Debunking Reasons against Studying Abroad

As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine September/October 2003

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.

Photo: Luke Harden, DU Student Studied in Spain
Photo: Luke Harden, DU Student
Studied in Spain

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.

Lauren Rosenthal, DU Student Studied in Scotland
Photo: Lauren Rosenthal, DU Student
Studied in Scotland

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.

Photo: Kaitlyn O'Sullivan, India
Photo: Kaitlyn O’Sullivan, DU Student
Studied in India

 

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.

Photo: Kylee Swiggart, DU Student Studied in Chile
Photo: Kylee Swiggart, DU Student
Studied in Chile

 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.

DR. BRIAN HARLEY, Director of Programs for Study Abroad at Purdue Univ. (www.studyabroad.purdue.edu). Contact him at bharley@purdue.edu.

Where do I belong?

Craig is a DU student studying in Japan this semester.  His blog this week reflects on being a Japanese-American in Japan, as well as his experience with culture shock:

Understandably, this would be confusing for anybody; going from being a minority to a majority would mess with anybody.  However, I also realize that I only look like the majority, but I am in fact, not a member of the dominant culture.  So I am not a part of the majority or minority.  Determining what this means has been emotionally taxing, even if I was not aware of it on a conscious level until very recently.  Figuring out where one belong is always a difficult task.  At times, I feel like I have to be both the majority and minority while simultaneously being neither the majority or minority.  The question is:  Where do I belong?

You can read his full post here.