By Brian Harley
Where can I go to get to other places?” paraphrases a question that I once received from a student. The allure of education abroad, through study and travel (not necessarily in that order), surpassed my passé mantra of academic rigor, cultural entry points, and provisions for safety and security. Travel persuasion was not necessary. I could already imagine her standing before a world map, filling it with pushpins.
Other students need more assurance. The academic and personal leap of faith can be a process, not a plunge. Some students may feign having “just a few more questions”—ultimately indicating good old-fashioned hesitation. Study abroad advisers are in a unique position to help students see past needless constraints and encourage them to pursue their dreams. One can easily think of ten common concerns, which unanswered could prevent a student from having a transformative educational experience abroad. My “Top Ten Reasons Not to Consider Not Studying Abroad” reflect comments from real-live students as well as a condensed form of my answers, and resources that study abroad advisers should keep in mind.
1. It will cost too much.
Students may be surprised! In many cases, students find that they pay no more to study abroad than to attend their home college for a semester or a year. Most state and federal financial aid transfers.
2. My grades will go down.
Students’ grades may stay the same. Despite the fear of a dropping GPA, many students return with the same GPA as when they left. If students study hard and keep up, their grades tend to show it (just like in the States). Advisors can help diminish this fear by citing some pre- and post-study abroad GPAs.
3. My courses won’t transfer.
If students plan ahead, courses will transfer. As soon as students arrive on campus the options should be described. At PurdueUniversity a letter was sent to over 7,000 first-year students before they arrived. The study abroad advisor should make sure that his or her advice agrees with the recommendations of the academic advisor. For example, courses should satisfy major, minor, or general studies credit requirements, not those few precious elective credits.
4. No university abroad will have the courses that I need taught in English.
Many study centers abroad have selected courses in most of the general academic disciplines. Urge students to look at course offerings both in English and in the language of the host country. Independent studies may be possible too, if arrangements are made in advance.
5. I am an introvert.
Remind students that making a new home abroad for a semester or year is unnerving for everybody, and people who are naturally introverted may find themselves even more daunted after trying to make a conversation in a second language with new acquaintances. But they don’t have to be “the life of the party.” Introverts will learn language and culture just as well as extroverts, and they may grow in ways they never imagined.
6. I am a leader and my school cannot get along without me.
Great! These students can now become leaders overseas. Students’ concern that their school will “miss them” will eventually be far overshadowed by the experiences they will have. Students develop more self-confidence than they ever imagined and come home with even more mature leadership skills. But for that, they’ll truly “have to be there!”
7. I don’t know anybody who is going.
In many cases most students do not know the others in their group. But they all have one thing in common—willingness to risk the adventure of living and learning in a different country. Some have made life-long friends in the process.
8. I have never done anything like this before.
Most people never do this. Emphasize to students that it is a tremendous privilege to be able to study abroad. On-site staff will help students to understand what they need to do to adjust to a completely new environment.
9. I don’t have very good reasons to study abroad.
There is not one single “litmus test” for study abroad. There are as many “good reasons” to study abroad as there are good programs. Students become international citizens. They learn a new cultural system and see their own from a new perspective. And, they build resumes and relationships while growing intellectually and culturally.
10. I do not know how to contact study abroad providers.
Study abroad advisers, providers, and other professional make it easy. Students can talk with on-campus study abroad advisers and other students who have studied abroad; surf the web; and read Transitions Abroad.
Study abroad advisers are uniquely positioned to view the transformation that comes from an overseas experience. Perhaps one of the chief constraints is the imagination of the student. Advisers are to be lauded for their challenging role as administrators, advocates, consultants, and, perhaps, detectives. Sometimes only after myths are debunked can students let their imagination wander overseas, followed by their body.