There are numerous benefits to studying abroad, but have you ever wondered what your parents get out of your international experience? Today on GoAbroad, we share a guest post from Tess Pajaron of Open Colleges, where she highlights the advantages and challenges of study abroad, what students get out of it, and what students and their parents can expect to come from the experience.
If you’re thinking of taking your studies abroad this coming semester, you’re probably full of questions and expectations about your upcoming trip. Along with your own worries and hopes, you probably have a few of your parents’ concerns to deal with as well.
Questions like “Will it be safe?” “Will your grades suffer”? “Is it worth the money” Or “How much studying will you actually be doing?” have probably been rife since you announced your plans to go abroad.
In order to address these and your own concerns, it’s important to clear your head and take an objective look at what you (and your parents) stand to gain and and be challenged from during the experience.
Advantages of Studying Abroad
The advantages of studying abroad are many, but rather than repeating the old “it will change your life” cliché, let’s take a more in-depth look at how you can benefit from a study abroad experience.
A large-scale survey carried out by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad) showed that study abroad has a positive influence on students’ career path, world-view and self-confidence. These benefits were noted regardless of where the student studied and how long they remained abroad.
The following are just a few of the advantages reported by students involved in the survey:
- Increased self-confidence
- Increased maturity
- Enhanced interest in academic study
- Increased interest in learning foreign languages
- Better understanding of cultural values and biases
- Greater diversity of friends
- Development of skill sets that influenced career path
In addition to these benefits, studying abroad may also give you an edge when you start looking for employment. Studies have shown that 73% of employers see study abroad experience as an important factor when evaluating resumes for a junior-level position, while 79% discuss foreign language competency at interviews.
TIP: Before you leave home, think about what kinds of activities or skills will make your resume stand out to a potential employer in the future. This will help you to stay focused while you are abroad and take part in activities and classes that will further your career.
Challenges of Studying Abroad
Of course, as with everything else in life, there are pros and cons to studying abroad, and it’s better to be prepared for the worst than to head out with your rose tinted glasses firmly in place only to return home jaded and disillusioned.
Here are some of the most likely challenges you’ll face when studying abroad.
Whether you’re studying abroad in Paris or Nairobi, there will be things that are different from what you are used to; from customs that you were unaware of, to styles of dress that seem alien, to mannerisms that come across as rude or insensitive.
No matter how much you want to get away from home right now, being in a completely new and unfamiliar environment will almost certainly bring on some homesickness.
TIP: Keep homesickness at bay by scheduling regular phone calls or Skype dates with your family and friends. Seeing a familiar face or hearing a friend’s voice when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your new situation can help you to feel more grounded.
Lack of Finances
For many students, studying abroad is the first time they’ve been on their own and had to stick to a tight budget. You will at times, want go places or do things that you just can’t afford, which can be frustrating.
In some countries, you may experience a language barrier. This can make everything from following your classes to ordering a meal while out much more complicated.
Lack of Social Support Network
Being in a strange country without the support of your parents, friends or teachers can be an overwhelming experience, especially when you first arrive and don’t know many people.
Stereotypes or Prejudice
Every country has its own stereotypes about or prejudices towards other countries. This can be frustrating to deal with after a while, especially if you are constantly coming across silly stereotypes about your country or even continent like “Asians are good at martial arts”, “White people are rich”, “All Americans carry handguns” or “Dutch people love smoking weed”.
TIP: Avoid relying on any stereotypes you may have heard about the people in your host country. It’s unlikely that they are accurate and they may even prevent you from getting to know the local people for who they really are.
Expectations and Goals
One of the best ways to prepare yourself for your study abroad experience is to learn how to manage your expectations and set some clear goals to work towards. This includes talking with your parents, friends and family to find out what kind of expectations they have of your trip.
Ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to experience a new culture? Are you hoping to improve your language skills? Do you hope to gain a new perspective on a certain issue or topic?
Setting one or two reasonable goals for yourself before you set out will help you to get the most out of your study abroad experience.
TIP: Make a list of all the things you hope to learn or accomplish during your studies abroad so that the goals stay fresh in your mind. Also identify the possible challenges you’ll face and write them down. This will help you to banish any unrealistic expectations.
The Reality of Study Abroad
By studying abroad, students gain an invaluable insight into other cultures and are able to let go of preconceived ideas about life beyond their own backyard. They also become more self-reliant and mature, because they cannot rely on their parents for their every need.
The students are not the only ones who reap the rewards though. Parents of children who choose to study abroad will have to learn to “let go” and trust their child to make his/her own mistakes and learn from personal experience.
This is an important step in every young person’s life, because while every young person does need support from their parents, too much of it can stifle them and prevent them from following their own path in life.
TIP: If your parents don’t seem very supportive of your decision to study abroad, take the time to listen to their concerns. Chances are they just want reassurance from you that you’ll be careful and use your time wisely. Having a good talk about your upcoming trip will help you all to be on the same page.
In conclusion, studying abroad has many benefits as well as a few challenges. However, if the students and parents prepare themselves for the challenges and possible setbacks, the benefits will far outweigh the losses.
Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind Open Colleges. She has traveled to many different countries and has her fair share of studying abroad and aims to share her learnings through her experiences.