Go abroad to a city you’ve never been to, where you have few (if any) friends. Study a challenging new discipline, but one you’ve always dreamed of learning. Spend your days immersed in all the culture this new city has to offer, from cutting-edge art and design to world-class museums, galleries, and of course, nightlife.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll fall in love with the city (or a person you meet here), and stay.
Sound familiar? If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already graduated from college or university, your undergraduate days but a few, nostalgic memories at the back of your mind. However much you may pine for the adventure of studying in a faraway land, with little else to worry about but your studies, your newfound friends, and perhaps the spicy local food, those times are long past.
But are they? Don’t discourage yourself, especially if your interests lie at the intersection of travel and education. Whatever you may think, your halcyon days of learning and adventure aren’t yet over–and here’s why.
Given that you’re no longer the carefree college student of yesteryear, it’s not quite so easy to either change jobs or travel, let alone do both at once. It’s already difficult enough to search for a job while employed; to do that and balance the possibility of moving to another city may well be impossible.
That’s where studying abroad comes in. Not only is it the perfect avenue for trying out new cities, it can also provide a glimpse into a tantalizing new career. Think of studying abroad as an internship in a foreign city. As an undergrad, you would embark on a semester in a foreign nation to enrich your cultural and academic understanding; as a career changer, you are leaving to explore options in an exciting new field–and scope out a potential new home.
Traditionally, the value of studying abroad lay in immersive education, most commonly in the interrelated fields of culture, history, and language. Yet the sheer range of study abroad programs extends far beyond those three fields.
After all, many cities have various strengths, advantages, and features that may not be so easily found in other locations. For instance, Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is a great place to learn Portuguese, dance samba, and enjoy the country’s unique, vibrant culture–but it’s also Latin America’s best startup ecosystem. Home to a veritable alphabet soup of incubators and conferences, as well as a huge range of tech companies, it’s easy to see how living in this digital dynamo can help an aspiring programmer master coding, backing up classroom hours with real-world knowhow.
But it’s not just cities like Sao Paulo. Take Melbourne, a picturesque, seaside city located on Australia’s southeastern coast. Voted the world’s most livable city for seven years in a row, the city is a leisurely, pleasant place with a quirky, unusual personality–an aesthetic which translates to its fashion and arts. In 2015, the city was recognized as being among the 15 most fashionable cities in the world, thanks largely to its thriving creative scene, forward-thinking, homegrown labels, and blend of Australia, European, and Asian styles. As a visual creative, Melbourne is an ideal place not just to learn a trade, but also to soak in inspiration, arts, and culture. [For the sake of full disclosure, note that I work at Shillington Education, an intensive design course with campuses in Australia, the UK, and New York–of which Melbourne is one.]
Studying abroad can actually help you build certain soft skills, as researchers found in a comprehensive, ten-year study at an American public university system. Though the study was targeted towards undergraduate students, its findings are relevant to all students, including career changers. Essentially, study abroad students learned how to identify and be comfortable with different cultural nuances, and also to understand the context and real-world implications of their knowledge, such as how the French Revolution continues to affect French society today.
Of these skills, soft skills are an underrated, but incredibly important piece of the puzzle. After all, given our increasingly globalized world, where companies, business, and most importantly, profit, aren’t bound by time zones or borders, one cannot succeed without the requisite soft skills. Old ways of thinking, relying on outdated stereotypes and narrow, close-minded outlooks, aren’t just obsolete–they’re downright detrimental. You can’t do business with someone if you don’t respect them, and vice versa. Moreover, if you won’t partner with an up-and-coming company in a foreign country, chances are that someone else will–and reap the windfall that you could have capitalized on.
When it comes to retail, you can’t actually try products before you buy them. It’s always cash up front, followed by a long return agreement full of fine print.
But if you want to upend your life and chase your dream of living in a foreign country, you actually can try before you buy; that’s where study abroad comes in. Rather than moving all your possessions to a faraway, often expensive city like New York or London, and then frantically trying to find a job and an apartment, you can take things at your own pace.
For instance, many study abroad courses aren’t very long in duration (generally from three-six months), and as a result, it’s usually not too difficult to obtain a student visa. In the United States, the M-1 Student Visa allows enrollees at approved institutions to live in the country for one month prior to and immediately after the course. This extra time allows for you to get a good look at the conditions on the ground. What do you like about the city? How’s the mass transit situation? Do you need a car? What neighborhoods and areas do you want to live, work, and play in?
To be frank, this sort of opportunity rarely presents itself. More often, if you wish to relocate, you’ll need to have a job offer from a local company; by then, you’re already locked into a commitment (the contracts you sign for both employment and apartment), and you can’t easily back out if you wish.
All things considered, studying abroad is not just for undergraduates. Instead, career changers pursuing dreams long deferred should also consider this option. After all, it’s important to understand that it is possible to create a fulfilling, meaningful life–just not at your current line of work. So if you’re going to take the plunge and learn a new trade, why not do so abroad?