Studying abroad is a hot topic for college students. It’s a tough opportunity to pass up, considering the level of travel could never be met with a full-time job. The options are vast: semesters abroad, short-term programs, summer sessions, or semesters-at-sea just to name a few. But there’s an elite group of students who take studying abroad to the next level—those who decide to study overseas for their entire undergraduate degree.
The number of students studying overseas for all four years isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s certainly on the rise, and for good reasons. Students experience other languages and cultures in ways you couldn’t get at a school in the U.S. But with such great opportunities at international schools, we’re all left to wonder, why aren’t there more students taking this opportunity?
I have my own opinion on the matter: if you want to study at an international school, it takes a lot of guts.
Just think about it. When we go on a trip to another country, we prepare with travel books, translation apps, maps, and enough over-the-counter medication to open our own pharmacy. Because of this, I can’t begin to imagine the preparation needed to go overseas for the length of getting a degree.
For freshmen, college can be a scary thing. Students are away from their families and friends for the first time, dealing with new schedules and lifestyles, and often a new geographical territory. Not to mention you have to move everything you own into a miniscule dorm room. Going to college is not for the weak of heart, but going to college overseas takes a different kind of student.
For Gregory Bumb, a senior at John Cabot University in Rome, it was his lifelong goal to study overseas. Bumb said students need good adaptability skills to transition into such a different environment.
“It’s not your typical college experience,” he said. “Where else could I hang out with my American friends in the morning, sip on a cappuccino with Italian friends, and later enjoy a beer with a couple Russian buddies?”
For Alexander Sherr, being in a foreign country isn’t too new for him. He moved to Hong Kong with his parents in 2007. Now, he’s taking a gap year to study Mandarin with Next Step China and plans on attending college in Beijing.
A lot of people asked Sherr why he didn’t want to go to school in the U.S., and why he chose to study in Beijing. “I want to study international relations. It only makes sense to put the ‘international’ in international relations,” he said.
Now that globalization has been long established, Sherr said that more and more people are speaking English, making a transition to a different country easier than it may have been in the past.
Studying overseas isn’t only an option for freshmen, though. Bumb received his associate degree in architecture prior to becoming a full-time student at John Cabot. Keenan Whitt Linsly, a student at Aarhus University in Denmark, received his associate degree from Tidewater Community College.
Linsly said one of the tipping points of his decision was the low cost compared to American schools. He is attending his school for less than the cost of a local university, which he said includes transportation to go home and visit his family.
“Staying in a country for four to six months is really not enough time to be fully immersed,” he said. “Being in a new place not only allows for you to build stronger connections, but you have time to bring opportunities to fruition.”
Another John Cabot student, Melissa Abate, thinks four years is the perfect amount of time to “truly bond with the entire experience.” Originally from Fort Lee, N.J., Abate believes going to school in another country is preparing her to be more marketable in today’s competitive job market.
“Take a chance, do something you’ve never done before, take this shot, surprise yourself,” she said. “Jumping into the world of a study abroad is like no other experience, and it comes but once: when you’re young.”
Jumping into that new world will certainly provide a bit of culture shock and confusion. For Bumb, it happened when he went to get a haircut during his earlier days in Italy. After getting a cut that was a bit too short, he gave the barber a look of confusion. The barber, in response, said something along the lines of “learn Italian, and it won’t happen again.”
Sherr stressed one thing for students looking to go abroad for their studies: “don’t get lost.” Not in the sense of getting lost geographically, but personally. He said it’s challenging finding a balance between submerging yourself in the new world you’re in, while staying in touch with the culture in which you grew up.
“The biggest thing is making that step, buying that plane ticket,” he said. “Once you’re [in the country], you’ll find there are a lot of people like you who will inspire you and make you question what you want to do.”
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