Study Abroad: Something Serious or Something Fun?

As an undergraduate, I remember having discussions with my parents regarding study abroad. While the range of topics did include the length, the amount of security, how to afford costs, and what to do when holidays came – the topic was never  that I should not go. Wether this is a result of my own intercultural interests which began when I first met someone from another country whom I admired in fourth grade while they were in high school, the fact that we had hosted international students at our home previously, my determination in getting things done after I set a mind to it, or that my academic and work related interests have always been on intercultural affairs and politics – we will never know. Or more accurately, I will never know (perhaps my parents do).

I remember hearing all about study abroad programs at my undergraduate school as a prospective student and as a student in general, besides the fact that I worked in the study abroad office for almost the entire duration of my four years there. I also remember that out of my main group of friends, I was one of 2 who studied abroad. With the other girl having gone abroad on a summer program, she and I faced different challenges in re-introducing ourselves to the school and friend groups. She had to get used to using English again with native speakers. I had to become used to that my friends had a semester of ups and downs, fights with friends, grumblings with teachers, worrying about financial aid, etc. while I was galloping around in southern Africa. While resumes are full with things at the school and otherwise, the one thing that the girl who studied abroad in Ecuador for a summer and I will always have in common is that we challenged the norm (of our friend group) in leaving our safety net to go around the world to make new friends and memories.

The fact that she studied abroad to help teach enabled her to get into a teaching master’s program, without any other teaching experience or classes as an undergraduate. For me, the fact that I was able to take classes and live in a non-Western setting (or at least not as Western as the United States and Europe) has helped me in seeing that there is vibrant life all around the world, if you take the time to look.

Rick Steves, a famous traveler, author, and producer, a few months ago shared his own insights on how study abroad is no longer something that only the rich can afford or something to do if you have time. Now, many international organizations and master’s programs almost expect it. Many businesses use it as a conversation starter in order to have someone stand out from a pile of other resumes, through their ability to be successful in a foreign setting and to thrive while doing so.

If you are a person considering studying abroad – or are even a loved one or friend of someone who is considering taking that leap of faith and doing something thrilling and exciting with their life – I strongly encourage you to read his article “Study Abroad is necessity, not luxury” which was posted on USA Today January 18th, 2012. It might provide you with an image that everyone, in today’s globally interconnected world, should pursue the option of going abroad – as something serious and fun.