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Should I Study Abroad If I’ve Never Left My Country Before?

For many students, studying abroad for university might be their first opportunity to leave their home country. However, it can feel really intimidating to commit to a semester, year, or full degree program when you’re unsure whether you even enjoy living abroad. Here are five challenges you’ll probably face if it’s your first time abroad, and five reasons why you should still take the plunge!

Challenge #1:

You’ll lack a few essential international survival skills

No matter how much you read up before your trip, some typical travel situations will throw you for a loop because there’s only so many Google queries one person can think to type. What do you do when you accidentally take the wrong bus and end up in a city you can’t pronounce the name of? How do you avoid getting ripped off at a shady restaurant who takes advantage of foreigners? You won’t know everything, and so like many the first-time traveler, you’ll rely on your indomitable youthful spirit, the kindness of strangers, and learning from your mistakes. You will be scared, and you will make some beginner’s mistakes.

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Why you should study abroad anyway:

You’ll become an awesome traveler almost overnight

Your crash course in traveling and living abroad will equip you with some crazy talents. Understanding what a safe and unsafe neighborhood feels like, getting cheap airfare tickets by booking on local websites, and not offending the grandmas of your local friends, are skills that you can learn to take with you to new locations and cultures.  Some of those talents might just revolve around letting things go and moving with the flow but those too are an essential skill in living internationally.

Challenge #2:

Studying abroad in a foreign language country may be jarring

Have you ever been immersed in a language outside of a classroom? Get ready to feel confused and be confusing, feel frustrated and be frustrating to those around you. If you’re like me, get ready to get exhausted easily, and initially spend some evenings twiddling your thumbs at the party as everyone has a great time and forgets you can’t understand what they’re saying. Classes that are supposedly held in your native language, may involve long class discussions in a language you’re not fluent in. Buying embarrassing medication might get even more embarrassing as you weakly pantomime your travelers diarrhea symptoms to a pharmacist.

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Why you should study abroad anyway:

You’ll get a crash-course in a foreign language in the most practical way possible.

When you study abroad in the language that you have studied in a classroom, you take your knowledge of the language to the next level. Whether you want to be able to take part in conversations in loud bars using the local slang or are content to just order dinner and a cab, studying a language with the locals will give you the real-life training to say what you want to say.

Challenge #3:

Embracing differences might be difficult

If studying abroad is your first venture out of your country, you might at first refer to the local currency as that of your homeland, and often raise your eyebrows at cultural norms that seem downright wacky. If you spend your time in an international crowd, this kind of judgment will be really out of place, and you might get asked if you’ve ever traveled before. Depending on how much diversity you were raised with, becoming more open-minded after one ride in a jet and passport stamp, could be a lot to handle.

Should I Study Abroad?

Why you should study abroad anyway:

You’ll become comfortable accepting and embracing diversity.

Your friends and professors will help broaden your range of what’s ‘’normal’’ and ask you to question why you are the way you are, and do things the way you do. Chances are, many of the things you thought of as standard are just because your parents, neighbourhood, and the media taught you that that’s the way it is. You’ll leave your study abroad with some new habits, favorite foods, and friends from backgrounds that you would never have had the chance to meet before.

Challenge #4:

You may not be prepared for a different academic style

Any undergraduate degree will be different from what you encountered in high school and secondary school. Likewise, and postgraduate degree will involve different standards and expectations than an undergraduate. Studying abroad will add a new level of differences. Depending on where you’re from and where you’re studying, you might be shocked to learn that you are expected to write original theses, only expand on (unfamiliar) academic theories, complete weekly check-in assignments, or never take a test until a crucial final exam. It can be difficult, and the students who don’t listen for signals from their professors nor pay attention to what kind of work their local peers are submitting, can be caught off-guard and fail all their classes.

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Why you should study abroad anyway:

You’ll learn how to perform to different expectations

In your adult life, no one is going to spell out exactly how you can succeed. Your first boss will expect you to come to your new job already prepared to succeed and meet their expectations.  When you study abroad and are thrust into a completely new academic system, you’ll become an expert at reading signals and proactively determining what you need to do to succeed.

Challenge #5:

Making international friends might be new for you

It can be hard to make new friends, but having nothing apparently in common with new acquaintances can be extra challenging. Depending on your background, perhaps you’ve never had a friend from a different country before and you might be worried about offending them, not understanding them, or just being too different to really get along.

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Why you should study abroad anyway:

You’ll become quite talented at making new friends

As long as you are:

  1. Not a jerk,
  2. Interested in making new friends,

you will become friends with people during study-abroad who are from different countries than you are. Your skills making new international friends will give even wallflowers a solid set of skills for making new friends in the future. When you return to your home country, you might be surprised to find yourself seeking out expats to enrich and widen your social circle.

What do you think? Are the challenges of studying abroad worth the rewards? If you think you might want to study abroad, but you’re not sure where, take our quiz: ‘’Where should I study abroad?’’

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