You might be considering becoming an exchange student, taking a gap year or getting into your college’s exchange program. Perhaps you’re interested in pursuing a degree abroad. Whatever your situation, I’d recommend you go for it. Why?
The benefits of studying abroad go beyond building an international resume. Some deeper benefits, backed by more than 40 years of research, include: facilitating international awareness, language learning and cross-cultural communication, civic engagement, enhancing self-confidence, and making you more creative.
Let’s take a closer look at why studying abroad is probably the best thing you can do for yourself, at almost any stage of your career:
It’s obvious why learning a language where it’s spoken is not the same as learning at home.
Experiencing the language abroad is considered so crucial for its acquisition, that 30 years ago, the UK established a compulsory residence abroad as a requirement for language degree students. In the US, while these residences are not required, language majors are strongly encouraged to embark in these learning experiences.
Total immersion will speed up your progress towards fluency, you’ll get used to how the language is really spoken, and you’ll be exposed to real-life situations that will allow you to realize where you’re doing great and which areas need improvement.
Plus, some international education programs include special second-language training. So, not only will you speak the language in your every day, you’ll also be able to take an extra look at everything you’re learning and systematize your knowledge.
30% of the population in the United States is composed of ethnic minorities. Spending some time abroad and getting to experiment different cultures and meet new people can also make you more tolerant, welcoming and understanding with the cultural diversity in your native country, while preparing you to do business, network and collaborate in our increasingly globalized economy.
In a 2012 study, a team from the University of Florida discovered that studying abroad can make you more creative.Why? Because you’re forced out of your comfort zone. Your “cultural script” (your way to naturally go about interactions when you’re on “pilot mode”, your assumptions about other people, etc.) is no longer useful.
The differences or even contradictions between your cultural script and that of this unfamiliar environment prompt complex behavioral and cognitive modifications, they force you to think creatively and be present. Plus, people who experience another culture are aware of more complex and comprehensive cultural representations, which is key to creativity.
According to the aforementioned study, “students who studied abroad also outperformed students who do not plan to study abroad on the domain-free creativity test, suggesting that cultural experiences lead to positive gains in cognitive processes associated with general creative thinking as well. In contrast to our expectations, these results indicate that increased creative thinking from studying abroad is not limited to culture specific activities but transfer to performance on culturally neutral activities as well. The positive relationship between studying abroad and general creative thinking found in the present study has important implications for the role of cultural experiences on individuals’ overall cognitive capacities, as well as their approaches to creative problems.”
Studying abroad isn’t only a good chance to move forward in the direction you know you want to go. If you’re not sure what the next step in your career is, the answer could be in another country.
Journalist Gary Abramson, who participated in an exchange program in Madrid, in 1978, says it was the starting point in his career:
“My semester [abroad] launched me into a personal and professional involvement with Spain that has already lasted 25 years. A political science lecture in Madrid about U.S. and Spanish involvement in an obscure war in Sahara led to a graduate fellowship to Spain and North Africa, which led to work as a foreign correspondent based in Spain.”
Find an exchange program or consider a gap year. The offering is diverse. You’ll surely have many options through your school/college, community institutions (such as Rotary International), or through international education companies.
What’s your focus? Are you looking to advance your language learning process or would you like to get specific training for your area of interest? Make a list. What do you want from this trip?
Reach out to your college’s international education office, research the companies and institutions doing exchange programs in your area, search for short courses and specialization programs. Order your expectations by priority and make a plan.
There will be some bureaucratic steps necessary to make this trip possible. Some steps will be taken care of by the organization, department or institution, others will be in your hands. You’ll need some documentation (for instance, you’ll probably need a certified translation of your diploma or academic reports), but, with determination and putting everything you’ll need to delegate in the hands of professionals, you’ll be good to go. And it will be more than worth it.