Study abroad programs have in recent years become increasingly legitimized as forms of experiential learning (Gray 2001). Long term or even short term studies abroad define students’ characters as well as their academic skills as they learn and experience living in a new environment. Studying abroad gives insights and deeper understanding to students as to how far they can get while they are being pushed to their limits. There may be excellent universities within the country that can offer students a good future ahead of them. But nothing can beat the learning experience that one can encounter while studying abroad. Studying abroad doesn’t only offer an enduring academic career, as well as intercultural, personal, and social benefits. It also offers life-changing opportunities which no university within your own country can provide. So if you’re asking yourself, “Why study abroad when I can get a good quality education out here?”, then listen to find out that good quality is still not the best quality you can get.
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Why study abroad? Here are the many reasons why you should consider thinking out of the box and making your way to pick up a challenge that will make you beyond successful. Studying abroad takes students out of their comfort zones and teaches them how to learn to live in an unfamiliar world. It seems haunting to leave the place you’ve grown at and take a big leap by leaving it for a while. But ask any successful person that had the experience and they will tell you that they are fulfilled and never regret the choice they made by studying abroad.
A current International Educator article, for example, likens study abroad to Outward Bound, which uses physical challenges to push participants past their comfort zone, with the goals of encouraging teamwork and building self-esteem, self-confidence, and respect for others (Gray 2001). Students also gain independence as they learn to live by themselves out of the watchful eyes of their parents. They learn to get along with people of different cultures and characters. They may make friends from all over the world. It brings out what they thought they didn’t have inside of them.
Taking a course of study in a foreign country is becoming more and more popular as the experience is valued by students and potential employers. Globally-minded employees are in high demand. Nowadays, many companies seek out individuals with multi-lingual and multi-cultural experience and skills. Acquiring advanced language skills can be personally enriching and an asset for your future. Sumka (1999) reported that students improve their language skills and gain new cultural perspectives.
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages, knows nothing of their own.” Learning a new language also helps you learn your own language more. In addition to the personal growth you’ll undergo while overseas, the international and cross-cultural skills you’ll develop will certainly expand your employment opportunities and, consequently, your income potential. Merryfield (1995) pointed out, our world is characterized by “cultural pluralism, interconnectedness, and international economic competition,” and as such, it is increasingly necessary to ensure that our students have the “knowledge, skills, and competence” that will position them to become successful citizens of the world. In a fast growing world of internationalization and globalization, studying abroad helps students to learn and embrace the diverse scope of humanity as a whole.
Moreover, living and learning to adapt to a different culture teaches a student more than any good book can do. Internationalization seems to suggest cooperation and understanding between two countries and/or cultures (McCabe, 2001). As the world becomes a more global community, the need for American youth to study abroad becomes more important than in previous time periods. A recent NAFSA bulleting states that "international and cross-cultural awareness and understanding on the part of U.S. citizens will be crucial to effective U.S. leadership, competitiveness, prosperity, and national security in the next century" (NAFSA, 2000).
Lastly, while studying abroad, you will have the opportunity to truly become a full-time student. While in a foreign country, even mundane activities – like shopping for groceries –become educational experiences. I will leave you with a thought from American anthropologist Margaret Mead: “As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.” Living and studying in our own country may make us wise individuals, but having the audacity to study in another country will make us wiser individuals who will have more insight as to the vast world we live in.
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