What does it really mean when someone says, “study abroad changed my life?” Can a semester outside of the United States really make that much of an impact on your future self? We unpack this commonly heard statement below by highlighting some scenarios that show how study abroad can lay the foundation for important life skills:
You are studying abroad in Berlin, Germany, a city with a complex public transportation system (seriously, look at this map!). You’ve only been in country for a few days. You have a 9:00am class and live in a part of the city where few people speak English- the metro is your only option to get to campus on time, but you haven’t taken it yet. You haven’t even bought yourself a metro pass! Oh yeah, and in your rush to get ready, you’ve misplaced your guidebook of the city. What do you think you would do in this situation?
You are studying abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. You’ve never traveled outside of the U.S. and are a commuter student at UMBC, living at home. You’re very comfortable with your lifestyle and routine. Bangkok, on the other hand, is significantly different than your life at home. Since being in the country, you have been served rice for breakfast, you have a hand-held water sprayer in your bathroom shower, and you just can’t seem to find the kind of deodorant that you are used to using. How do you think you would react to these seemingly small, but nonetheless, differences from your home life in the U.S?
You are studying abroad in São Paulo, Brazil and staying with a host family close to campus. There is also an international student from France living with the family. A month into your stay, you are all sitting around the living room one night and a conversation forms between the French student and your host family regarding customs and traditions in Brazil versus France. Even though you’ve been thinking a lot about the cultural differences between Brazil and the U.S., you’ve been too timid to discuss them with your host family, because you’ve never had a conversation like this before with someone from a different cultural background. How do you think you’d approach this situation and what might you gain from having this type of conversation with your host family?
Independence, adaptability, and cultural competency are only a few examples of ways that study abroad can have a long lasting impact on a person.
It’s important to remember that studying abroad isn’t life-changing just because you went. In many ways, it’s what you do to carry your experiences and lessons-learned forward. For example, a person does not become culturally competent from one conversation- it takes multiple conversations and actions to develop this skill. It is an ongoing commitment to learning who you are and what your role in the world is meant to be. But study abroad is a great place to build this foundation.
If you’re starting to think study abroad might be in your future, we’ll end on three important tips to keep in mind as you consider whether or not study abroad is right for you:
- Study abroad is a learning experience. You will definitely have fun and there will be opportunities for relaxation; however, it is important to view it as a learning experience, not a vacation. Challenge yourself with the classes you choose to take, make an effort to speak the native language, and try to gain as much knowledge as you can about the culture.
- There are varying levels of immersion. Different study abroad programs will offer different levels of cultural immersion. Conduct research and consider what level of immersion is best for you. Do you want to take classes in a different language or classes taught in English? Do you want to live with a host family or in an apartment with other U.S. students? Do you want to go on an exchange program where you are essentially by yourself, or with a group of other students?
- The earlier you plan, the less likely you’ll feel the financial pressure of studying abroad. Study abroad doesn’t have to break the bank, if planned properly. One of the benefits to waiting a few semesters before you go abroad is that you have enough time to save up money, not only for the initial tuition costs, but also for your in-country expenses. You can also talk to the Study Abroad Office about possible scholarship/financial aid opportunities.
UMBC’s Study Abroad Office: http://studyabroad.umbc.edu/
*In order to meet with a study abroad advisor, you must first attend a Study Abroad 101 Information Session*
These take place:
218 Administration Building
Tips for Making Study Abroad Work for Any Major: