For young adults, there are few experiences that match the academic, career, intercultural, personal, and social benefits of study abroad. All students, not just those with an interest in foreign languages, should consider overseas study opportunities while attending college, and even before, when considering which colleges to attend.
Just ask any student who has taken advantage of this opportunity. You’ll hear that the experience was a defining, life-changing milestone in their lives, that the experience profoundly influenced their career path, world-view, and self-confidence. Usually, students want to study abroad to be totally immersed in a foreign language. No doubt, it is the quickest and most effective way to become fluent. However, there is much, much more. Just think about absorbing first-hand a country’s customs, historical landmarks, people and food through personal experiences. Learning about a country in books and classroom lectures pales in comparison.
Living and studying overseas brings increased maturity. self-sufficiency, and self-confidence. You’ll learn acceptance and tolerance of those with different life experiences from growing up in different cultures. You’ll better understand your own cultural values and biases, and by the time the experience is over, you’ll have a more nuanced, sophisticated way of looking at the world. One overlooked benefit of study abroad is the long-lasting friendships you’ll make. Students who have lived fully immersed in another culture have a special bond. After this experience, you’ll seek interactions with people from different cultures, and enjoy a greater diversity of friends.
Studying abroad will also give you an edge when it comes time to find a job or apply to graduate school. Employers and admissions officers understand and value the skill sets you’ll develop while overseas. For students who want to gain the most career impact, an overseas internship is invaluable. Also, you don’t need to commit to a full year. Many go for a much shorter time. Even programs as short as six weeks provide enormous academic, personal, career, and intercultural benefits.
What should I do now? When considering potential colleges that may be right for you, learn about their study abroad programs. What types of study abroad programs are offered? Are there overseas programs for specific majors? How competitive is the application process? Do grades and financial aid transfer? If I am an athlete, will I be able to study abroad during the academic year?” Many colleges direct their own study abroad programs, and as a first step, contact their study abroad offices. Another great information source is the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), a non-profit educational community of over 300 universities throughout the world. ISEP is dedicated to helping students overcome financial and academic barriers to study abroad, and since its founding, has sent more than 50,000 students on study abroad programs in more than 50 countries. See www.isep.org.