Five Unconventional Reasons to Study Abroad

by Mallory Pie

Anyone who has ever considered spending a summer or semester studying in another country has most likely heard the stereotypical benefits of doing so.  Of course, there is no denying that you will expand on your worldview all while learning more about yourself, and it is definitely true that you will make friends from around the world.  Studying abroad, in many peoples’ perspective, is one of the most satisfying experiences a college student could have; some even believe that it should be a mandatory requirement in order to graduate.

Banjul Ferry of Gambia
Banjul Ferry. Photo by Dorothy Vorhees

For those of you who are not convinced solely on the clichés of studying abroad, then here are five unconventional reasons that you may not have thought of while trying to make your decision.

1. Feeling Completely Alone: Like mentioned above, you will make tons of new friends during your time abroad.  However, what people fail to mention is the opportunity you have to go completely off the grid at any given time.  With today's growing technological advancements, it is almost impossible to detach yourself from the rest of the world.  In a lot of ways this is an amazing feature of the 21st century, but at the same time it can be very overwhelming and mentally exhausting.  When studying in a foreign country and using a simpler pay as you go phone, it is inevitable for you to be less connected than when you had your smartphone; this is very much a good thing.  On a day when you have no wild adventures scheduled, find a peaceful spot in the city, turn off your cell phone, and detach yourself from the communicable world.  Bring a novel, write in a journal, listen to music, or sit in silence; knowing that nobody can get ahold of you or knows where you are is one of the most exhilarating feelings you will ever experience.  Introverts and extroverts alike will not be able to deny the simple gratification of having such undisturbed time to oneself.  In a world where everyone knows everything about everyone, you owe it to yourself to have this time alone.

2. Communicating Without Speaking the Language: Let’s be honest; studying abroad to learn a language is only probable when you already have some experience with said language.  It can be extremely difficult and also defeating to try and learn an entire language in the span of three months of less.  With that said, this is not a reason to rule out certain locations due to a language barrier.  So long as the school is taught in your mother tongue, feel free to study in a country where you have no way of communicating verbally.  Sure, you will pick up on a few phrases that help you get by, but you will also find other universal ways to communicate.  In many ways, this can be very humbling and you learn to become more adaptable when returning home.

Another bonus to having a lack of fluency in the official language is that it is a good way to meet the most welcoming people; the ones who will happily help you order a sandwich or direct you to a certain attraction without getting angry with you.  Lastly and most importantly, you will truly come to appreciate the simplicity and effectiveness of a smile or a laugh.  Both are equally universal, and you definitely do not need to speak the same language in order to understand each other.

3. To Not Meet the Foreign Love of Your Life So many people, before you leave, will weirdly try to convince you that you might meet your fairytale lover.  This is absolutely absurd and creates way too high of expectations, even though some people may have met their future spouse while abroad.  To counter this idea, especially when studying in romantic places like Paris or Italy, remember that traveling abroad is one of the few occasions where you can be pretty selfish.  Traveling is truly something that you do for yourself, and not for anyone else.  If you go abroad thinking or planning to meet the love of your life, then you are absolutely spoiling your experience.  This is a time of your life where you are completely submerged into a culture of your choosing, and how you go about it is completely up to you.  Gather up your stories and collect all your photos, so when you return home to the people who matter the most, you can inspire them and feel proud of your independent self.

4. To Take On The Not-So-Dreaded Reverse Culture Shock This might be a little too unconventional, but there is definitely something to be said about reverse culture shock.  Some people really over exaggerate the negative aspect of returning home after spending an amazing three to six months in another country.  It is true that you will become comfortable with how you lived abroad and coming home will seem a little funky at first.  However, getting used to home life is not necessarily a bad thing (unless you make it bad).  Use reverse culture shock as a way to remember and reflect positively on your study abroad experience.  People at home will eventually get tired of hearing your wild stories or putting up with “When I was in Prague…” but that does mean you have to forget or dwell on past experiences.  When your trip is over and you have made it safely to where you call home, take reverse culture shock as a friendly reminder that you will one day return abroad and have new and exciting opportunities.  It is a mental scrapbook that the littlest things at home will trigger.

5. Experiencing What the Media Fails to Show You There is a little town in The Gambia known as Banjul.  It is here that you will come to find Christians and Muslims living in harmony and getting along peacefully.  With today’s media frenzy, it would seem that this sort of interaction does not exist when really it does.  It is not to say that the media is completely wrong, but it is fair to say that the world is a lot different than how the ratings-seeking media companies portray it.  Broadcasts, radio shows, and newspapers give minimal attention to the good that is still happening around the world, giving travellers a negative worldview before they even board an airplane.  Many have been lucky enough to give the world a chance, and in return they have been pleasantly surprised to find that the world is in better shape than what is shown on television.

If you are ready to see the world for yourself, do not be fooled by what the media has conditioned you to believe.  In fact, if everything you heard from the news corporations were completely true, then there would be no true need to travel.  Take the plunge, study abroad, and learn for yourself.

The world needs more curious travellers, students, professionals, and world citizens.  Make your college years that much more memorable by taking on what academia calls studying abroad.  It will most likely be one of the best decisions you have ever made.