As a student, you’re exposed to a wide variety of wonderful opportunities during your time at university. Whether it’s the people you’ll meet and the copious amounts of alcohol you’ll likely share, the various societies and sports clubs that you can join or the challenging academic concepts and ideas you’ll encounter, there are plenty of reasons why you should pack up and embrace campus life.
Yet one of the biggest – and most often overlooked – is the opportunity to study abroad. Nearly every university in the world offers access to exchange programmes with other institutions around the globe, with study options ranging from a three-month semester to a full year; the perfect chance, perhaps, to combine your education with a spot of travel.
That’s not the only advantage, though – there’s an abundance of positives and perks waiting to be discovered, from dietary delights to future employability skills. So, if it’s not something you’ve considered before, maybe now is the time to check out where your degree can – quite literally – take you.
These are the biggest benefits of studying abroad…
1. You’ll Get to See the World
Straight away, one of the most obvious advantages of heading overseas is the opportunity to fit in some travelling. And as you’ll be away for an extended period of time, you will definitely have the chance to dig out your camera and backpack and spread your cultural wings.
Depending on your host location, you don’t necessarily have to restrict yourself to one area, either. If you’re studying in the centre of Europe, for example, it’s a great base from which to hop on a train (using your student discounts, of course) and explore all the surrounding cities and countries.
It’s unlikely that you will ever get another opportunity to explore different parts of the world so conveniently, so cheaply and for such an extended period, so why not make the most of it? By the time you come home, you’ll have a wealth of stories to tell and you’ll have experienced amazing things that many of your peers won’t have.
2. You’ll Experience a Different Culture
An added bonus of living in another country – as opposed to visiting it on holiday – is that the longer you stay, the more you notice the subtle cultural differences. When you then embrace those differences and immerse yourself, the whole experience becomes more authentic.
Nothing is more representative of a culture than its culinary traditions, for instance, and some dishes can require an open mind, so whether it’s falafel in the Middle East, smoked fish in Scandinavia or, well, pretty much anything in Italy, try as many new things as possible.
When you do as the Romans do, so to speak, you’re developing your awareness and understanding of other backgrounds and cultures – often without even realising. Not only is this a highly sought-after skill in a globalised workplace, but it’s also a sign of a balanced and well-rounded individual.
3. You’ll Develop Your Language Skills
One of the best ways to integrate into the culture of your host country is by learning as much of the language as you can. Luckily, there is no better way of learning a language than when you’re surrounded by it 24/7.
It might be the case that you’re already studying a language and developing your skills is the whole point of your stay, but if not, it’s a perfect opportunity to pick a few phrases up and maybe enhance your CV in the process. After all, speaking more than one language can go a long way when you’re hunting for jobs, as well as open doors for you in the future.
Remember: when you have to ask for help or directions in a new language, you move out of your comfort zone and become more confident in yourself – don’t underestimate the impact small interactions like this can have on your personal growth and development.
4. You’ll Experience a Different Style of Education
Of course, as the name suggests, studying abroad means that there is actually some studying involved, too, and being taught in a completely different style – or even in a different language – has untold benefits.
Ultimately, the biggest plus is that an alternative way of doing things requires you to be adaptable and to think differently, often in real-time. You might be used to sitting quietly and taking notes in the back of a crowded lecture hall, for instance, but your host school might prefer a more intimate, discussion-led approach where you are expected to contribute. This is good because it teaches you to think more creatively and to consider perspectives and viewpoints that you may not have previously.
In addition, it also exposes you to different levels of expertise and opinion in various fields. If you’re studying international relations in a political hub such as Brussels or Washington DC, for example, you might come away with a totally different learning experience than you would have elsewhere.
5. You’ll Discover New Interests and Hobbies
How would you ever know that you were a natural snowboarder if you hadn’t taken that weekend trip to Austria? That you had a knack for winemaking if you hadn’t attended that free course in Bordeaux? Or that you really enjoyed hiking if you hadn’t spent three months studying a stone’s throw away from the Cairngorms?
Part of finding things out about yourself is discovering new interests and hobbies that you would have otherwise never been exposed to. Studying abroad gives you the perfect opportunity to do this, with many exchange programmes running regular events where you’ll get the chance to participate.
Regardless of what takes your fancy, the benefits are applicable across your personal and professional life. When you throw yourself into something new and unfamiliar with positivity and enthusiasm, it demonstrates that you are flexible, fearless and unafraid of taking on new challenges.
6. You’ll Develop Intercultural Skills
As mentioned previously, the modern workplace has become increasingly globalised. This means that companies want employees who have a broad awareness of the wider world and who can work closely and efficiently with people from all over the globe. Studying abroad prepares you thoroughly for this.
Aside from being surrounded by students and locals from your host country, it’s also highly likely that you’ll spend a large amount of time with other exchange students on your programme. They will all come from different countries and backgrounds, just like you.
As well as learning about the various differences and similarities that you will undoubtedly share, your mutual circumstances will also mean that you will make some of the best friends you’ll ever have, lasting long after your exchange programme ends. In itself, this creates some invaluable networking opportunities, but it also means that you’ll return home with a much more informed and realistic viewpoint on the world around you.
7. You’ll Grow Significantly as a Person
All the points on this list will have a positive impact on your career and personal life, but the biggest difference you will see is in the mirror. Your personality will develop and change, and you will become a much stronger person as a result.
Certainly, you will become a far more independent and self-reliant individual. As exciting as it may initially sound to be spending nine months studying in Rome, for instance, the sense of isolation from family and friends once you actually arrive – as well as the sheer culture shock of being in such an alien environment – will bring you crashing back to reality very quickly. This is when you genuinely learn something about yourself.
This personal growth is an important part of learning to flourish in society, as it gives you confidence that you can handle difficult situations and survive on your own. It’s also a huge sell to employers, who will be able to see that you are ambitious and capable of handling responsibility. After all, if you can thrive in a place where you don’t know anybody, where you don’t speak the language and where you’re a very long way from home, then everything that comes after should be a relative breeze.
As you can see, there are incredible benefits to taking your education abroad, none more so than the positive effect it can have on your career once you graduate. In the short term, though, there is the opportunity to travel to exciting places, meet new people from all over the world and gorge yourself on exotic food – reason enough, surely, to take the plunge by itself.
Have you studied abroad? In what way did it benefit you? Let us know in the comments below!