Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5 Reasons to Study Abroad

Since I’m going to be living abroad in Spain as a language assistant for most of the next school year, I thought I’d look back on my first experience doing so. In the month of July 2011, I studied abroad at the University of Costa Rica and took two classes: Conversation I and Introduction to Latin-American Literature. I stayed in town with a wonderful host family who fed me twice daily, and I traveled the country with, among others, six fellow students from my college. I think being immersed in a Spanish-speaking home and environment was equally as instructive as the classes themselves were.

If you can find the time and resources to study abroad, I would say, “do it!” And here are some of the reasons I would recommend such an experience.

La Casita, Universidad de Costa Rica
La Casita, Universidad de Costa Rica

1) You can see the world

Okay, we all know the real reason we go on these study abroad trips is to travel. (Just kidding!) But in all seriousness, the act of taking classes in another country will inevitably provide you with ways to see that country as well as its neighbors. For the month I was in Costa Rica, I got to visit three volcanoes, three beaches, and quite a few cities along the way.  One of my roommates in college went to Liverpool, England, for a semester, and traipsed all the way down to Italy for spring break!

2) You can learn another language

(This assumes you don’t go to Britain, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand.) Many universities require you to learn a foreign language (or at least take a year of classes in one). What better place to study it than with the native speakers? In Costa Rica, I had to speak Spanish to order food, move around town in taxis, and ask for directions. And living with a host family provided hours of extremely helpful conversation.

3) You can interact with another culture

Much of what we assume are universal values (type of government, gender roles, attitudes toward time, etc.) are often simply cultural things that fellow human beings do not share. Living abroad can not only cause you to rethink what you believe, it can also give you a newfound appreciation for your own culture and country. Additionally, interacting with other cultures prepares you to gracefully adapt to future encounters in our increasingly-globalized world.

4) You can do it for about the same as a semester in the States

My friend who went to Liverpool had to pay little more than he already was at our college, and another friend who studied in Alicante, Spain, fared similarly. Granted, trans-Atlantic flights will empty your wallet quite quickly, but once you’re there the costs are comparable to classes back home. Check to see if your scholarships transfer!

5) You can boost your résumé

Not only does studying abroad “look good” on that piece of paper you boil yourself down to, it can also develop transferable skills applicable to any job, including communication (the cross-cultural kind, too), flexibility, and independence. And as companies extend their operations overseas, you will be already prepared to make a move if need be

I followed up this post with a counterpoint about the five reasons not to study abroad.

If you’ve ever studied abroad, what would you add to this list? Tell me what you think in the comments!
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