We go to college for a lot of reasons; to learn, to meet new people, to build experience, to party and because we don’t know what else to do. For the most part, we go to college to broaden our horizons. Those horizons might be academic, social, spiritual or something else entirely, but college is the time to grow our minds and resumes.
To my mind, one of the most valuable and underused means of broadening those horizons is to study abroad. Considering that only about 40 percent of Americans go to college, and that only a small proportion of those who do choose to study abroad, American students are largely missing out on an incredibly valuable opportunity. Of the scores of people I know who have traveled abroad during their college years, not one of them has told me he or she regrets it. What’s more, by and large, they loved it. This is not to say that no one has ever had a bad experience on a semester abroad, but the vast majority looks back very fondly on their days beyond U.S. borders.
The benefits of studying abroad are numerous. Simply exposing oneself to another culture is an undeniably formative experience. The most popular destinations for American students going abroad might be predictable — England, Italy, Spain — but also in the top picks are countries like China, Australia, Mexico and Costa Rica. Eastern Asian and Middle Eastern countries are also seeing a rise in student visitors. No matter where you go, seeing the world from a new perspective can hardly be overvalued. And, if it doesn’t change your life forever, chances are very good that you’ll at least have some memorable experiences.
Studying abroad also offers a great opportunity to work on a new language. In a country of primarily monolingual speakers, engaging in foreign cultures is the absolute best way to improve your second-language skills. Immersing yourself in a new land with a different language will help your language skills far more than any class ever could.
Americans are often labeled by the rest of the world as being ignorant of world affairs. Studying abroad is a sure-fire way to expand your worldview and to do away with that closed-minded condemnation. You can look at all the photographs, read all the books and listen to all the songs you want, but until you experience another culture first-hand — drinking tea in an ahwa, walking the streets of a village square, touching ancient architecture, scaling mountains, exploring ruins — you’ll only have an outsider’s perspective. According to TransitionsAbroad.com, 98 percent of those who study abroad say the experience helped them better understand their own cultural values and biases, and 95 percent say it had a lasting impact on their worldview. Study abroad to open your eyes and to bring that new look back to the States.
The list of benefits of studying abroad could go on for a long time. Few experiences offer you such convenient opportunities for world travel. You’ll almost certainly get a taste for foreign cuisine. It gets you out of the same-old monotony of college life, taking you from the corridors and classrooms you know so well to a place where everything is new. The friendships made when studying abroad stand to be some of the strongest you can have because they’re based on a common experience that no one back home will be able to fully understand or appreciate. And, let’s be honest, studying abroad looks really good on a résumé. Employers want to see that job candidates are well-rounded and have a well of life experience to draw from.
What else can I say? If you’re even considering studying abroad, stop considering and do it. If you’re not considering studying abroad, think again. You only live once, and these kinds of opportunities don’t come alone every day. If you won’t take my word for it, talk to pretty much anyone you know who has participated in a semester or a year abroad. They’ll have great things to say and heaps of advice for first-time travelers. One more thing; don’t pack your suitcases too full. You’ll be bringing a lot more home with you than you had when you left.