When creating your college list, there can be several factors to consider. While academics, extracurriculars, location, and faculty are some of the more common ones, students often find themselves wondering about study abroad opportunities. Scrolling through websites or turning brochure pages, you might find that a lot of schools promote their study abroad opportunities in partnership with different colleges located outside the US.
Even though most students don’t study abroad until junior year, you may be drawn to these opportunities and wonder about the benefits of studying abroad. Is it worth leaving your campus, friends, and favorite professors to spend time in a country you’ve never been to before? How is studying abroad helpful professionally and personally?
Studying abroad allows you to immerse yourself in another culture and potentially improve your skills in a foreign language. This is particularly helpful if you’re majoring in a language. For example, spending time in France or Belgium would definitely help your skills if you were a French major. Learning about a place and how things work there can also support you in terms of improving the authenticity and quality of your work – a creative writing piece you write set in Madrid would work far better if you’re actually in Spain and experiencing the streets, buildings, and food firsthand.
A study abroad program can also offer you courses you won’t find at your college in the US. Let’s face it, every school is unique and has its own curriculum and course offerings. Taking a semester to go to a different country and learn from professors is an opportunity many students don’t want to miss. As an English major, it would be very different to take Shakespeare courses in England where you can visit the Globe Theatre and learn from instructors who know more about landmarks surrounding your topics of interest.
The academic benefits of studying abroad definitely should be top on your list of things to consider as you wonder if such a prospect would be right for you. Then again, you can also take classes in fields you might have never encountered before. Again, not all schools have the same departments, so you could find yourself learning about topics you never thought you would!
Of course let’s not forget the social and professional components that come with studying abroad. Studying abroad means new friends and networking opportunities. Being in a different school in a different country allows you access to people you would otherwise not have had the chance to meet. Make friends, attend events, ask for their contact information and keep in touch. You never know when you might find yourself reaching out to them again — whether for a couch to sleep on during a future visit or support when applying for a job after your graduation.
Another benefit of studying abroad is that you might work with organizations — whether through the institution you’re attending for the semester or through local connections — that provide you with international work or volunteer experience. This can be a huge resumé boost, especially if you go on to seek jobs with companies that have an international client base or have branches in different countries. It also shows your adaptability and demonstrates that you aren’t afraid to seek opportunities outside of your comfort zone.
Once you’re in college, the best way to determine whether you should study abroad or not is to attend presentations by your college’s office of international studies and look through the options. However, inquiring into a school’s study abroad opportunities is possible as a prospective student as well—when you attendcollege fairs or have colleges visit your high school, you can ask the admissions representative about study abroad options.
When you go on campus tours, you can also talk to older students, especially those in your major, and hear about their experiences and how studying abroad might have benefited them. Often talking to fellow students can help you learn about resources at a college you hadn’t previously heard of. Don’t forget to take advantage of your tour guide’s wealth of knowledge.
If the benefits of studying abroad appeal to you and this is something you’re interested in, research the different partnerships between the schools on your and different institutions abroad, and mention ones that stand out to you in your “why this school” supplemental essays or in your college interviews. This way, admissions officers will know that you’ve gone out of your way to learn about opportunities only their particular institution can provide.
Studying abroad gives students unique chances to visit a country they might not have before and immerse themselves in a whole new academic and cultural environment. Whether it is to refine your language skills, or find yourself in a class that you didn’t know was possible to take, studying abroad might benefit you greatly. So, don’t forget to look through what different schools offer as you think about which college you want to call home.