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Considering the Reasons to Study Abroad

After you've gotten through the first year at your home university, you probably feel like you finally know all the buildings on campus, can find your way around town, know which professors to avoid, which dining hall is busiest at lunch, and of course, have made plenty of friends. So why leave this cozy little environment you've created for yourself just to go back to being the new kid on the block? Because your experience abroad is definitely worth the few trials and tribulations of starting over!

Think of study abroad as just an extension of your studies at your home university. Your time away should be an integrated part of your four-year undergraduate academic plan. When you go abroad, you will likely take courses that, in some way, build on or add to the courses you are taking at your home university. Study abroad is also a great time to begin independent research projects. Increasing numbers of students conduct research abroad and then work with faculty members when they return to convert their projects into senior theses.

Ready, set, grow!

Studying abroad definitely challenges you on a personal level. Whether you consciously realize it or not, you develop a greater self-confidence, independence, and self-reliance. By the time you return home, you may feel like a super hero: You can do anything!

Studying abroad may be the first time you are truly away from home — all your familiar surroundings here in the U.S., as well as friends and family. While this isn't always easy, most students agree that the benefits of giving up your familiar environment for a short period of time far outweigh the reasons to stay at home. Believe it or not, if you immerse yourself in a new culture, experiment with new ways of thinking, or try a different way of living, you naturally experience some sort of personal growth. After you master your new culture and the abroad academic life, you will return home much wiser and probably slightly impressed with yourself for having had a successful time abroad.

Changing your perspective

If you go abroad with an open mind, then you're certain to return to the U.S. a more enlightened person. One of the major benefits of studying abroad is its ability to broaden your world understanding and perspective on just about anything. You gain a different view of international affairs, from politics to economics to social issues. You also return with a deeper understanding and respect for your host country, knowing how another culture approaches daily life and unusual challenges.

You may also return with a new appreciation for the U.S. Living in another culture can help you understand your own on a deeper level. You may return grateful for the way of life in the U.S., its political system, or its foreign or domestic policies. Through your interactions with your abroad professors, your new peer group, and other foreign or U.S. students on your program, you can find out what others think about the U.S. (and this is usually both positive and negative).

While abroad, a new academic interest or perspective on your major may emerge. Studying at an abroad university allows you to study subjects that aren't available at your home university.

You also study familiar subjects but from a different cultural perspective. For example, if you study international relations in France, it will be from a European perspective. Alternatively, studying the U.S. and American history from a different country's point of view can be fun. And, of course, all your classroom learning is enhanced by living in your abroad location and interacting with host families, housemates, roommates, or friends who are native to your abroad country.

Jump-starting your career

Studying abroad typically gives your resume a nice boost and improves your post-graduate employment prospects, particularly if you're considering a career in business, international affairs, or government service. Nowadays, employers actively seek college graduates who have spent time studying abroad because they want employees with an international knowledge base as well as foreign language skills.

The same international skills that make you more marketable for employment are also valued by graduate schools. These skills include cross-cultural communication skills, analytical skills, teamwork, flexibility, an understanding of cultural contexts, the ability to adapt to new circumstances and deal with differences, a developed view of the world outside the U.S., independence, and self-confidence.

Experiencing a different education system

Institutions of higher education outside the U.S. function differently than what you're accustomed to. Even if your program is directed by a U.S.-based school, your experience can still differ because U.S.-based programs often employ local professors.

In the U.S., most students pay to go to college. It's kind of a pay-for-service model in which students pay for the education and in return expect their professors to conduct lectures, foster class discussion, hold office hours, and so on. This isn't usually the case in other parts of the world. If students don't pay for school or if the government (maybe through taxes) subsidizes tuition, then students don't feel as entitled. The tables are turned. Students have the privilege of going to school and therefore, it is up to them to take responsibility for their own learning.

Abroad universities are much less focused on grades. They care more about learning to increase understanding and knowledge. Therefore, you can expect much more of a lecture format to your classes and not much (if any) class discussion or participation. You can also expect to have less one-on-one interaction with your professors. (Professors at your abroad university may not even be required to hold weekly office hours.) However, the flexibility of curriculums abroad often gives students at abroad universities more freedom to explore their own interests within a course than would be allowed or even feasible in the U.S.

The difference in set ups between your home university and your host university doesn't mean you should assume that academics are easier abroad.

All these differences don't mean that the education you receive while you're abroad is better or worse than the education you get at your home university — it's just bound to be different. If you don't like your abroad classroom or learning style, chalk it up to a learning experience. Accept the challenge to learn in a different way, in a different cultural setting.

Before you take the plunge, think about your own personal reasons for wanting to go abroad because when you return from studying abroad, you'll assess whether you achieved your goals or hopes for studying abroad. Whatever your reasons for studying abroad, make sure that they are not only attainable, but also positive. For example, learning a second language, studying about another culture, diversifying your studies, preparing for graduate school, or traveling to meet new people are all good reasons to study abroad.

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