Why study abroad? Because the benefits of studying abroad in college are endless! Here are the top reasons you should definitely study abroad.
In general, I don’t think people should aspire to follow the same path in life as everyone else. We don’t all need to be married by 30, pop out a couple kids, or work in an office. Nor do we all need to visit Florida every year and live in the same town we grew up in. But there is one thing I think everyone should experience at least once during their education: studying abroad.
Why study abroad? In short, because it’s life changing. I developed and grew so much as a person during my semester in Freiburg, Germany and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to live outside the US for 6 months. Before studying abroad, I had no idea how many lessons I’d learn or how different I’d feel when I returned home after just one semester away. If you’re thinking about studying abroad and you have the means to do so, DO IT. You will definitely regret it if you let this opportunity pass you by. There are so many benefits of studying abroad, but I’ve shared my key takeaways from the experience below.
You’ll learn to live independently
Even if you go to school hours away from where you grew up, it’s still easy to call your parents after class and fill them in on you day or pepper them with questions about day-to-day issues that have cropped up since you last spoke. But when you’re abroad it’s so much harder to talk to your parents. Between the different time zones, your class schedule, and your travels, it’s tough agreeing upon a time that works for you both to talk. If you’re close with your parents, this can be difficult to handle during the first few weeks you’re abroad. But after a while, I promise you’ll get used to living on your own and having only yourself to rely on.
It wasn’t until I returned home from my semester in Germany that I realized how much I’d grown as a person during those few months away from home. Seemingly little victories like learning how to read a map and adding words to my German vocabulary made me become even more independent. I returned home more confident in my abilities to be an adult and conquer life post-graduation. Yes, being cut off from your family and being totally independent for the first time can be a tough pill to swallow, but it will benefit you greatly once you’re back home.
It’ll get you out of your comfort zone
The whole point of studying abroad is to escape your normal routine and experience a new culture. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is mandatory, and although there are some growing pains involved you’ll be thankful you dove into the study abroad experience headfirst. Everyday tasks like grocery shopping and withdrawing cash from the ATM feel completely different when you’re abroad. You won’t know all the words to ask for directions, and you’ll forget that you have to divide your recycling in a special way.
Yes, living abroad is exciting in the big picture, but it’s everyday differences like this that get you out of your shell and immerse you in the local culture. By the end of your time abroad, you’ll be used to the oddities associate with foreign living and when you finally return home you’re bound to experience reverse culture shock. It’s amazing how much you forget about life back home when you’re away for an extended period of time! And so the cycle of stepping outside of your comfort zone continues and you continue growing as a person because of it.
You’ll have more freedom to travel
If I had to pick my favorite aspect of studying abroad, it’s that it gave me the freedom to travel anywhere I wanted to. Before living in Freiburg, I’d never had the time or ability to hop around Europe at my leisure. Although I consciously cultivated a life in Germany and tried to stay put more than I traveled, I still managed to squeeze in lots of solo adventures to places like Brussels, London, Paris, and more. While I didn’t have the money to go visit every place on my bucket list, I saw a lot of beautiful cities and felt like I had a good school-life-travel balance during my semester abroad.
If you’re considering studying abroad, I highly recommend planning at least one trip by yourself, just to dip your toes into solo travel and see if you like it. During my study abroad semester, there was a group of American students who took a trip every single weekend and always traveled together. I encourage you to avoid this group mentality for a few reasons. First of all, you’ll get stuck in your own bubble of friends and won’t be able to fully appreciate the various cultures you’re visiting. And second, you’ll have to cater to the group’s needs wherever you travel. Set aside a weekend or two to travel on your own — even if you learn that solo travel isn’t for you, you’ll be glad you gave it a go.
Read more: 10 Easy Ways I Save Money While Traveling
You’ll Make New Friends
Remember the group of Americans I was just talking about? Don’t be like them. Yes, you’ll meet some wonderful students from your home country (and maybe your home school too!), but don’t limit yourself to only being friends with people who share your native tongue. Make it a point to talk to new people in your classes, join a local choir or sports team, and attend extracurricular events and mixers. It may be a bit awkward at first having to converse in a foreign language, but keep pushing yourself and put yourself out there. After all, when else will you get the chance to make friends with people from around the world?
I met one of my best friends through a local choir in Freiburg (hi, Flora!). We had a class together, and one day she came up to me and asked if I’d like to walk to choir practice with her afterwards. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how things turned out for us! Since studying abroad together, we’ve Skyped each other once a month for the last few years and we now live 90 minutes away from each other in Germany. It’s wonderful how life pans out sometimes, isn’t it?
Read more: How to Make Friends in a New City
You’ll (Hopefully) Improve Your Language Skills
Like I mentioned above, trying to make friends while speaking a foreign language is tough at first. I remember struggling with the fact that I could only have surface-level conversations with people. As someone who’d rather have only a handful of meaningful friendships than lots of friends I have no real connection with, trying to form deeper connections while speaking auf Deutsch was difficult for me at first. But I persisted, and I spoke German 90% of the time I was in Freiburg, whether or not I was around native English speakers or not.
My language abilities improved dramatically while I was in Freiburg because I made it a point to speak German both in and out of the classroom. I was lucky enough to live with a few native German speakers, and they kindly refrained from speaking English in my presence. I also had two tandem partners; we’d meet up once a week and alternate between speaking English and German with each other. If you’re nervous about making friends abroad, I highly recommend signing up for a tandem program. Most programs let you specify whether you’d rather have a female or male tandem partner, and you’re usually paired up based on your age and interests. It’s basically like having a built-in friend while you’re abroad!
You’ll learn to budget your money more wisely
I’ve never been more aware of my money as when I was studying in Freiburg. The only other times I’d used foreign currency before was for school trips in high school, but there wasn’t any real budgeting involved with those trips because my parents had paid for most things up front. Studying abroad was another ball game altogether. When I went abroad, my parents wired a set amount of money to my foreign bank account and said that’s all I’d get. So, I drew up a rough budget and did my best to account for the trips I wanted to take, my weekly grocery costs, eating out with friends on the weekend, and so on. I still have that excel spreadsheet saved on my laptop, and looking at it now makes me giggle. My budgeting skills were minimal at best, and the spreadsheet is peppered with references to purchases I can’t decipher anymore.
As unorganized as that first budget spreadsheet was, it’s since shaped the way I plan my travels. Plus, it kept me on track and prevented me from overspending while I was abroad. I’m pretty sure I was the only student from my school who didn’t write home mid-semester begging my parents for more money. Score!
Read more: How to Keep Money Safe While Traveling
You’ll try lots of new foods
I know I said having the freedom to travel more was my favorite benefit of studying abroad, but now I’m not so sure. Because trying foreign food is my all-time favorite way to immerse myself in new cultures. I especially loved living with German students because they introduced me to German foods I’d never even heard of. We tried to plan monthly roommate dinners where each flat mate would make something for the group to try, and I sampled so much good stuff that way.
My most memorable contribution to the table was my mashed sweet potatoes. At the time, sweet potatoes weren’t widely available in Freiburg, and my roommates were so perplexed whenever I roasted sweet potatoes for my dinner. Finally, I got my hands on enough sweet potatoes to feed the whole apartment, and I mashed them up with some cinnamon as a side dish one night. I wish I had a recording of their first few bites of sweet potato — sheer bliss!
Read more: 30 German Foods to Add to Your Bucket List
I know studying abroad isn’t feasible for everyone, but if you haven’t considered studying abroad due to budget issues, I encourage you to talk to your advisor to see what scholarships are available for you to apply to. Because here’s the thing: your college wants to send you abroad! There are probably tons of study abroad scholarships available that you’ve never heard of. Apply for the scholarships that give out less money; fewer students apply for those because they have their eyes on the bigger scholarships that everyone else has heard of.
Tell me: Where would you like to study abroad?
PS. I hope you enjoyed the photos in this post! I took all of them during my semester in Freiburg, so please forgive the fact that they’re not amazing. I took them before I became interested in photography. xx
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