Why are nearly 300,000 American students choosing to pursue part of their educations abroad? It is clear that the most effective way to become fluent in another language is through immersion, but there are other reasons students choose to study abroad.
Love of Travel
It takes time to get comfortable in a new culture and feel welcome in a new family. Once students experience success in studying and living abroad and embracing a new way of being, their confidence blossoms.
Gaby Wheatley, a high school student in Austin, studied abroad in San Sebastian and learned that she could thrive in a culture different than her own. “On top of stepping outside of the box and learning to speak Spanish with confidence, I discovered the true feeling of peace. During this trip, I found my home away from home and I also started to realize I love traveling.”
College Admissions and Career Opportunities
High school students who study abroad can utilize this experience to gain a competitive edge on college applications. The intensive language immersion also prepares the student for AP/IB exams, which can mean college credits before even stepping foot on campus.
The struggle to learn a new language and customs lets American students know what it’s like to be new to the U.S. The experience can build empathy with the world’s immigrants.
Cultural and Geographic Awareness
Getting up close and personal with local and regional art, architecture, music, theater and dance can give students a rich view of the culture of a people. Historical treasures and geological sights are better experienced in person.
Austinite Jeremy Goodwin is co-founder of Summer Programs International, who provides study abroad opportunities for high school and college students. “The study abroad experience transformed me. I gained a new perspective on the “important things in life” and saw new meaning in the world. Those simple yet profound life lessons, along with other tangible life skills that study abroad provided me, contributed to the most influential period of my life.”
Life Long Friendships
These connections may lead to future business partnerships. Forming a relationship with a host family creates a “home away from home” that can be built no other way.
Semester or Year Abroad
One third of all students who study abroad are college juniors. Students can take their entire course of study in another country, living as a traditional student in the college or university of their choice. With careful planning, credits earned can be transferred to their home school. This option is not just for students of international business or language majors. Students from the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are the fastest growing population in study abroad programs.
Beyond Junior Year
Some students in rigorous courses of study hesitate to take a “break” from required coursework because they think it will postpone graduation. There are other options.
- Intersession and Summer Study Abroad. These programs generally run from one to eight weeks and take place during spring, winter or summer breaks. These programs offer the exposure to a new culture and immersion in language without missing home-campus time.
- Internship Abroad. Beyond earning college credit, these programs offer job experience that can build a student’s reputation in the workforce, develop a resume and make multinational connections.
Where Are They Going?
The Institute for International Education produces Open Doors, an annual report on the trends of study abroad programs. The report indicates that while 40 percent of students studied in the European countries of the U.K., France, Italy and Spain, the trend is shifting away from Europe into countries such as China, Australia, Costa Rica and Argentina, as well as rising economic global players such as India, Turkey and Brazil.
Can You Afford It?
Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, International Careers expert and award-winning author of the book, “A Student Guide to Study Abroad,” works to break the myths surrounding study abroad programs, including the myth that studying abroad is not affordable.
She says, “Many study abroad programs cost the same or less, in both housing and tuition, as the cost of studying at the home campus.” Financial aid is generally transferable as well, with scholarships specifically designed for studying abroad available based on merit as well as financial need.
Jennifer VanBuren is a Georgetown mother of three, educator and childbirth doula.