On the eve of my departure for Stellenbosch, South Africa, there was apprehension and tons of introspection. Having studied abroad last fall in Limerick, Ireland, I am a bit more familiar with the process of packing my life into a 50 pound suitcase, kissing family and friends goodbye, and hopping on a crowded plane. Yet, now I have a deeper understanding, knowing my life is about to change drastically in many unpredictable and exciting ways.
While I can’t say enough positive things about studying abroad (I loved it so much, I’m going for round two!), only about 1% of American students study abroad according to NAFSA. I truly hope that my experiences with study abroad will encourage others to take the plunge.
There are a thousand reasons to study abroad, but here are the ten factors that influenced my decision:
1. Personal growth is my favorite part of studying abroad. Traveling and seeing different cultures gives us perspective. Studying abroad in Ireland – and jet-setting around Europe in the process – was a great lesson in finding out who I am and who I choose to be.
2. Now that I have a greater sense of self, I see my adventures in South Africa as a chance to gain knowledge about the world. As I embark on a trip to explore a tiny corner of the continent of Africa, I’m weighed down by stereotypes. I can’t tell you how many of my friends, family members, and acquaintances warned me of ebola, Joseph Kony, and tribesmen. Yet, South Africa has diverse cultures and ways of life I haven’t experienced or begun to understand. I look forward to exploring these to have a greater understanding of the world.
3. Meeting new friends is definitely one of the most fun parts of studying abroad. Most campuses have extensive programs for study abroad students. These programs bring together young adults from all over the world. In Ireland I had the privilege to make friends from Sweden, France, Australia, Boston, Belgium, and other corners of the globe. I can’t wait to meet my new pals in South Africa!
4. Working towards your degree is an exciting and rewarding way to spend time abroad. By taking courses for your degree, you can maximize your time abroad and still graduate on time! Just about every school requires general education requirement courses, such as science, literature, history, and foreign language. Imagine getting your foreign language requirement out of the way by taking French classes in the heart of Paris! At many schools, you can even take courses that cater to your major or interests. In Ireland, I took journalism and businesses classes for my major, and in South Africa I intend to get some general education classes out of the way and tack on some art classes for fun.
5. Studying abroad is a fantastic way to practice celebrating different cultures. I have a hard time when people identify other cultural traditions as “weird,” when they’re really just different! Experiencing new cultures is a lot more fun when we drop the judgment and gain some understanding.
6. Trying new things is an inevitable part of studying abroad. By making the decision to study abroad, be prepared for the delightful tingle that comes with conquering your fears and experiencing worldliness.
7. Maximize your youth! There will never be a better and more affordable time to explore the world than during your college years. In your late teens and early twenties, you’re in great condition to hike ruins, stay up all night chatting with new friends, indulge in local delicacies, and zip-line through exotic forests. Additionally, there are tons of scholarships and grants for students to help fund study abroad.
8. Embrace challenges while adjusting to new cultures and dealing with unexpected travel situations. Things don’t always go as planned, but that makes your experience all the more exciting! Challenges are great because they help you discover yourself and the world (see points 1 and 2).
9. Study abroad is also a great résumé booster. Unlike just traveling abroad, studying abroad gives you insight into the work and scholarly environments. Employers will take notice. Studying abroad shows that you can work in intercultural environments, are open minded, and take initiative.
10. Now is your chance to see the world! It will be fun. It will be unforgettable. It will be the time of your life.