Taking a semester or year to study abroad is an experience that is presented to most college students as a great learning experience. However universities should also educate their students about potential drawbacks, which can be numerous. Whether or not the upsides outweigh the downsides is what we’re about to explore.
The Upsides of Studying Abroad
It expands your mind
Studying abroad boosts cognitive creativity, self-confidence, communication skills and emotional intelligence. Engaging with different people who have varying mindsets is a great way to learn about new ideas and ways to think. Fully immersing oneself in such a different set of ideas allows people to identify with different backgrounds than their own. Traveling and living abroad is likely to make you more open-minded and less prejudiced.
Getting the opportunity to reinvent yourself
How we define ourselves is largely tied to the way we are viewed by the people surrounding us. This natural dynamic makes it harder to change and grow as the process isn’t solely internal. It also requires a change in others’ perception of us. Leaving your home country to live abroad provides the opportunity to introduce yourself to people that view you in a new way. They won’t have any preconceived notions about who you are, allowing for a completely fresh perspective of you as a person. This doesn’t mean you’ll become someone else, but it can enable you to take new steps in becoming the person you want to be. Returning after a long period of absence may offer this same experience once more.
It facilitates learning a new language
Learning a second language has been shown to benefit job prospects, cognitive function as well as self-confidence and happiness. Living and studying abroad are the best ways to practice a new language on a spoken and written level. This allows one to understand the culture and people behind the language. The combination of a university-level language course and daily linguistic interaction can help students develop a solid grasp on a language.
The downsides of studying abroad:
Destabilizes your network
A big part of college is fostering a network that will be able to assist you socially as well as career-wise after graduation. This network needs to be nurtured and maintained, which becomes almost impossible while abroad. New connections made are unlikely to be of use to a student looking for a job back home. Only the minority end up staying in the country they study in, making their network gained there less useful.
Higher rate of depression and loneliness among students abroad
Moving to a foreign environment can be difficult to process. It can be highly depressing to live in a new country with no family and few friends. Over a third of American students abroad said that they had trouble functioning in the previous year due to depression according to one study. Leaving home to live abroad can take people out of their comfort zone in a way that is unexpectedly unsettling.
It’s an excuse to party
According to an education advisory board survey, Americans studying abroad were more likely to drink in excess, use drugs and engage in other risky behavior. Environmental and peer influences are possible causes for increase in alcohol consumption. Lower drinking ages and increased independence have been found to correlate with elevated drinking. Additionally being abroad with a higher incentive to make social bonds can encourage the use of alcohol to do so. Being in a foreign environment, with different cultural norms may cause students to neglect their studies in favor of partying.
Bottom Line. Studying abroad can be an amazing opportunity but it can also be a tough experience. Most of all it depends on the student and how well they know themselves. What do you think is the best move for you?