Life lessons: The incredible benefits of studying abroad
March 27, 2013
Filed under Opinion Columns
Imagine that you’ve been offered a five month vacation: you’ll make friends from across the globe, earn school credit, and explore skills and interests you never knew you had. You’ll have more fun than freshman and sophomore year put together, and you can include it on your resume. A semester abroad could be one of the most awkward, confusing, exciting and amazing experiences of your life.
Having enrolled in our school’s study-abroad program, I know how challenging and rewarding it can be to live in another country. It’s not easy to make lasting personal connections in a few months, especially when your language and customs are so different from your peers. Adjusting to a foreign school is also difficult; your teachers may be much stricter about due dates, word counts and in-class participation.
When I studied at our British sister school, the University of Hull, last spring, I made my first mistake about 15 minutes after I left the airplane. I went to the wrong bus terminal, and didn’t arrive at my apartment until midnight. I didn’t feel much better after I met my roommates. Two of them were French and one of them was a Russian exchange student from the same university; French was the dominant language in our apartment!
At first, I spent a lot of time by myself; even the most mundane events, like grocery shopping, seemed intimidating. I went through some awkward experiences, but eventually, I started to feel comfortable in my new surroundings. I talked more with my roommates and the other international students. I joined clubs, went to school events, and met other people with similar interests.
Together, we all learned about England and about each others’ countries. I saw places I’d only read about, and did things I never expected to do. It was the best experience of my entire college career. This is why I decided to work with International Student Services when I returned to UIS; my time in the UK would not have been as great without the guidance and support of my British friends.
With travel costs, currency exchanges and insurance to mind, a semester abroad can be expensive. By studying at one of your school’s exchange partners, though, you can substantially lower these costs. While I studied in Hull, I paid my tuition to UIS and still received scholarship money and state aid. The university’s housing rates were almost identical to ours; although I had to cover my airfare, I actually returned to the U.S. with more money than I had left with.
By spending a semester abroad, you may also gain preference for jobs in education, social work, business, government and more. To compete in an unpredictable global economy and improve America’s foreign relations, U.S. students need more overseas experience than ever before. A multicultural, multilingual workforce helps U.S. businesses to compete in international markets and relate to customers from different cultures. Knowledge of a foreign language often gives employees better chances for promotions or special assignments, as well as a stronger resume.
Your semester abroad will introduce you to cultures, ideas and experiences which you have never been exposed to before. The U.S. welcomes millions of immigrants every year, and many of us count our classmates, coworkers, friends and families among them. Though I spoke the same language as my hosts and shared many of the same beliefs, my experiences as a foreigner in England were often confusing and difficult. This has made me much more sympathetic towards immigrants and curious about global culture. In fact, I may attend grad school or even work and live in a foreign country after I’ve earned my B.A.
Studying abroad can reap huge personal and professional benefits. It can improve your thinking and communication skills, broaden your knowledge of the world and its people and deepen your love for your own culture. Your time outside of the U.S. is bound to lead to some strange and exciting opportunities; it will also help you to become a better student, worker and human being.