The “study abroad debate” is all too familiar. At first, the sheer notion of study abroad is invigorating, as images of clubs, glasses of wine on rooftop terraces and cross-country train trips flash through your mind.
However, slowly but surely, you come to the harsh reality that you stand to lose some things if you study abroad.
For some, it might be graduating with your class. For others, the fear may be more personal — am I too young or immature to spend one or two semesters abroad?
I dealt with both these issues, but I found solutions to help me overcome my trepidations. I hope that those solutions will be helpful to other struggling students.
If you want to experience the charms of a study abroad experience like Venice (pictured above), there are hurdles to overcome.
The first and most obvious hurdle was choosing a program that best fit my needs.
I could study through my school’s program or venture into the sea of independent program providers. I read reviews and testimonies from study abroad alum to get a feel for what was out there.
Did I want to live in a home-stay or a dorm? Attend classes with the program or at a local university? These questions may seem trivial, but the answers can have a large impact on your overall overseas experience.
Comparing all the options required thought and effort but the work panned out nicely in the end.
The second hurdle was convincing my parental unit.
As parents do, mine worried about my GPA falling and an inability to focus on my work. I quickly realized that offering encouraging words was futile.
So I emailed the program director of my study abroad program, a decision I highly recommend regardless of whether you know the director or not. If your parents have concrete evidence that your program is structured, provides overseas academic support if needed and ensures that the students go to class regularly, your parents will be much more willing to hop on board and perhaps dole out some cash to facilitate your cultural globe-trotting.
The third hurdle was fulfilling the requirements to graduate on time.
Two solutions helped me sideline this fear: first was empirical evidence. The Office of Institutional Research found that 64.5% of study abroad students graduate on time.
The same study showed study abroad graduation rates were higher across the spectrum—GPA, household income, major and race. For the other 35.5%, well let’s just say that many students study overseas without initially checking that their school recognizes their program and that the courses they choose will count towards their major.
These are logistical hurdles I tackled with an academic advisor. It was well worth the time and effort.
After figuring out the logistics and parental shenanigans, the fourth hurdle was overcoming my personal fears.
Was I too young to immerse myself in a new culture? Was I mature enough to say no when my friends said yes?
Call me overly anxious, but horror stories from past students making dumb decisions evoked feelings of doubt. It seemed silly to study mid-undergrad when I could travel endlessly after graduating. Giving up semester commitments sounded too scary, leading me to consider short-term programs.
But, who knows where I’ll be two years from now? I certainly don’t.
Even if I wasn’t ready and the timing wasn’t perfect, I started to believe that study abroad would help me grow up and open my mind to future possibilities that had never occurred to me.
From what others told me, living and learning by experience is at the heart of study abroad. Challenging yourself to make informed and impromptu decisions not only makes for good stories, but also for helpful lessons.
Studying abroad is worth every minute you miss at your university.
As the world becomes ever more globalized, spending time abroad is increasingly important. Living overseas challenges one to adapt outside of one’s comfort zone, to engage and work with culturally dissimilar people and to debunk international stereotypes. Thinking both analytically and creatively about your culture and character from a foreigner’s POV is a rare gift, one that non-study abroad students don’t often grasp. What’s more, these skills make you more attractive to employers who want a dynamic and internationally strategic professional.
Plus, did you ever think you could meet your special someone overseas? If not, then think again.
The take away message: do not let academic or personal fears prevent you from studying abroad. The experience will help you gain insight into your career path, the community around you and yourself.
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