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8 Reasons Why Every College Student Should Study Abroad

Kimberly Hirsch

7 minutes

There is so much to think about when it comes to studying abroad--will you struggle with the language? Will you miss out on opportunities at home? Where will you store your dorm room belongings?

Studying abroad can be a tough decision to make, but it doesn't have to be. Every college student should consider studying abroad for at least a semester. Based on my experience as an exchange student in France, and almost 20 years of reflection on my time there, I've narrowed it down to 8 of the best reasons to study college overseas. I promise--you won't miss out here at home.

1. Immersing Yourself in Another Culture

It's incredible to me how often I reference my time abroad. It was such a sliver of time in my life, yet it greatly impacted me. I'm sure my family rolls their eyes whenever I mention those Pain au Chocolat we ate every morning for breakfast. I've told the story about rollerblading around the cobblestone streets of a French suburb at least a hundred times and often talk of my French BFF Miléna, who remains one of my dearest friends (despite only having met twice in our lives). 

Studying abroad is different from going on vacation. Sure, you'll be sightseeing and taking tons of pictures, but studying abroad is living elsewhere for several months. You won't be staying at a fancy hotel or an Airbnb, or fine dining every night. A typical experience would involve staying with a host family and eating meals with them to learn and understand the traditions and customs of the culture.

You've got to have an open mind when you are abroad. Try the weird foods, soak up the odd customs. Know that your own habits and customs might be looked at strangely too. I remember trying to tip at a restaurant in Paris, and our server was utterly puzzled. Why on earth would I want to give away any extra money? It got me thinking about how our own customs and way of life would be strange to someone on the outside.

You'll leave with a genuine appreciation for another way of life. Chances are you'll bring pieces of that culture back with you. 


2. It will Get You Out of Your Comfort Zone

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Do one thing every day that scares you."

Studying abroad can be daunting when you stop to think about it, especially at 19 or 20 years old. Going to a place where you don't know the language, don't know any people, and all the food is strange—now that's overwhelming! Add on top of it the fact that you have no idea how to get anywhere, and your whole family is on the other side of the world.

When you get out of that zone where everything is comfortable-- you test yourself. You push your ability to adapt to change. Life is constantly changing (especially in your 20s!) but learning to adapt helps you change with it. 

I advise you to dive right in and don't think twice. Putting yourself in new situations and environments helps you learn, grow, and challenge yourself. If you're living away at college, you've already tiptoed out of your comfort zone--consider studying abroad a giant leap.  

3. You’ll Learn a Language

After four years of learning French in high school, I could order a simple meal in French or introduce myself and ask where the bathroom is.

I took a semester abroad, and I came back almost fluent! Learning a language when immersed in it is much easier than learning in a classroom with flashcards and textbooks. Years of singing silly French songs did not prepare me as I thought they would to order a latte at a busy café in Paris with a line of people behind me and count out the correct change in Euros. I learned fast that morning and all the mornings that followed because I became a part of the culture.

Thankfully, I also gained new friends who would correct me whenever I said something wrong. Most likely, your hosting university will offer language classes that you can take to improve even more.

4. You’ll Make Lifelong Friendships

I think back to my time abroad; what I remember most is the people who were on the journey with me—my American classmates who traveled with me, and my new French peers.

Of course, I remember the crêpes-oh how I remember those! Mostly I remember eating the crêpes with Mary and Manon. 

And for sure, I remember the la Tour Eiffel (who wouldn't), but mostly I remember the elevator ride up with Christie and Jonatan and how terrified I was of the height.

I certainly could never forget the Arc de Triomphe or the shopping at the Champs-Elysée with Jen and Miléna and snapping more pictures than I had room for on my disposable camera (now I'm just aging myself here).

In truth, I shared an incredible experience with several people, many strangers, who truly became lifelong friends. When we returned to "normal" life, we had monthly meetups at Au Bon Pain just for the Pain au Chocolat…and because we had secured a bond so far away from home together. To this day, we remain close.

5. The Timing Couldn’t Be Better

Hear me out on this one. I'm almost 40, married, and have two darling little boys. We have a charming log cabin in the woods and a garden to brag about. Life is pretty sweet.

But oh, what I wouldn't give to be able to travel. Pack up for a semester and live somewhere else for four months. To do that now seems unimaginable. I'd need to homeschool the kids for the year, tell my job I'd need a few months off (my husband, too), and figure out finances and health care in a foreign country. Who would watch the dog and water the garden? After college, life becomes too complicated to travel for longer than a week at a time.
The thought of it all becomes a bit overwhelming and sadly unrealistic after college. When you're in college, studying abroad is within reach for everyone. You're in a unique time when it's totally acceptable, and even encouraged, to leave everything and travel for an extended period. Even if this is your first time traveling, start now and take advantage of the opportunity you have right now.

6. You’ll Learn Independence

Nothing teaches you independence like learning train station routes in a foreign country while attempting to speak the language! You use problem-solving skills you never even knew you had. Handling a new currency and figuring out ways to communicate with strangers when you get lost are some of the best ways to gain independence. For many students studying abroad, it will be their first taste of a life far away from home, on their own.

If you want to see what life is like on a typical day for a student studying abroad, check out this blog here. Or check out the videos on this blog to see various study-abroad perspectives. 

7. You’ll See the World  

I added this one, knowing full well that this is a classic example of "you'll appreciate this when you're older." At age 20, I didn't thoroughly enjoy Paris's rich history and landmarks as I do today. Fortunately, seeing it all firsthand did stick with me, even if I wasn't fully aware of it at the time. I can still visualize the Louvre and all the magnificent paintings and tiny rooms of art. I didn't quite grasp the enormity of it or care to learn the history of the Notre Dame Cathedral or the Gardens of Versailles. As the years have passed, these places have become etched in my memory and hold a special place for me.

Many young adults who travel abroad get to see how vast the world is and how rich its history is. You may even travel to other nearby countries to see and learn more about the part of the world in which you're residing. 

When planning your semester abroad, add the landmarks to your list of things to do on the weekend. Your host family and the university will be able to tell you where to go and can provide tips for travel, so don't be afraid to ask. To get ahead on your planning, here is an excellent list of popular tourist spots in the most popular countries. Please research ahead of time to take advantage of it abroad. 

8. You Can Get Ahead in your Career (Before you Even Have One!)

When you finish college, not only will your resume look better from studying abroad, but you will have gained new skills that potential employers will be looking for. Aside from new communication skills, you can add cultural awareness, creativity, problem-solving, adaptability, confidence, responsibility, and independence to that list.
As a bonus, living in a different country will allow you to gain new friends to network with after college (in a country where you're now fluent). This can be a considerable advantage in specific career paths.

Final Thoughts

While there are many reasons to stay in the comfort of your dorm room with your college roommates, so you don't miss out on anything, the reasons to study abroad far outweigh those. Rarely do students regret studying abroad. Instead, the ones who decline the chance to study overseas feel regret later.
If you're intrigued by studying abroad, talk to students at your college who have done it. Ask your college which study abroad programs they offer and how to get started. Then call your local college storage company (try us here at Storage Scholars!) and then get packing for the time of your life!

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