Why Every College Student Should Study Abroad
I was an early adopter of the school of adventurous escapism. I read the Harry Potter series ravenously as a child more for the idea of landing somewhere new and exciting than for the magic that lured most of my peers. Later in life, I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and pledged, in the way teenagers do, to always lean forward into that “next crazy venture beneath the skies.” So, when I was rounding out my second year in college and the possibility of traveling abroad presented itself, I didn’t hesitate one bit. So off to Buenos Aires, Argentina, I went for six months. And oh man—it’s a good thing I did. Here’s why every single college student should study abroad if they can, from someone who is very thankful to have had the experience.
It’s an incredible chance to see the world.
Having grown up in New Jersey and vacationed at a summer camp not even a mile from my house, I was anxious see it—see it all. Thankfully, studying abroad is a unique opportunity to live somewhere new, no strings attached, and explore the region with minimal responsibilities interfering. Academic requirements vary depending on exchange programs, but many build in three-day weekends to allow for plenty of weekend travel. In my experience, traveling as a post-grad adult is often wedged between stressful periods of work and responsibility. Getting time off is a challenge. Scrounging up the funds and coordinating conflicting schedules isn’t easy. Travel has never been as painless as travel while I was abroad.
My advice for when you’re there? Do it all. Go on that daytime excursion. Drop the money on that plane or train ticket. Squeeze as much out of a whirlwind 24 hours as you can. Every opportunity you have to travel while you are abroad is special and worthwhile.
It’ll extract you from your college comfort zone.
And, well, this is a very good thing. It can be scary to leave the comfort of home—of friends, a city you know well, a routine you’re accustomed to. That’s natural! When I first arrived in Buenos Aires, I was overwhelmed by the pollution in my neighborhood, by the bus schedule, by the language that I thought I knew how to speak. But as far as personal development goes, being surrounded by people who are just like us—from similar backgrounds, with similar belief systems—is stunting. The goal of college is very much to remove us from our comfort zone. Think of studying abroad as doing so tenfold. It’s totally unnerving, but worth it in every way.
You don’t need to be super-adventurous; I promise.
I am by no means an effortless world traveler. I get anxious in unfamiliar situations. I stress out about my hair. I’m a light sleeper. I don’t speak multiple languages, I’m not a social butterfly who has a breeze of a time meeting people, and I have my mother to thank for a preeminent awareness of all of the bad things that might happen at any moment. And yet, there I was, living in Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and backpacking up and down Chile. Don’t let what you think you aren’t hold you back from just going for it. You’ll be totally fine, seriously.
But you will find adventure.
Oh my god, will you ever. I swear, some things are only possible when you’re living abroad. In my particular case, a tour manager of a very popular band heard my friend and I speaking English at the luggage carousel and proceeded to tell us we needed to come to their show, at the biggest venue in Santiago, Chile. Friends have all sorts of juicy stories like this. If you do it right—and by that I mean embrace adventure and the possibility of it wholeheartedly—you’ll have so much fun you won’t know what to do with yourself.
You’ll expand your global perspective.
Living as an expat throws what might be an innate ethnocentrism into sharp relief. The chance to experience life in another place and, more importantly, exchange views and form friendships with people there is so crucial for not being a totally self-centered human being. Try it—you’ll like it.
And meet new friends.
My program connected me with not only a whole host of American exchange students but also Argentines, Colombians, and Peruvians who were living in the same residence hall as me. I still keep in touch with some and value the time spent with them—and bonds formed—so much.
You’ll learn so much about yourself.
College tends to be all about studying and social engagements. Both are done with friends pinned to your side. For me, my time abroad was much more about living in a big city for the first time and doing my own thing. One of the most enlightening aspects of my time abroad was realizing how much I love being alone. I relished in my long, lazy afternoons spent away from the group, reading in the park. I would take long walks through the city and discover new corners all the time. The complete independence offered by studying abroad—the trip planning, the freedom to do as you please, the chance to make new friends—will absolutely teach you something about yourself.
And grow immensely.
No matter where you chose to spend your time abroad, it will broaden your horizons and contribute to your worldliness, maturity, and cultural cred. One of the main focuses of being abroad is learning—going to museums, visiting surrounding cities, becoming involved in local cultural happenings—in other words, being a complete sponge to your surroundings.
You’ll find a second (or third!) home, to which you can always return.
There is something to be said for feeling at home in multiple places, for having a go-to park, a favorite restaurant or two, an ability to dive back into a foreign place. In my experience, I’ve found that people still ask me for recommendations when visiting Argentina or Chile. And though I still haven’t made it back since leaving, I look forward to the time when I finally do. I know exactly what my first stop will be!
And you’ll still talk about it years later.
True story. In short, if you have the ability to study abroad, you should jump—leap—at the opportunity. Even if you’re a little uncertain, even if you’re a little unconvinced. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.
Did you study abroad, or are you planning to? We want to hear all about it!
On the Road by Jack Kerouac ($14)
Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic, penned in 1957, remains a modern-day bible for those with restless hearts and itchy feet. We follow our protagonist Sal as he leaves New York City and heads west along the railways, encountering a colorful cast of characters in the process. It personified the uncertainty and longing of a period often associated with uniformity, a theme that still resonates with readers.