What to Think About When Considering Studying Abroad

It is common for prospective study abroad students to be unsure of whether they are ready to take their studies overseas. There are several important things to consider before making your decision.

By Xavier Royer — November 17, 2022


What to Think About When Considering Studying Abroad

One opportunity often presents itself during an undergraduate education: the chance to study abroad. "Studying abroad," for those who may have either never heard the term or have heard it thrown around but never had it clarified, is simply traveling to ano ther country and completing some coursework there. Studying abroad can range from a semester long to as short as a week or even a few days. These programs offer excellent opportunities for students' educational experience through experiential learning (a fancy way to say "doing the thing that you learn about"). It's often a tremendous amount of fun as well. This article is for students who are unsure if studying abroad is right for them and those who are pretty confident they want to study abroad but are un sure how to make that decision.

Consideration 1: Cost

I hate that this has to be the case, but traveling is expensive. Ignoring the costs of studying abroad in this article would be completely negligent. As a general rule of thumb, the longer, further, or more intensely programmed (lots of planned activities to pay for), the more expensive a study abroad opportunity will be. This is a generalization, however. If a study abroad opportunity revolves around some employment or other work, that may go towards funding the trip on its own. Because studying abroad is part of the coursework, scholarships students already benefiting from can be used to help pay for at least the tuition costs. Some scholarships will extend to help cover travel expenses, while others may completely ignore studying abroad and not help to cover expenses at all.

If a student plans to use scholarship money to study abroad, they should contact their scholarship program early and often to avoid any surprises or missing opportunities to have costs covered. Many students plan to cover the sticker price of study abroad (price of the class, travel, and programming) but forget to stash some additional funding for things like restaurants, other entertainment, and unexpected expenses. It would feel terrible to work hard to cover the sticker price only to have the experience limited by being extremely frugal on the actual trip. Students must plan and address costs when considering any study abroad opportunity-it's always better to overestimate.

Consideration 2: Spirit of Adventure

"Spirit of adventure" is the way I like to conceptualize students' outgoingness when considering a study abroad. Is the student someone who enjoys trying new things, has no problem "roughing it" in a tent or cabin, and generally is removed from their comfort zone? Then maybe the backpacking trip through Nicaragua with the Spanish class or the service-learning (an educational experience that requires work to benefit the community visited) trip to Tanzania would be a great fit.

If traveling outside the country is naturally a source of anxiety for the student, particularly somewhere that does not speak their native language, steer that student to countries whose cultures are more similar to theirs. For a white student from the United States, this might mean Canada, the United Kingdom, or the Republic of Ireland are more natural fits. Students should try to have as diverse an experience as possible to maximize the personal growth that comes from studying abroad, but not if it comes at the cost of debilitating anxiety. Traveling and becoming used to a decentered reality as a foreigner is a skill that is learned but not rushed.

Consideration 3: Relevance to Major/Profession

This should be the least considered of the criteria, but if all else is held equal, students should pursue the opportunity that will most lend itself to their resume. All study abroad is worthwhile. Some experiences may be easier to sell on a resume or CV than others. A future architect would be well-serviced by a trip to London, one of the architectural centers of the world. An Art History major would benefit from a trip to France or Italy to see firsthand some of the historical masterpieces of the world. An International Business major could likely learn a lot from a trip to Singapore or Luxembourg, tiny countries that use their financial prowess to punch above their weight on the international stage. If students can find an opportunity for their "thing," that creates a best-case scenario.

Studying abroad is a tremendous and valuable experience. Students with the means should take the opportunity to do so. More students can do this than they realize. Even students who do not have a pile of money can often raise funds by hunting down scholarships and grants or fundraising. Many college campuses have a study abroad office dedicated entirely to helping students find ways to cover expenses. In Part II of this article, I provide some advice for studying abroad and how a student should conduct themselves upon arrival.

Xavier Royer

Xavier Royer

I am currently a full time instructor at a William Penn University, a small private university in Iowa. I am the lone political science faculty member there. In my time teaching, I have already connected with an incredible cohort of students in ways I could never have expected. Partnering with SAGE will allow me the opportunity to help even more students across the globe navigate those tricky questions.
Saving in College
Saving in College
November 21, 2022
Managing finances in college can be challenging. This article is here to ease that stress and give you a few helpful tips to maximize your savings in college.
What to Think About When Considering Studying Abroad
What to Think About When Considering Studying Abroad
November 17, 2022
It is common for prospective study abroad students to be unsure of whether they are ready to take their studies overseas. There are several important things to consider before making your decision.
Studying Abroad Part 2: When in Rome...
Studying Abroad Part 2: When in Rome...
November 16, 2022
Studying abroad is an incredibly enlightening experience enhanced by preparedness and respectful traveling. This article will give you the framework to have the best travel experience possible.