Studying abroad can be an incredibly rewarding experience for anyone brave and enterprising enough to make the journey. It takes a certain type of person to uproot themselves and travel somewhere completely different from their upbringing.
G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” The point was that until you experience other cultures, other parts of the world and other ways of living, you’ll never really understand your own culture.
Regardless, studying in another country is a great way to experience and learn about different cultures. It’s different than going on vacation. Most of your time is spent on the resort or in the company of fellow tourists. There simply isn’t enough time to immerse yourself in the country. Vacation is about enjoying yourself, taking in the sights, the cuisine, maybe some shopping here and there, but it’s not about fitting in, meeting new people or learning the language and the customs.
When studying abroad you have the time to experience and take in the necessary things, the little things that really define the culture in its essence. Some may be good, some may be bad, others harmless, but it’s those things that give you that deep understanding of the new place you’re in.
Perhaps even more rewarding than learning about a new culture is having the opportunity to meet new people and make friends from all over the world. Everyone understands that this can be very difficult, especially when you’re in a totally new environment. But it’s these friends who become contacts; people who might prove invaluable down the road in our careers. Some contacts might prove long-lasting, others may not. While any university provides a space for networking, studying abroad gives one a greater range of options to take advantage of.
As Dee Roach, a manager for the Navitas Education Group writes, “Germany is synonymous with advances in engineering technology, the US with top business and management programs such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford (to name but a few), Australia screams art, and design and sport, and Canada has its world-renowned co-op programs.” In other words, by choosing to study abroad, you give yourself the option of choosing the leaders in your field. This is an option not always available to students who choose to stay home.
Leaving home for a different country, meeting new friends and making professional contacts are the toughest challenges to overcome but they are also the biggest rewards.
Another benefit is having the opportunity to be completely independent and out on your own. For the vast majority of students, university is really their first chance to be away from home and outside the rules of their parents. It’s the first time that you get to do what you want, make your own rules, and be treated as a mature, sensible adult. Whether you’re travelling abroad or not, independence comes with university. However, there is a big difference between students who move to a different country to study and students who just move to a different city.
Students who exchange cities still have the luxury of returning home if they’re homesick but for students who study abroad, it’s a totally different story. While it doesn’t take long to adjust to new surroundings, it can be a much harder learning curve when you might have to factor in language barriers and different customs. We discover a lot about ourselves and what we’re capable of and just how hard we’re willing to work in such situations, but studying abroad also has professional advantages in this regard too.
As Dee Roach notes, “Anyone who is able to put on their CV that they studied abroad is at a great advantage in terms of impressing future employers. At a very basic level it will give you something to talk about in an interview. But much more importantly it will prove to your potential employer that you have the ability to stand on your own two feet, that you can fit in when placed in different environments, and that you are resourceful and have initiative.”
Studying abroad also introduces you to new and different ways of thinking. When we’re accustomed to a particular environment and culture, when we take the obvious for granted, when the sum of our experiences revolve around the city and hometown we grew up in, it’s not just the ‘ways of doing things’ we’re used to and take for granted but also in the ways we think as well.
Going to a different country is just one way to see how people approach problems differently; to see how they think about them, how they go about solving them, what techniques and formulas they use. It allows you to weigh the pros and cons of your own thinking as well as the new ones you’re trying to understand.
If university is still about challenging the way you think and introducing you to dialogue and the marketplace of ideas, studying abroad will not only introduce you to a deeply diverse intellectual environment it will challenge you in the deepest sense. It’s an experience you simply can’t get staying at home.