International studies and experiences are ever so valued in the competitive world. Studying abroad provides students with real-world opportunities so that the student may grow as a professional and as an individual. Learning a different language, appreciating diversity, cultural immersion, and basically how the world works will make a student feel immensely privileged, in charge, but also disoriented. That is the truth. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies.
At least not when not done right. The benefits of studying abroad are as endless as that view of the horizon. Being some sort of a student traveler is an extraordinary opportunity but you have to keep your expectations manageable. A record of 4.3 million students and counting are enrolled in study programs abroad by 2011, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The numbers are as overwhelming as most lucky students feel. If you are already one of them, about to be one of them, or want to be one of them, there are things you have to know (if you don’t already). There are misleading notions or beliefs or perceived truths that are either discouraging you or making you feel extremely excited. Let’s be clear on some of them.
1) “I can never afford it”
False. Yes, you can. Even just the prospect of choosing a study abroad program can be daunting to most students because of the high cost. Well, education does not really come cheap. The Institute of International Education pegged the average cost per semester at $17,000. Unless of course, you get creative.
If your university does not offer study abroad programs, look for groups, embassies, and research centers offering scholarships. You can also find a sponsor or go for countries offering tuition-free education even to foreigners like Germany, Finland, and Norway. Even public universities in France charge only about $200 for most programs. You can also look for a part-time job in your country of choice or throw yourself a fundraising goodbye party. You will be surprised at the generosity of your friends and family.
2) “Two years? No way.”
Short term programs are also offered so if the two-year or four-year thought is pulling you back, go for programs that can be finished in several weeks. This is especially recommended for graduate students or working professionals who want more experience. Short stays will also give you the enrichment you’ve always wanted.
It can be but what isn’t? When you enrolled in college, you had to fill out all sorts of documents or even take a medical exam. That’s intimidating, wasn’t it? The process in applying for study abroad programs is pretty much like enrolling in college. At the end of the day, it’s all paper work and you just have to sit down and complete it. Recommendations from professors, colleagues, and other industry authorities are required. Program providers often have advisors you can consult with. Your school will surely be glad to help.
Diversity Abroad, an international organization which develops next generation of global leaders suggests that when studying abroad, you should consider which country you would like to go to and what type of program to study. Of course, if you badly want to be in a specific country, you should check first what type of programs they offer as they might have the program you have in mind.
3) “Me? French? Never.”
False. Everybody learns a new language by ordering a meal, riding the bus, paying to the cashier, watching local TV shows, or saying “thank you.” When you’re abroad, you have to interact with locals no matter how much you avoid it. Take this as part of your cultural enrichment. Learning a new language is cool.
Still on language, there are programs that require a third year and above level in the foreign language. So when you are finding a program when studying abroad, be extra careful and realistic.
4) “I can make friends tomorrow”
Some people are very outgoing that they can make friends upon arriving at the airport. But for some, making new friends take a few days, couple of weeks, or several months. Give yourself time to connect with others. It is normal to feel intimidated by local students who already have their own cliques. But school activities will help you get into your own groove. Eat lunch with fellow students, hang out and go out on the town (as much as your budget will allow). Soon, the friendship slump will be over.
5) “My friends and I will always keep in touch”
Maybe but then again maybe not. But that’s okay.
The truth is, your friends and family are very happy for you. But since you left home, their world is going to keep on spinning. Keep in touch as much as you can but don’t feel sore when they don’t get back to you immediately. They are excited to see you back home and ready to listen to your stories.
6) “I will miss home”
Yes, totally. You will have an incredible time but pangs of homesickness will hit you sometimes. You will miss mom’s home cooking, your annoying brother, and fun conversations at the dinner table. But you will get through it. Turn your lonely nights into Skype dates, among other existing communication technologies. As a popular song goes, “malayo man, malapit rin.”
If ever you would consider it, there are programs that let you stay with a host family instead of a dorm. Organized excursions and weekly events with other students may also be availed.
7) “I can travel”
Most definitely. A lot of foreign students see traveling as the greatest perk of studying abroad. It doesn’t have to be tourist spots but everyday scenes that give you a whole new perspective. Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist and bring a camera around. But do not forget to see the world beyond the lens. It’s more beautiful that way.
Absolutely. Studying abroad will open so many opportunities and introduce you to brand new perspectives. The experience will stay with you long after you have finished your program. The struggles are real but so is the fun. It is not everyday that you get to earn a degree and travel the world at the same time.
The experience will be so enriching and inspiring that it will be hard for you to leave. You will build friendships and create memories with them. The challenges should be something a student should prepare for but not cause him to back down. At the end of the day, the only truth you want about studying abroad is that it can transform you into a better version of yourself. You will finally believe that you are capable of so much more.