The start of every college semester always brings with it the fun game of "guess which of your friends are going abroad!" If you're the one holding down the fort on campus, the jealousy of watching fellow students' gorgeous travel pics roll in can definitely provoke some wanderlust, while if you're the one going abroad, your deep excitement is probably tinged with pangs of FOMO and nervousness about what to expect.
The truth is, there are a ton of reasons going abroad is a great idea, but a lot of the best reasons won't be printed on the front of a brochure or offered up by an advisor. I spent three semesters abroad while I was an undergrad (two Summers, plus the Fall of my junior year) and I ended up loving my experiences overseas for very different reasons than I thought I would going into them. Having been through the good, the bad, and the downright breathtaking, here are the real reasons I would recommend any college student take the leap and go abroad:
1. Studying abroad is one of the hardest things you can do in college, and that's exactly why you should do it.
By the time you reach the point in your college career when you would be considering going abroad, you're usually pretty comfortable with your campus home. Gone are the nervous weeks of freshman year when you were first learning to balance your workload and your social life, and most likely you have a routine and a support system built for yourself.
When you go abroad, you have to start building that again from scratch, but with the safety blanket of knowing your college home will be waiting for you when you get back. The first few weeks will probably be lonelier and more stressful than anyone's prepared you for, but you'll also learn what things you need in your life to be happy and how to manifest them even in a new country and culture. And once you have that ability — one you'll need your whole life, by the way — no one can take it away from you.
2. Studying abroad is also the easiest way you will ever get to experience life overseas.
Logistically speaking, studying abroad is like the express-lane version of emigrating. Never again will you have the ability to pick up and move overseas with so little to worry about and so few belongings to transport. Acquiring a student visa is usually relatively easy, and many programs offer help with housing and even meal plans. Plus, at the end of it, all you'll need to worry about is fitting all your souvenirs into two suitcases . . . and not, you know, shipping furniture back across the ocean.
3. You'll probably have more downtime than you know what to do with, and this will force you to become a true explorer.
One of the weirdest things I had to get used to when I went abroad was the general lack of extracurriculars. I think Americans in particular devote a lot of time in college to being part of clubs and organizations, but at other universities around the world, clubs aren't always included in student life fees, and as a temporary student who will likely want to travel, you probably won't be inclined to tie yourself down to as many club commitments as you would back home.
This leaves a lot of freedom in your day-to-day schedule, and if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself whiling away whole afternoons just wandering through city streets and taking in every detail of this new and wonderful place you're in. I definitely got to see a side of local life that I would never have experienced were I just there for a week or two, and it trained me to be more present in my daily life even after I returned.
4. It will help you recognize more clearly who you are and where you are in life.
Human beings are like mirrors: we see different versions of ourselves reflected back at us by every person we interact with. When you go abroad, you invariably come in contact with hundreds of new people who will broaden your mind and your understanding of the world, but they will also give you new insight into yourself. Sometimes, people made me feel worldly; sometimes, they made me feel naive. Sometimes I felt privileged, other times I felt disadvantaged. I learned that I had way more in common with most people than I had differences, and that every culture has a unique understanding of ideas like "success" and "happiness." It made me reassess some of my most deeply held beliefs, priorities, and hang-ups, and I came out the other side a much more understanding, grounded, and self-aware person.
5. Sometimes you need to get away in order to fall back in love with the place you left.
They say distance creates desire, and study abroad can provide the judgment-free break from college that many of us need. When I left to go abroad, I was mentally and emotionally burnt out from final exams, social commitments, and the general ennui that can come when the novelty of college life wears off. I was excited for a change and some adventure, but what I didn't know was how badly I needed to miss the school I had left behind.
Leaving for a few months and taking classes at a new university definitely gave me a fresh perspective on my home university, and I learned to appreciate aspects of my education that I had never given much thought to before. I came back for the second half of my junior year with fresh eyes and renewed interest in both my academics and the community, and I managed to avoid the trap of taking any of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences for granted.
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