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I Like College but Love Study Abroad

(This is the closet thing I could find to someone saying I LOVE college. Photo by: www.communicatingideas.com)

On Twitter yesterday, I came across a university study abroad office tweet that said “What do you LOVE about #studyabroad?” with love written just like that in capital letters. Now as a former study abroad student whose sole mission is to debunk this romantic, perfection fantasy of studying abroad, this really flipped my noodle. That tweet got me thinking that maybe at 5 o’clock in the morning without any breakfast yet I may be a little cranky and overreacting. So I looked at a few universities’ general Twitter accounts to see if I could find something familiar. Guess what? I couldn’t find one that said “What do you LOVE about #college?”. So why was my proverbial noodle flipped?

Because I was once sold on this dream that studying abroad somehow transcends normal life and is a picture perfect experience and this university was trying to sell it to unsuspecting students. If you’re new to the Twenty in Paris blog/ books, I was super disappointed how the Paris study abroad experience was not magical but rather filled with real life ups and downs heightened by cultural differences and language ineptitude. Anyhoo, here is a university whose study abroad professionals are promoting a myth when they know better! Studying abroad is a more challenging version, not an easier one, of college. It tests you in ways that college in your home country has never challenged you before. Now this does not mean to say that studying abroad is not a rewarding experience whose benefits, I feel, far outweigh the challenge. Just simply means that like going to college in your home country, it is complex with the added bonus of a foreign school system, country, language, and living arrangement all while being away from your loved ones. Sounds easy enough, right?

So why isn’t college marketed this way? How come colleges aren’t tweeting about how much you’ll LOVE their university? Why is that you’ll like college but love study abroad? When I was in high school, I knew that college was not easy- that there are things like papers (lots of them), mid-terms and finals, presentations, internships, staying up late, crazy tuition costs, high student loans, etc… Was I or other high school students deterred from going to college? Nooooo. And why? I believe it is because we knew that the hard work that is college will give us a better edge with employers to get a job one day. We were provided a realistic picture of college but also advised of its benefits and determined that the pros outweighed the cons.

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(Example of study abroad marketing- doubt you’ll see the whole experience covered. Photo by: passport.gwu.edu)

So why don’t we do this with studying abroad? I started thinking that maybe college is not portrayed as this dream experience because many of us know at least 1 person, often in our family, who went and told us all about it so no one would buy that college is a perfect dream experience. But how many of you know someone who studied abroad? I was the first and only person in my family/friends and the same may be true for many students. So in that respect, it’s easier to sell the study abroad dream because who is going to refute it?

Studying abroad is like an adventure- personal/spiritual as well as cultural. If you budget correctly, you can travel around the host country and to neighboring countries; you can see historical sites, world class museums; expand your palette and improve your linguistic skills; and discover who you are. It is with studying abroad where you will really find out what are your strengths and weaknesses; what you can and cannot do (you’ll be surprised at how much you can do); how you have to be self-reliant and independent. These are all wonderful things but to disregard their accompanying challenging aspects will only be a disservice to you.

Don’t get me wrong- your university study abroad office is doing a great job and they are there for you as they want you to succeed. But I put each student and study abroad advisor up to this test- every time study abroad is mentioned, count how many times the idea / romantic notion of study abroad is hinted at or out-right said versus how many times the challenging aspects and how to deal with them abroad is mentioned. If you hear/ observe that the trials of living and studying abroad are not being discussed, bring them up! The only way to know how to prepare for them is to identify the challenges and talk about how to get past them. And then maybe, just maybe, you’ll like studying abroad just like you like college.

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Have you only been told about all the great things you are going to do abroad but aren’t quite buying? Are you someone who is looking for the truth? Answer all of your questions about what the experience of living and going to college abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris.