A semester abroad. The phrase conjures images of books discussed over a Parisian breakfast or Argentine Alfajores. As romantic as that sounds, before you pack your bags you’ll want to do some research in order to weigh the pros and cons of studying abroad.
There are many advantages of studying overseas. You may pick up a new language or become fluent in one you already know. You’ll be exposed to a different culture, and immersed in new-to-you art, music, literature, and food. Broaden your horizons now and who knows where you’ll end up in ten years.
But most of all—more than any cooking technique or phrase—you’ll learn how to take care of yourself. Even if you speak the language, your safety net abroad is much more limited than if you’re in school in the U.S. You’re likely navigating an entirely new social system. That kind of chutzpah may come in handy later on in life.
One factor to think about when considering the pros and cons of studying abroad is how connected the program is to your university. If none of your study abroad classes will qualify for credit, it might not make sense financially.
Why not graduate a semester early and create your own study abroad program somewhere? You could create a travel itinerary all on your own, which may cost less than going on the abroad program through your school.
However, if you’ve already weighed the pros and cons of studying abroad, here are some tips regarding countries to consider, based on the languages you speak—or want to learn.
If you speak or want to improve your Spanish, Latin America or South America are great options. Many students look at Mexico, Argentina, and Uruguay. One thing to consider is which dialect of Spanish you want to speak.
If you’re planning on using your Spanish extensively, and want to live in the Americas, Mexico is a great option as over 100 million people live there. Additionally, a lot of Spanish language entertainment comes from Mexico, so the Mexican dialect is widely known.
On the other hand, Argentina and Uruguay can be a great place to study abroad, but they speak a different dialect of Spanish, Castellano. If you’re considering living in South America long term, it could be worth it to study in Argentina or Uruguay instead.
If you’re more interested in Europe, Spain boasts a great university network that hosts many Americans. Again, the dialect there is different from Latin American and some parts of Spain speak Castilian Spanish, so if you’re planning on living in the Americas, it might make more sense to study in Latin America.
For those studying French, France is the obvious choice. But if Europe is less your speed, consider African countries like the Senegal or Morocco. Both countries have great French language university systems and are study abroad destinations, so there will likely be other international students there.
For Chinese speakers, China is also the obvious choice. If your school doesn’t have a program there, many American universities are opening up satellite campuses, so that could be a good way to get to Shanghai or Beijing.
Hong Kong is also a good option, although they speak Cantonese there, rather than Mandarin, which tends to be the Chinese dialect that most Americans study. In Singapore, however, they speak both Mandarin and English.
English Language-Based Study Abroad Programs
If you don’t speak any foreign languages, don’t despair. Many universities offer study abroad programs that are not language-based or don’t require knowledge of a language before you apply.
Some good destinations for only-English language speakers are Germany, Israel, and Hong Kong. There are also obviously programs in English-speaking countries like England, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia.
The Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad
Studying abroad is ultimately a big decision—and every big decision calls for a good ol’ pro-con list (preferably on a yellow legal pad). So let’s talk through a high-level look at some of the pros and cons of studying abroad.
Some Pros of Studying Abroad
Starting off with the pros—what are the benefits of studying abroad?
Perhaps it’s cliché to point out that studying abroad will expand your horizons—but it really might. Immersing yourself in a completely new culture can be a life-changing experience, whether it proves that you’re actually a Francophile, or whether it ends up revealing that you’re a homebody at heart.
This is also a great opportunity to make new friends from around the world that you may have never had the chance to meet. Meeting new people in new places, while experiencing new things sounds like a great adventure!
On a more practical note, grad school admissions may look fondly upon those who have studied abroad. This might be an opportunity to gain valuable workplace skills and real-world experience stores, which may help during an interview process!
Beyond that, it might enable you to look at your coursework in a whole new light. Also, studying abroad could be one of the only times in your life that you get to spend an extended amount of time in another country, which is a compelling pro.
Some Cons of Studying Abroad
And for the rebuttal—what are the negatives of studying abroad?
Studying abroad has the glamour that staying on campus, to put it simply, doesn’t. A certain amount of FOMO over your friends study abroad adventures might be inevitable if you stay behind. However, what those friends might not be telling you is that studying abroad isn’t without its challenges.
Being in a new place—especially where you don’t speak the language—can feel isolating. It can also make it challenging to keep up with relationships back at school or with coursework necessary for graduation. Many degree programs require students to fulfill a certain number of credit hours, and studying abroad may make it more difficult to get everything done in the allotted time frame.
Of course, it might go without saying that the finances of studying abroad can also be a con. It could be costly to study abroad with certain programs. And it’s not just tuition dollars—cost-of-living could be higher in your chosen study abroad home than it is back at school. For example, off-campus housing in Pennsylvania could be significantly less expensive than off-campus housing in Paris.
Financing Your Study Abroad Experience
You may be able to receive federal aid for your study abroad program. There is eligibility criteria , of course, and you’ll need to fill out your annual FAFSA® form as per usual, but the government recommends filling it out as soon as possible, since you’ll need to make sure it applies for both your American school and your program abroad.
There are also a number of study abroad scholarships and grants available to American students. For more information, you can check out this list as a starting point of your research.
After exhausting all of those options, you may also consider taking out a loan with a private lender. Private student loans from SoFi offer flexible repayment options and absolutely no fees. Get a low-rate in-school loan that works for you, so you can focus on your studies—both at home and abroad.
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