Having the option to study abroad is one of the many advantages of attending a college or university. For many, it’s a once in a lifetime experience that you might want to take advantage of if you have the opportunity.
However, what is studying abroad? And is it for everyone? There are certainly plenty of benefits, but not everyone will be happy with the experience. We’ll go over the basics, the pros and cons, and some of the best places you may want to study abroad in this article.
What is Study Abroad?
“Study abroad” refers to programs at specific schools that allow you to attend short term programs, a semester, or even a whole year at a college or university in a foreign country.
The availability of studying abroad depends entirely on your specific college’s program and their partnerships with other schools around the globe. Certain destinations may only be for specific majors, though, so even if your college has a partnership with a school in New Zealand, it may not be available for your area of study.
Study abroad programs can last anywhere from 10 days to a whole year, and what you study will entirely depend on your area of study and the classes available to international students. You likely will also be introduced to other students from your country so you can experience your new environment together.
Most students opt to study abroad during their junior year, but it may be possible to participate in the program sooner or later. However, most find this a good middle ground as you are finishing up your general education requirements, starting on your major, and not just about to graduate.
If you are interested in learning more about your school’s study abroad program, make sure to reach out to the department of international programs (they may go by a similar but different name!).
What Are the Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad?
While studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, it is not for everyone. Here are some of the benefits and downsides of participating in these programs.
PRO: Make new friends
in your dorm room, and other students in your classes. You can have friends from different cultures and backgrounds, something that is great for broadening your horizons.
It can be easy to isolate yourself when studying abroad, but one of the best upsides of this experience is all the new people you will meet. If you take the time to make new friends, you will absolutely leave with amazing stories, memories, and additional reasons to return to the area in the future.
Con: You May Get Homesick
Although you have the opportunity to find more independence and make new friends, there is no doubt that you could be homesick. Homesick for your family as well as your friends and even your country. If you’re there for a longer program, you could miss out on holidays and birthdays, too.
It’s important though to keep in mind that this isn’t forever. You will go home eventually. And in the meantime, you can use things like Discord, FaceTime, social media, and Zoom to keep in touch with your loved ones. And you can make sure to bring them home souvenirs when it’s time to travel back!
PRO: You’ll Open the Door to New Opportunities
Although you may be a little restricted in the classes available to you in a study abroad program, many do offer flexibility for international students. Even if you’re studying economics or business, for example, you may not be pigeonholed into those courses. You could even find you have a larger selection of classes to choose from and could take a class directly related to the country you’re visiting, for example.
And, this is also a great time to network! You’ll make connections that could lead to internships or job opportunities. You could even decide to move to this country after you graduate college. There really are no end of possibilities that could come out of studying abroad.
CON: Some People Experience Culture Shock
Being somewhere new can definitely be a benefit, but for others, it can be a little unsettling. For some, it can take a bit to settle down. Between meeting new people and finding your way through a new city, it’s a lot! However, taking it slow and working with your support group at your new college can be a lifesaver.
PRO: You’ll Learn a new language
If you’ve been studying Spanish, Italian, Japanese, or another language for some time, this is a great chance to put those skills to work. Learning a foreign language in the classroom is fantastic, but many find that real mastery of the language comes from immersing yourself in it every day.
By studying abroad, you can put your language skills to work day after day, honing your conversation skills and understanding.
CON: Not Fluent in a Language
Studying abroad absolutely helps you brush up on your studied language, but what if you haven’t studied the language at all? It can be super easy to get lost and fall behind on your classes if you don’t understand any of what’s being said!
It’s generally not recommended to study abroad in a country where you don’t understand the language. Classes will almost always be taught in that language, and it will no doubt be difficult to pass if you can’t understand the teacher. Even if you think you can learn the basics of the language quickly, it’s not a good idea – proficiency takes years and years of hard earned practice. If you haven’t studied the foreign language, it’s best to attend a college in an English-speaking country.
PRO: You’ll Gain Independence
You definitely experienced independence when you left for college but studying abroad brings a whole other world of required independence into the fold. You’ll be far away from family and friends, and may even feel on your own, even if you have a support network at the new college. This can be liberating for some and scary for others.
CON: It Can be Expensive
One of the main concerns about studying abroad is the cost. Between flights, housing, living expenses, and tuition, it can get expensive fast. It’s not difficult to believe the cost alone isn’t feasible for some.
If you are worried about affording an international program though, talk to your financial aid department. They sometimes have funds that can help make it a reality for students and may be able to point you in the direction of additional aid including scholarships and grants.
PRO: You’re Somewhere New
And, of course, you’re somewhere new! It gives you the opportunity to travel and work towards your degree at the same time. You won’t have to hit the books for your entire program. There will be plenty of chances to explore, sight-see, and experience the country you’re visiting.
CON: Losing Time
Sadly, another downside of studying abroad is that sometimes it can cause students to require an additional semester or even a year of extra school. It really depends on the program and how it translates to credits for your bachelor’s degree. You could lose out on time if it doesn’t translate 1:1.
Before you sign up for a study abroad program, check with the international department to see how it works and how it will impact your own timeline. You may also want to chat with your academic adviser to discuss your options. You need to know what to expect before you take that flight; you don’t want to be finishing up the program and discover it won’t be put towards your required credits.
What Are the Best Places to Study Abroad?
The best countries to study abroad for you may differ from the next person. And the experience can even vary greatly from college to college and city to city! It’s important to ask yourself a few questions before deciding on a location so you can have the best experience.
- Do I speak the language?
- Am I interested in the culture of the country?
- Am I interested in its history?
- What would I like to see and do in my downtime? Some countries are better for more active people! Others are great for sightseeing historic places.
- Does the college support my major?
- How much does it cost to travel to and live in this country?
- What support programs does the other college offer for international students?
- What classes are available to me?
- What weather and climate would I enjoy the most?
- Is the country safe to visit?
That said, some of the places that are regularly said to be the “best” to study abroad in include:
- New Zealand
Of course, you don’t have to choose from this “best of” list. It’s a better option to go with what’s best for you. Review the options available to you through your college and, just like you did with your college list, make a list of pros and cons of each location. This should help you narrow down the best location for your education!
If you can, we hope you have the opportunity to study abroad. There are so many beautiful places to visit and see. It’s important though to take your time with the decision and not rush. Review your options, think about the pros and cons, and talk to your advisor if you need assistance.
If the cost of studying abroad is weighing heavy on your decision, it may help to find scholarships dedicated to these programs. Use College Raptor’s Scholarship Search Tool to find awards that could be available to you and your goals.
If you can, we hope you study abroad. The world is full of so many beautiful places. We wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to see them all. At the same time, if you seriously are considering it, take your time. There’s no rush. Use this list as a starting point, along with other tools. The ultimate goal is to come away happy and satisfied. If you’re on the fence and decide to study abroad is not for you that’s fine; some people prefer not to. If you do, make the most out of it.