Studying abroad is an experience where a student spends a portion of their studies and pursues their degree in a foreign country.
This chance to study in a foreign country means the student will attend lectures or might even conduct research in a foreign country. When deciding to study abroad, you can either study abroad through your home university or through an independent company for study abroad that is contracted by the university or degree program. Most students decide to study abroad during their undergraduate college years, however, students will also work with programs and study abroad anywhere from high school to graduate education. The duration of this program will vary depending on how long you are willing to commit and your academic goals. Nonetheless, they are generally one semester to a year.
Study abroad programs are wonderful to participate in because they offer opportunities for professional development. Studying abroad simply comes with a few benefits that are both interesting and valuable to your future in the professional world. As an individual, you will broaden your horizons, develop new perspectives, and become marketable for your cross-cultural communication skills. These benefits come as the mere result of studying in a different country, below is a list of what you will learn while taking on this new adventure.
In your courses, you might find that the culture of the classroom is different from what you are used to. For example, classroom etiquette, classroom perspective, grading, and style of learning might all vary depending on the institution you are at. For instance, at Carnegie Mellon University, a well-known university located in America, a book was published by them regarding cultural variations. One section of the book specifically covered classroom culture and classroom discussion. In this book, it was mentioned that in America students are expected, welcomed, and encouraged to ask questions and express their opinions and thoughts about the material. This form of teaching is believed to open up discussion and welcome new learning opportunities. In comparison, in universities and institutions in other countries, students are given direct instructions and must listen directly to the instructor. One student is quoted in the book and states “In my country, there is a hierarchic relationship between teachers and students. Students must pay absolute respect to teachers. For instance, a student can’t interrupt the teacher asking questions.” This quote along with many others testify to the type of culture inside the classroom and the relationship between the instructor and student. From these testimonies, it is apparent and fair to say that learning the type of environment and class culture is important as it might not be conducive to your success.
Being in a new environment goes beyond the classroom. When you study abroad you will be immersed in a new cultural experience. That means learning how to speak the language where you are studying, so you can effectively communicate your needs and wants. Since you will be the one studying abroad you cannot expect the person whose home you are visiting to know what you are saying. Thus, before leaving for your trip, you should leave ample time to prepare and study new or common words and phrases you might need to get around. The benefit of diligently working to learn this new language is that it will be helpful long-term on your resume or cover letter and can increase your collaboration and network. Over time, learning to interact with others who speak a different language, might even translate into you learning and picking up on foreign manners.
Foreign manners can be directly taught or inherently picked up. Just like different ethnic cultures have different mannerisms in America, other countries also have different conduct and behavior among themselves and their peers. One prime demonstration is how individuals say hi. The variation of the hi changes through each particular culture based on how the person saying it gives respect to the other person. In Asian countries, the person shows respect by bowing to the other person. Comparably, Hispanics show respect by greeting with hugs. Depending on the country you choose to go to, learning their foreign manners can make all the difference for your trip. It is a form of respect to take on the manners of the country and appropriately consider your actions. One student shares their experience with being culturally considerate. This student studied abroad in Taiwan and while there they were asked to mark up a student's paper, for the sake of correction, of course. When correcting they used a red pen, which is typical in America. That student learned, however, that in Taiwan using a red pen is culturally offensive. The use of a red pen is correlated with blood and death. From that day the student began to consider their social habits and expand their global perspective on ideas and concepts.
Being open to understanding and learning how different cultures outwardly show their respect to one another requires us to attain a global perspective on language, social patterns, and thinking. Our thinking is so narrow when we only think about what we know. When you are studying abroad you must learn to develop a new perspective and can do this through networking. While you are abroad, try meeting new people and connecting as that is the time to develop a new perspective and outlook on life. It is essential to become someone who can have an understanding of others' cultures, lifestyles, and differences so that you can effectively try new opportunities that arise.
Moreover, if you are interested in a career involving national sectors or global interactions, then studying abroad can be particularly helpful to your resume. Even if you are not interested long-term in an international industry, studying abroad will introduce you to cross-cultural communication skills, which can be used anywhere. That is because studying abroad will only add to your experiences which will help you become more well-rounded as a person. There are just some aspects of emotional intelligence that must be learned by going through the process yourself.
If you want to study abroad start by researching your school's study abroad program and requirements. Most of the time you will need to begin and submit an application explaining your purpose and motivation for studying abroad. If you are beginning the application process or considering it, you should start by attending an information session about studying abroad with your school. At these information sessions, you will learn about previous students' perspectives and their experiences with studying abroad. You might even meet someone who studied in the same country that you are interested in visiting and you can do an informational interview with them. If that is the case, you could even ask these students for application tips and advice so that you can take full advantage of the study abroad location.
After doing your research and before studying abroad you will need to choose where you want to study. Every foreign country has its unique personality and one might draw your attention more than others. You might even find that you are more interested in learning about one country compared to others. Some items you should consider when applying include but are not limited to:
As discussed previously, the academic life and classroom environment can vary from country to country. Consider talking with others who have studied abroad or even using online resources to properly prepare yourself for academic life. One student from Korea who studied abroad at an American University shared “Universities in America require much more independent thinking from the student and it is very hard.” Alternatively, a student from America studied abroad and shared “The instruction was dependent on the professor and I was told exactly what to do and how to do it.” Depending on what type of learning and thinking style helps you learn, you might consider this factor as a significant decision to consider.
If you are studying abroad, you will also need somewhere to stay during that time. Studying abroad means that your home university or program has already considered room and board. Some universities or programs will have systems already developed to accommodate the traveling student. These housing accommodations will likely be no different than an on-campus residential hall. Other possibilities include arranging an off-campus housing placement for yourself. It is good to make sure that you understand the logistics of your housing situation. While some housing universities may arrange your living situation, you might still need to plan to pay these expenses. Unlike classes and books which all fall under tuition expenses and are provided by the university, room and board do not. If you are planning on living on campus, your first point of action should be speaking with your home university and learning about their arrangements with the study abroad institution. If your home university is unable to help you then your second point of contact will be the university you are planning on studying abroad at. Start by checking with the housing office at the university early on. If you are planning to live off campus, then make sure you understand the requirements and application basics. Regardless of your plans, the better you learn and figure out the housing situation the better.
Another factor to consider is transportation from your living quarters to your campus, or maybe to the grocery store, or any other locations you might need to get to and from. Transportation is a necessity in our daily lives and something you might only truly learn while undergoing the experience. Even so, if you have lists of places you want to visit during your time abroad, you must understand how you can get to these places. For instance, some universities offer transportation through the university or with a city contract. This transportation will allow you to use the offered method simply by showing your school ID or a university-provided card that can be used to board.
Food culture is another aspect that you want to take into consideration. The diet and food habits, like our languages and traditions, vary widely among different countries and their subgroups. If you are in another country, you will have to eat what is available, because reasonably speaking you cannot order an Uber flight. I encourage potential study abroad students to consider if they are open to trying new dishes. Additionally, consider how you might be impacted by the change in food, such as how it might affect your study abroad experience. In one outsourced blog, the study abroad student shares “One thing I never thought about was food, how badly I would miss my mother’s dishes, and how food would be a huge part of my culture shock.” Many times, without considering it, we might be okay breaking bread across cultures, but what we forget is how much we might miss our family’s home food. Even in our home university, as college students, we miss our families cooking. In contrast, you might also enjoy these food experiences and they might be similar, but with noticeable differences.
Last, but not least, you might be interested in learning about the fashion and style of the abroad location. Learning about fashion is not a need or a priority, but you will find that certain clothing pieces are more common in the area. The reason for the common fashion is usually tired to culture and suitable clothing for the living environment. For example, some places get warmer, colder, humid, or dry. If you are from an area that is humid cotton might be recommended, but if it tends to get more dry, then you might find more linen. Those who are from the area know best what the seasons are like and what clothing is going to be practical.
That being said, all of these experiences come full circle and you should enjoy them. If you want to hear more about the study abroad experience, watch our interview with Tamara Rodriguez. Tamara is a fourth-year year at UT Austin studying journalism and studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan. We sat down with Tamara and she kindly shared her experience in Tokyo along with some advice for those who are interested in taking on this adventure.
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