Everyone has thought it, but maybe you’ve convinced yourself it’s the only way: I’ll just travel when I’m older. But you still plan out your dream getaway, you have a list of your top places, and you fantasize about being abroad all the time. If you’re thinking about it so much, why not just go now? Below I’ve composed a list of reasons that challenge any doubts about studying abroad to show how it trumps independent travel in every single way.
When you’re planning your foreign getaway, how long are you giving yourself in each location? A few days? A week? Vacationing can soon become a burden when attempting to pack all activities into a few days’ time. When you’re actually living in your country of choice you have the time and the structure to allow yourself to do all sorts of things you’d never have put on your vacation itinerary. You can afford to stray away from the typical tourist spots.
Plus, whichever AIFS program you choose comes with built in excursions and activities you may not get the opportunity to do without the help from your Resident Director. When I was studying in Berlin we took an evening to tour the 1936 Olympic stadium. During the tour our Resident Director turned to us and told us this tour was a little different from the regular tours they offer. This tour was being led by a close friend, one that could bend the rules. So in addition to seeing all the back rooms and learning about the history of the stadium, we had the opportunity to go down to the grass. At the bottom I slipped off my shoes and began running the track. Several others followed behind. We were all giddy with excitement. I ran the track at the 1936 Olympic Stadium. If I had come independently that would not have been possible.
2. Making new friends
If you’re coming on your own there are really only three options; you’ve come completely independently, you’ve come with a few close friends, or you’ve come with parental supervision (yuck!). Every one of these situations restrains you from bursting outside of your comfort zone.
On your own, you might be too afraid to approach strangers to inquire about a potential friendship, and you’ll be moving around so much there might not even be time to make lasting friendships. Traveling with people you already know makes that difficult too. You already have a group formed — why introduce anyone else to the mix? With parents always watching and pulling you along, there really isn’t time to make friends either. They’ve got an itinerary to stick to, and even if they don’t, they’re watching your every move (or so it feels).
When you study abroad you’re going with a group of people your age that are there for the same reasons. Everyone is thrust into this foreign environment together and the best defense against that is to create close ties. That’s the magic formula to making friends. Our whole group hung out together, and I ended up caring for these people more than I thought I ever could. The night of departure involved many hugs and tears and warm auf wiedersehens.
3. Making new foreign friends
It isn’t even just the people involved with AIFS that I bonded with. Everyone that went to Humboldt University was trying to make friends. The students were from everywhere around the world. I was exposed to much more than just German culture while I studied abroad. I made close friends with people from Canada, China, and Turkey.
While my AIFS provided several excursions, Humboldt also pushed the idea of international friendship by hosting events around the city. Several times a month the boys in the program met for football matches — Americans vs. Europeans — while the non-athletes watched and cheered from the sidelines. Making these connections also guarantees a warm welcome back to the country in any future travels — there will always be a friend waiting to greet you.
4. The timing is perfect
Again, I know you’ve thought it: I’ll just travel when I’m older. But life happens and time slips away. College allows you the opportunity to have things paid for you that would never be paid for as a real adult.
Scholarships are made for you to snag. If you apply for enough, they could cover your entire trip abroad. There are hundreds of them out there just waiting. But it isn’t just money problems that will arise with age. You’ll have all those adult responsibilities like bills, children, spouses, trying to get off work to do these things (and then really, how much vacation time will you even have?).
When you’re in college you can take an entire semester to get away from the daily responsibilities that plague you (or a month, if you’re like me and couldn’t manage to get away from them for too long). You’re at a time in your life where you’re old enough to make the decision to do this but young enough that there aren’t yet severe consequences for doing so.
Travel when you’re old and rich, please, but have a study abroad experience under your belt. You’ll know how to better immerse yourself in the culture and take things slow instead of rushing from one country to the next trying to cram in too much in too little time.
5. Learning from the locals
So you’ve signed up for the European Union class. You come to class the first day and… guess what? The class is taught by an actual European living in Europe. Your German class is taught by an actual German that grew up speaking the German language. She knows the language. Your EU teacher lived through the history of the EU and experienced it firsthand. Your Berlin Wall professor was there when the wall came down. This to me is a top reason to study abroad. There’s just something so much more authentic and reliable about being taught your favorite subject from someone who understands it personally.
6. A Room of One’s Own
When you’re traveling independently, the options for boarding are slim. You’re either in a hotel room that caters to tourists, or you’re squeezed into an eight-bed hostel. When you study abroad, your options for boarding provide you with a more “at-home” feel, because you may actually be in a home. You may have a local host family or have your own apartment.
In Berlin we were provided with a three-bedroom apartment on the edge of the city. We got to live like the locals until we felt like locals. We had our favorite bars, our go-to grocery store, and a daily workout regime. The benefits of having your own place while traveling don’t stop at that. Since we had an apartment with a kitchen, my roommates and I were able to experiment with the ingredients we bought to create traditional German meals right at home. We often brought others from the group up to eat and hangout in our spacious living room. Unlike a hotel or a hostel, you may have a private bedroom. Plus, you’re there long enough that you aren’t living out of a suitcase.
The benefits of study abroad are endless. I should add the flare it adds to your resume, and the bragging rights you’ll have for the rest of your life. So what’re you waiting for? Check out the AIFS study abroad programs. You’ve only got a few good years to do this thing.