Why Studying Abroad is Important for STEM majors

by Emily Hurt

While I can certainly understand the many arguments against studying abroad in a rigorous major, including the expenses, required courses strictly offered during certain semesters, and the mammoth fear of having to tack on additional semesters to complete your program, the benefits of studying abroad for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students outweigh the costs in both the short and long-term. With all the arguments against it, STEM majors get discouraged from studying abroad quite easily and don’t often hear about the arguments in favor of studying abroad.   

Victoria State Library

The steps of the Victoria State Library. Photo by Victoria Mita

1.  Multi-Nationality in the Business World

In the twenty-first century world, the companies that have set themselves apart are the ones that are able to and willing to work with international agencies. Breaking down cultural and language barriers and sharing ideas have allowed businesses to come out ahead in innovation and creativity, and STEM fields are not excluded. Studying abroad is a mind-opening experience, no matter where you choose to go, and this valuable international experience may help you network and make connections applicable in the professional industry. Ironically, engineering and technology fields are some of the most internationally minded, and yet have some of the lowest numbers of study abroad experience.

2.  Making Yourself Marketable

Though STEM jobs haven’t been hit as hard as some industries in the recent economic recession, finding work after graduation can still be a difficult task for some. One thing that is often forgotten is that studying abroad can go, and should go, on your resume. For some reasons already mentioned, companies are looking for employees that can work on the global scale, with international corporations and feel comfortable traveling or communicating cross-culturally. You can set yourself apart from your peers – most of who will not study abroad – by studying abroad, and when you are interviewing it will be as easy as talking about your meaningful travel experience (which you will find to be extremely easy to do for hours).

Student researching on a laptop

A study abroad student researching for a science course abroad.

3.  Explore Other Interests 

By time we get to college, many of us interested in science and math subjects have convinced ourselves that school and research are our only passions in life. While being passionate about STEM subjects is certainly a calling, it is often limiting in other walks of life. Studying abroad introduces you to new cultural experiences, as you’ll find yourself sampling new foods, visiting new museums, and living life in a completely different way. Though I never expected art and engineering to mix, I personally discovered my passion for the arts while I was abroad, and it has brought a unique and satisfying balance to my life, personally and academically. You too may find new connections between engineering and other interests that could direct you to a very specific career that combines the two in the future, or just simply find a new thing to explore outside the classroom. 

4.  Social Experience

Though the stereotype of STEM majors holing up in the library for the weekend isn’t always true, we do tend to get the short end of the stick socially, with demanding coursework and required mastery of skills, such as programming or calculus, that require quite a bit of practice. Your study abroad classes may include one or two difficult subjects, but are likely to be scheduled around general education requirements and cultural enrichment experiences. Your semester abroad can open a whole new world of community for you, where you’re free to make friends, go out to new places, and see new things. If anything, your summer or semester abroad will be a well-deserved break from the stress of your program back home.

5.  No Time Like the Present 

It’s not the most convincing argument, but if you have an interest in studying abroad and an interest in STEM industry after you graduate, there aren’t a ton of opportunities to travel once you’ve graduated and are fully employed. Although college may be arduous and time-demanding, the professional world is even more so, making your college years the ideal time to go overseas, if you’re interested. Seize the opportunity of a lifetime to travel abroad and have it count toward your degree too, all while having valuable cultural and life experiences. 

There’s no time like the present!

Students in Paris, France

International students having a lecture in Paris, France.

Additional Tips and Information

The biggest piece of advice I can offer you is, if studying abroad appeals to you at all, seek out information sooner rather than later. STEM majors are typically offered some flexibility in their freshman and sophomore years, making studying abroad in these early semesters – or even summer semesters – much more realistic than during the junior or senior years, when the rigor of your program truly begins and summers start to be booked up with internships or co-ops. 

If planned ahead, studying abroad doesn't have to offset you from your goals within your major or bankrupt you (and, fortunately, planning ahead is one of the things STEM majors are apt to do!). Luckily, people have blazed the path before you, and can offer you some excellent tips on how to plan your trip, your way.

Top Four Study Abroad Programs for STEM Majors:

  1. Become an Exchange Student at the Technical University of Denmark
  2. Take Classes at the Global Learning Center of Tohoku University in Japan
  3. Attend Nanyang Technical University in Singapore
  4. Study Engineering at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics

To look through more great program options click here.