Why Study Abroad is More Than a Vacation

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Definitely want to make sure my daughter does her study abroad term right so she can reap these career benefits.

By Lauren Davidson, a freelance writer specializing in personal finance

Students are constantly offered chances to sign up for study abroad experiences. In fact, these days many colleges allow students from other schools to sign up for their study abroad trips, with pre-approved credit transfers to their own school. This has increased the availability of locations and programs for students to choose from when deciding on a study abroad trip.

Common concern for students include price, amount of financial aid available, and whether study abroad trips are valuable investments in their futures or just glorified vacation plans. After all, studying abroad is by no means cheap. Most trips range from around $2,000 to $7,000 depending on where you go. This is a sizeable amount of money, requiring you to find additional funding. I recommend trying to find some specific study abroad grants or scholarships before turning to student loans to pay for your trip.

Although it’s true that there are some programs that put more emphasis on the “fun” than on the “fundamentals,” most study abroad programs are serious about putting students to work to earn their credits, all while simultaneously providing them with an enjoyable cross-cultural experience.

From a student’s perspective, it’s important to find the right program which will provide both an enjoyable time and a learning experience. Booking the right types of programs will add luster to your resume in today’s increasingly global economy by adding skills and experiences that employers value.

Use study abroad as a chance to learn or improve upon your second language skills.

England is a popular study abroad destination in part because visiting and studying in a country where the citizens don’t speak English as a first language is daunting to many American students. However, this means a lost chance to learn or improve in a second (or third!) language. The longer your study abroad program runs, the more benefit you will get from immersing yourself into a foreign language.

To get the full immersion experience, request to be placed with a host family instead of a dorm room, if possible. Living alongside natural speakers will aid you in increasing fluency. If you have some sufficiency in a second language, even if you took classes back in high school, this is an excellent opportunity to beef up your conversational skills.

Listing on your resume that you took Mandarin in high school isn’t likely to lift the eyebrows of employers, but if you combine that with a half-summer in China then your claim of fluency just became much more impressive. For students who have not taken classes in a foreign language, it is still very much worth considering a program in a non-English speaking country.

It’s been proven that the fastest way to learn a new language is full immersion. Even slight conversational skills in a foreign language can be a very valuable skill set when job hunting. Employers are much more likely to take into consideration your knowledge of a foreign language if you have actually spent significant time in the country.

Choosing research programs abroad can expose you to new learning methodologies.

No matter the country or program that you choose, taking part in research programs abroad are an excellent chance to learn methods that aren’t being employed in your home university, or even in the United States. There are dozens of study abroad programs that give American students the chance to engage in research alongside students in the program country and this unparalleled chance to engage in cross-cultural research projects is viewed in high esteem by potential employers. These experiences can highlight a student’s ability to work across cultural boundaries, as well, which is another attribute that employers consistently rate highly.

Studying abroad makes students appear well-rounded to employers.

Studying abroad is a chance for students to step outside of their comfort zone, no matter what they choose to study or where they choose to go. Those that travel or live in another country are often viewed as more well-rounded than those that have never left the U.S. because of the diversity of experiences that traveling brings.

While it’s important to remember that study abroad trips are not simply an excuse to go on an extended vacation—most programs represent research opportunities and have significant credit hours included—simply the fact that someone has spent significant time in another country can put their resume to the top of the list.

Of course, this benefit is somewhat dependent upon the type of job. For example, many large U.S. law firms have foreign departments, especially in Asia. For a student hoping to one day live and work in another country after graduation, prior experience abroad can help them to land the job of their dreams.

6 thoughts on “Why Study Abroad is More Than a Vacation

  1. Money Beagle

    I did two internships in college, which was a huge benefit to me when it came to making it in the ‘real world’. Even so, one of my biggest regrets is that I did not get the opportunity to live abroad. I think that would have been huge. Now, it’s more common, as the practice was just getting implemented on a widespread level just as I was graduating.

    1. David@MillennialPersonalFinance

      I have to agree. One of my biggest regrets as well is that I did not go abroad when I had the chance. Internships certainly helped me experience a working environment rather than a typical class room at the time, but being able to experience another country would have been awesome.

    2. Femme Frugality

      I have zero excuse for not doing it, except I went largely non traditionally and programs aren’t really built for families. Maybe we’ll both still live abroad yet!

  2. Adriana @MoneyJourney

    I applied for a chance to study abroad but was denied the opportunity. My grades weren’t good enough. I was excited to apply because I was very curious to learn about other cultures and live in a different environment for a change.

    But that’s OK, I ended up moving abroad anyway 😀

    It’s been a decade since I live in a different country and I’m still loving it! Traveling abroad is great, but vacations aren’t the same as actually living in a different country and learning to fit in 🙂

    1. Femme Frugality

      Way to make it happen!!! And I agree about moving. Though most of my life I’ve lived stateside, there is so much variation in culture across the US. Traveling to a place and living there is definitely different, as I’ve learned the hard way a couple times.

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