was surprised to find that the class material was new to me. Though we were examining the same events that I had studied in my history courses back home, this time, I heard about the events from a European perspective. It was the same story, simply told by a different narrator.
This served as another lesson of the importance of seeing things from others’ points of view.
3. You'll Learn History Where It Occurred
Whether you’re going to Europe, Asia, South America, or anywhere else in the world for your studies, another benefit of going overseas is being able to learn about the history of the location while being there.
During my exchange in Paris, I was fortunate enough to visit the Palace of Fontainebleau and learn about the numerous kings who once resided within those walls. Simply walking the streets of Paris was a lesson in history, with the beautiful Haussmanian architecture that adorns the city. Being in a place that has seen so much taught me more than I ever could have learned from reading a textbook.
4. You'll Increase Your Adaptability
Even though you don’t realize it, traveling always changes the way you think and makes you more adaptable and flexible. Study abroad amplifies this because you almost always study abroad for a longer span of time than you travel or take a vacation. You learn to navigate a new school, city, country, and social situations.
When I returned to the States at the end of my semester in France, I had a fresh take on problem-solving. I thought I was already open-minded before I left, but going overseas helped me expand my thoughts further. Thanks to my time abroad, I learned to approach problems differently and learn to adapt to new situations as smoothly as possible.
5. You'll Become More Independent
While most students have already been away from home for a while by the time they study abroad, going overseas is the first time that many find themselves truly alone in a new setting. In that sense, studying abroad forces you to leave your comfort zone and learn to start a new life on your own in a foreign place.
You’ll learn more about yourself, discover new interests, and probably gain a greater appreciation for all the support you family has given you up until now.
6. You'll Advance Your Future Career
It’s true: having international experience to include on your resume does give you an advantage when it comes time to apply to jobs. Employers value the independence, adaptability, and flexibility that you’ll develop from going overseas.
Studying abroad also gives you the opportunity to meet others from around the globe and grow your network. Depending on what your host institution’s policies are on research and internships, going overseas may also help you get your foot in the door for future work opportunities in your field.
7. You Can Learn Another Language
If you already know the basics of another language or have always wanted to learn, this is your opportunity! There truly is no better way to master a language than to move to a country where it’s the predominant and official language. By immersing yourself in the country, language, and culture, you’ll learn the true language that natives speak.
This was one of the main reasons I chose to go to university in Montreal, Canada, and study abroad in Paris, France.
8. You'll Experience Living Somewhere Rather than Visiting
Along the same lines, studying abroad offers the perfect opportunity to truly live in another country. You can truly immerse yourself in the culture and customs, much more than you could as a tourist visiting for a week or two. Many programs also offer the option of living with a host family for the duration, which is another fantastic way to authentically experience your host country.
Having the experience of living somewhere foreign helps cultivate empathy. In this day and age of globalization, it’s so important to understand where others come from.
9. You'll Explore New Places
Another obvious perk of studying abroad is that you get to be somewhere new. If you’ve always wanted to go to Japan, why not study abroad there? Beyond the city where you’ll live for school, you can also venture out a bit further and explore other parts of your host country, or even neighboring nations.
During my exchange in Paris, I took the opportunity to begin traveling solo to nearby countries, like the U.K., Germany, and Spain, among many others. This was a powerful experience for me, as it taught me a lot about enjoying my own company and independence.
10. You'll Meet New People
If there’s anything I learned from my own time abroad, it’s that the people make the experience. During my semester overseas, I met so many fascinating, lovely people from around the world who changed the way I perceive myself and the world. The friends and memories I made during that time have stayed with me since.
As an unexpected perk, I now have friends to visit in France, Australia, and various parts of the U.S.!
Despite my mother’s initial apprehension in allowing me to study abroad, she ultimately agreed because she knew what a beneficial and life-changing experience it would be for me. Studying abroad shapes who you are and how you view the world; these are just some of the amazing reasons why you should study abroad, but you're sure to discover your own once you're abroad. If you have the opportunity to go overseas, seize the chance and don’t look back.
This post was originally published in November 2013, and was updated in September 2019.