Studying abroad has become one of the most important components of achieving a more cooperative and productive future for our planet. To travel during our formative years, to see the world and to interact across cultures with international peers, can be a truly definitive experience; one that inspires in us a desire to explore, learn, to grow, and to break down the boundaries which estrange us from our neighbors.
Last year over 300,000 students from the United States studied abroad; in turn, roughly 1 million students from other countries studied abroad in the United States. All around the world, students are beginning to uproot from tradition and embrace a new wave of international education. And the numbers only continue to grow; according to UNESCO, the amount of international students abroad has been increasing by roughly 12 percent each year in the 21st century.
Yet, even so, many continue to have reservations. Despite the plentiful resources available to them and the vast benefits of studying abroad, fears and hesitations often mount up to prevent students from making the leap. There are a million different abstract reasons you could use to convince yourself that studying abroad won’t work out, so let’s go straight to the core of the issue by using some helpful statistics to debunk some of the most common fears about studying abroad.
Personal Safety & Terrorist Threats
Personal safety is a concern among many who are hesitant to travel outside their country. While it is always important to be smart while traveling, and some regions of the world are undeniably more unstable than others, wariness of the unknown should not prevent you from stepping outside your comfort zone. The Forum for Education Abroad recently published a report showing that American students have over twice as high a mortality rate on their home campus as they do while studying abroad. This suggests that it’s actually safer to study abroad in most cases than to stay at home.
Of course it is important to stay safe, but that is true anywhere you live. While it may be risky to travel, to me it is even riskier to live a life sheltered from experiences and allowing the evil forces in the world to dictate your path." - Kate Conquest, CAPA The Global Education Network, 2015 Dublin Study Abroad Alumni.
This fear for personal safety while studying abroad has sadly been compounded by the recent wave of terror attacks around the world and the sensationalist coverage they have garnered from media. Yet, one cannot stress enough how much this fear has been over-exaggerated. To put things into perspective, college students are approximately 4,700 times as likely to die from an alcohol-related incident than a terrorist attack.
Crime and random acts of violence occur all over the world, but that’s no reason to limit yourself within a bubble. College students, especially, are not letting terrorism limit their desires to travel the world. In fact, StudentUniverse reported that only three percent of students have canceled their travel because of terrorist attacks. Studying abroad is an exercise of freedom that directly challenges those who would use fear to intimidate.
CEA alumni study abroad student Mackenzie Luttinen, who was in Paris during the November 2016 attacks, shared:
“Studying abroad is a life changing experience, and I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on it because they were afraid. If we allow the fear to keep us from doing what we are passionate about, then we are allowing those who terrorize us to win, in no small way.”
Language Barriers & Culture Shock
In a more peaceful, yet equally potent realm, many students are also concerned that they will feel entirely lost in a country with different language and cultural customs. If you want to study abroad at a university in another country and do not know the language, then that challenge can indeed seem daunting. One solution is of course to enroll in an English-speaking program; major universities and study abroad organizations partner with satellite schools located all over the world to accommodate international students within this vein.
Consider, however, the merits of making the effort to learn that second language and fully immerse yourself in the culture. A report from the McKinsey Global Institute discovered that fully 40 percent of new jobs in advanced economies now go to foreign workers, due in no small part to their superior language skills and experience working across cultures. Rather than being viewed as a hindrance, culture and language barriers should be invested in fully as an opportunity to elevate your stance as a global citizen and as a future job-seeker.
Disclaimer: wherever you go, and whatever your level of language acquisition, there are bound to be some fellow Anglophones around to ease the cultural adaption. Over 2 billion people around the world are able to speak English.
Mounting Expenses & Minimizing Costs
On a logistical note, cost is a fundamental concern for many students who want to study abroad but worry that the experience will exceed their financial capabilities. This concern, however, overlooks the fact that many governments around the world have active laws and programs in place to encourage their students to go abroad. For example, the United States government has instituted measures aiming to send at least 100,000 students abroad each year to Latin America alone. In Latin America, Brazil has likewise launched a program to provide 75,000 scholarships for its own students to study abroad.
These are two very specific examples, but give you an idea of the extent to which governments recognize the value of international education, and are willing to thereby invest in their own human capital. Simply put, if there is a will on the student’s behalf, then there is very much a financial way. Between your own home university, federal aid, international grants, and the huge amount of available public and private scholarships, it should always be possible to find means of covering the costs of your study abroad experience.
A helpful redirection: our own scholarship directory alone is home to over 800 unique undergraduate scholarships.
Degree Digressions & FOMO
Beyond concerns over expenses, many students further convince themselves not to study abroad because they are worried about digressing from their degree track. These hesitations come mostly from students in the hard sciences as opposed to the social sciences or liberal arts, who currently make up a majority of the students studying abroad from the United States. Take into account, however, that engineering and math are respectively the second and third most common majors among international students studying abroad in the United States – 300,000 between these two subjects alone – and you will see that this conception is a localized myth.
I didn’t regret it while I was there, I haven’t regretted it since I got back, not for one second; in fact I am certain I would have regretted NOT going." – Monica Quiros, IES Abroad, 2015 Paris Study Abroad Alumni
As for more general FOMO about all you will be missing out on your home campus, turn this notion on its head and start thinking instead about what you will be missing by staying at home. Since the turn of the 21st century, we have seen a rise in global connectivity that is unparalleled throughout history. The digital network has come to define our generation as one which transcends former physical boundaries, national, cultural, and linguistic not the least of them. Young adults from across the planet have begun to shake off stale old enmities, in hopes of creating a new world of greater understanding, efficiency, and collaboration.
There are 4.5 million (that’s right MILLION) students in the world currently studying abroad. Will you be one of the ones that is missing out?