Two weeks ago, I read Andrea’s post on 3 signs you’re studying abroad for the wrong reasons. This article immediately caught my eye, especially the content. As a former study abroad student and current study abroad counselor, I wanted to add to this conversation. I really do think Andrea is on the right path with the Twenty in Paris blog, but this article seemed to dissuade more than help students interested in studying abroad. I reached out to Andrea regarding a chance to voice my response to her article. Here it is!
Studying abroad can be the best experience of your life. With proper planning and consideration, you can study or intern abroad and still graduate on time, not break the bank, and have fun!
1. I studied abroad in New Zealand during my junior year and took 3 electives and 1 course for my minor, and I have to say that was the best thing I could’ve done. I was able to explore topics that I just didn’t have at my school and courses that allowed me to learn more about the local culture that I was living in for 4.5 months. With proper planning, students can afford to take classes overseas that don’t pertain to their major as long as they begin the process early and figure out which classes they can take overseas and which ones they can’t. I have friends that studied abroad 2, 3, and even 4 times abroad and STILL managed to graduate on time.
(photo by: ccsf.edu)
2. Many students choose to go overseas because they want to travel; studying abroad is often the first step to greater cultural understanding and breaking down their own ethnocentric feelings. As long as students are aware of the financial costs, they should not be discouraged from traveling while studying overseas. They are always learning about different cultures and different ways of life whether they’re travel to a different country or just a different city within their host location.
There are definitely ways to cut costs – make friends with local classmates and stay at their houses, live in hostels, rent a car or take public transportation, sign up for discounts with airlines or hotels/hostels and look for deals. I met a wonderful Kiwi girl when I studied abroad and she took me and a group of friends with her to her beach house. I also had the chance to stay with a Kiwi family for Mother’s Day, an awesome cultural experience in itself even though I was an hour outside of Auckland where I was living. My friends and I probably only spent about 4 or 5 weekends in Auckland throughout the entire 4.5 months and I still only spent about $1,000 a month (on food and travel) because we created a budget and actually stuck to it. In addition, the majority of a student’s time may not be spent in the classroom – depends on where you study and the luck of the draw with classes. I had friends who only had classes on Thursdays, and some friends that had 3 or 4 day weekends because of their class schedule.
(photo by: postgradproblems.com)
3. Students should be making the most of their 20s!! This is the time to think about finances but not be tied down by them. They have the rest of their lives to worry about saving for retirement, and a good job, etc. And since such a small number of U.S. college students actually manage to study or intern abroad during their college years (only about 9% according to IIE’s Open Doors 2013 Report), traveling overseas can actually help them get a job after they graduate and they are getting more life skills by seeing the world at such a relatively young age – I’ve met employers who have stated they will only hire grads if they’ve spent time abroad (and not just in the study abroad field, but other job areas as well). There are countries around the world that promote travel and their citizens are more well-rounded and culturally aware because of it.
(photo by: elitedaily.com)
Regarding saving up for a month-long vacation or summer abroad – realistically, when are students going to have a job where their boss lets them take off for a month, and summers abroad can be more expensive in the long run. With semester abroad, students can use financial aid and some schools pay for flights over to the country (as mine did and some providers do) so students really only need to worry about meals and personal expenses while studying abroad, and if you had travel on breaks, they still won’t necessarily be spending as much out of pocket for a semester with some extracurricular travel than they would for a summer or vacation where they are paying for everything out of pocket.
And for foreign language skills, students are going to get more skills by living abroad during a semester than they will by traveling for a month – as long as they are traveling to a place where English isn’t as prevalent. Any place they go to for vacation is most likely going to have English as a popular if not preferred language option.
In conclusion, studying abroad is possible for student regardless of finances and major – you just need to plan ahead and be motivated enough!
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Meaghan found her passion for travel after a high school trip to Italy and Greece; since then she’s studied abroad in New Zealand for a semester, has worked abroad in Scotland for 3 months, and has visited Australia, England, and Canada. After graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Meaghan completed her Master’s Degree in International education from SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT. She currently works at University of Hartford in the International Programs Office and really enjoys speaking with students interested in traveling abroad.