America’s elite colleges and universities have spent the last few years encouraging more and more of their students to study abroad. Many students – myself included – expected to study abroad by default. More than half the students at my college study abroad – and we’re not even in the Princeton Review’s top ten! If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, check out some of the reasons why you might want to stay on campus.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that study abroad is not a terrific opportunity for many students – international relations and language majors, for instance. However, it is important to recognize that it has pros and cons – just like anything else. It has costs that folks who are as on-the-fence as I am might not want to take. If you’re dead set on studying abroad, do it! If you’re not so sure, take a second look at what you’ll be leaving behind and what you’ll be going into.
Remember high school? You spent days polishing your application essays and nights worrying about a rejection letter from the university of your dreams. You’re at that university now, paying a small fortune for the small class sizes, award-winning professors and diverse, gifted classmates that you dreamed about two or three years ago. And now you’re trying to leave?
You have probably already started taking those advantages for granted. Unless you’re considering a semester at Oxford, you might be unpleasantly surprised at the academics at your host school. There’s a reason foreigners come to America’s universities – they really are the best in the world.
As budgets are cut, so are class schedules. Unless you’re in the biggest major on campus, there are classes that are offered very infrequently – classes that you’ll miss out on. It might be the seminar on women in journalism or on South American popular revolutions. Ever since the spring of my first year, I had been yearning to take a class on natural language processing (don’t ask – it’s really nerdy). I would have missed out on the chance to take that course if I had gone abroad. The kicker is that your junior year is when you start having enough priority to register for the classes that filled up when you were a freshman or a sophomore.
One of my close friends almost came home early, three weeks into her study abroad. She was living among ordinary students who already had friend groups, plans for Friday night and a favorite party spot. My friend’s social situation improved, but she had a few weeks of misery to show for it.
While you’re gone, your friends on campus move on. Even weekly Skype dates won’t change the fact that folks on campus aren’t spending their days missing you. The couple that everyone thought would be the first to get married will break up; your best friend will start dating someone you’ve never met. For many of my friends who went abroad, this was a big and unpleasant shock.
In the words of LCD Soundsystem, you’re going to “spend the next five years trying to be with your friends again.” I’m glad I did not leave my friends behind.
Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But so is college itself. Living among your peers, spending hours pondering life’s biggest questions or partying up to four nights a week is not something you’ll be doing after graduation. Come that May a few years down the line, you’ll probably even miss the over-caffeinated, late nights writing that research paper. Savor it.
If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, think about it. Be thankful that you’ve got two good choices. Just be aware that staying on campus all four years is a perfectly legitimate option, with its own set of benefits. Study abroad can bring you great opportunities in interviews and in applications for jobs and graduate school, but it is not the only way to have great, unique opportunities. If you’re not enthused about studying abroad, just don’t do it, and instead take a few electives outside of your major or get a sweet internship.
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