Tuesday, July 24, 2012

5 Reasons NOT to Study Abroad

Last week I talked about five good reasons you should study abroad—things like traveling, language learning, and résumé-boosting. I think some kind of international experience while in college can be extremely beneficial for a lot of people—I grew a lot personally and linguistically in the July I spent in Costa Rica. But I also think not everyone is cut out to spend a semester away from home. Kaley Hendrickson (who writes at her blog Y Mucho Más) shared similar concerns about studying abroad two years ago, and I thought I would add my 0,02 €.

Study abroad in San Pedro, Costa Rica
Rain in San Pedro


1) It can be expensive

Lots of parents often give their children studying abroad a fat sum of money to use as their allowance to pay for rent, books, food, and traveling. If you don’t happen to have this luxury, get ready to see your savings account disappear or take out a loan. As Susan Heller has famously said, “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” You’ll have to purchase things you weren’t expecting, and your trips will cost you a lot more than you were anticipating.

2) You can end up hanging out in English-speaking enclaves

Unless you’re going to a small university in an obscure or unpopular destination, you’ll most likely run into a community either of expats or of fellow students abroad from the U.S., UK, and elsewhere. It can indeed be very easy to cling to these groups as an island of familiarity in a sea of Spanish, Arabic, or what have you. But while such a support group can be very beneficial, spending too much time with people who speak your language can hamper the real reason you’re going abroad: to encounter another culture and learn its language.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of this; when in Costa Rica, I traveled across the country with the other six students from my college who were there, and about a hundred other Americans were at the University of Costa Rica for the program, too—so there was a natural community of English-speaking classmates to hang out with. If I hadn’t lived with my super-helpful host family that month, I wouldn’t have grown nearly as much as I did in Spanish.

3) It can be an excuse to party on the cheap

A few months ago I visited Washington, D.C., and met a guy from Belgium there who mentioned that in some parts of France beer is cheaper than water. Yes—you read that right—water can cost more than booze. And the drinking age across the vast majority of the world is 18, or lower. Students abroad often take advantage of these opportunities and spend much of their time partying and clubbing: getting wasted while wasting away their money (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun). Look, I’m not going to judge you for wanting to have a good time, but please, don’t waste your money on an international educational experience if you’re just in it to party. Take a cruise—hop on the next flight to Ibiza—or hit up the liquor store back home, but please don’t exclusively engage in bacchanalias as a student abroad; it paints those of us genuinely interested in learning in really a bad light.</rant>

4) Sometimes life abroad can suck pretty badly

Studying abroad isn’t a romantic hop across the ocean full of rich cultural exchanges 24/7. It can often be a very miserable experience, especially if you have no group of friends to commiserate with. Case in point: within days of arriving in Costa Rica, good ol’ Montezuma had his revenge on me. Additionally, it poured rain most afternoons in the Central Valley, and on the coast, the sun burnt me like it never had before north of the Tropic of Cancer. Eating rice and beans at every meal got old pretty fast, and having to deal with people who, for all practical purposes, could not speak Spanish in my advanced class was frustrating. I was there for just a month (albeit a very incredible 32 days!), so if you’re planning on three of them thousands of miles from home, get ready to stick it out through the tough days.

5) It can screw up your degree plan

For me, there was absolutely no way I could leave the States for a semester; I had too many Spring of Odd Year-type classes that I had to take for each of my concentrations (don’t judge...I’m an overachiever). If spending a semester in, say, Peru, was something I was really committed to, I would have had to either stay half a year longer in school (out of the question) or drop one of my majors or minors (painful). Not everyone has the freedom in their degree plan to hop across the ocean for three months.

What do you think of this list? Are they legitimate caveats? Or is there something missing? Comment below!
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