Study Abroad for Adults—Yes, It's a Real Thing

by Published

Did you miss the study abroad train when you were still in college? Still dealing with FOMO? Maybe you couldn’t afford it or were too busy hitting the books to graduate. Perhaps you didn’t get a chance to go to college but would like to now. Or maybe you loved the experience so much you’re ready for round two. Despite what your friends, family, and coworkers may say, it’s never too late to study abroad for adults, even if you’re well past the age of a typical “student.”

GIF, Billy Madison, Back to school song

Study abroad for adults like… 

Study abroad is not just for kids. You can find tons of programs offering study abroad for recent college graduates. There’s also study abroad for older adults too (you can even bring your family along for the ride!). Maybe you want to dive into a new culture or practice those rusty language skills you learned in high school or college. Perhaps you’d like your kids to live in a foreign country to experience what life’s like not on your home turf. Whatever your reason, the door to study abroad for adults is always wide open.

Here’s everything you need to know about non traditional student study abroad.

Is adult study abroad actually a thing?

Believe it or not but adult study abroad is a thing! Even though there’s a stereotype that only 18-21 year olds go on semesters abroad, nothing could be further than the truth. In fact, in many study abroad for adults programs, students are usually between 25 and 40 years old. Some are even older and some may or may not have children.  

Program providers are aware of the non traditional student study abroad applicant. They know that adults have several reasons for wanting to study abroad later in life. Adults may decide to go to school because they’d like to get a promotion or their kids have flown the nest and they finally have time to pursue their passion. On the other hand, some folks may be having a midlife crisis/ transition (like divorce or death of a spouse or parent) and need a change of scenery asap. 

[Download our FREE Ebook Guide to the Career Benefits of Study Abroad]

What are the benefits of study abroad for older adults?

Woman of color standing in front of brick wall with her hands on her hips in a red top

No matter your age or your motivation, adult study abroad is always a good idea.

The chance to push (like really push) yourself.

One of the greatest things about study abroad for older adults is that it helps you to push yourself. Unlike the youngsters around you who think study abroad is just a giant piss up/hook up, you’re older and a heck lot wiser. 

You’re prepared to use the experience to really build yourself and improve your life skills, whether it’s cross cultural communication skills, foreign language skills, leadership skills, teamwork skills, or even cooking skills! This will definitely make you stand out from the crowd when you get back home and all the other old fogies haven’t left the cubicle!

Improve your intercultural sensibilities.

When you do adult study abroad later in life, you soon learn that the world’s a lot bigger than your home country. You’ll also realize that there are more than 50 shades of gray (not on your scalp!) when it comes to how different cultures do things. 

For instance, in some countries it’s okay to shake hands when meeting someone for the first time. In others, it’s completely taboo. Also, because you’re an old soul, you’re more likely to have awesome life stories and can share your unique perspective with people you meet in your adopted country.

Learn more about the world.

On travel abroad programs for adults, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and about others, too. For instance, you may find that you can’t be the angry Westerner all the time and need to be more patient in your adopted country. You may also need to shut your piehole, listen more, and learn to read between the lines as well as pick up on body language. You may also find that you have to get used to a different pace of life,depending on your placement and the culture of your adopted country, whether it’s the inaka (countryside) in traditional Japan or the partyholic and laid-back Carnival culture of Trinidad and Tobago.

When do adult study abroad programs typically run?

Old man in checkered shirt holding a photo camera at Torgayti Village

See the world and learn a little more about your host culture than you would on some kind of group tour.

In general, adult study abroad programs vary. They can be as short as a week, one month, or even as long as a whole year. It’s totally up to you!

  • Short term study abroad. If you can’t take a lot of time off work or Daddy/Mommy duty, why not invest in a short term study abroad experience? This type of study abroad for older adults program is also great if you’re watching your cash flow and can only afford a short-term adventure abroad. These programs, like language study abroad for adults, can last as little as one week. This is more than enough time to brush up on your language skills or learn survival phrases only. 
  • Summer abroad programs for adults. If you’ve got a lot more time and money to spare, why not think about summer abroad programs for adults? These can last up to eight weeks and offer in-depth cultural immersion experiences. For instance, during summer abroad programs for adults, you can live in your own apartment in the middle of Paris, take French lessons in the morning, and use your free time to nibble baguettes and explore Montmartre at your pace. It can be as flexible as you’d like. 

6 popular ways to study abroad for adults

Excited to find out more about long term and short term study abroad for adults programs? Read on to get all the deets!

1. Language study abroad / language immersion programs for adults

Fed up of boring apps that try to teach you a foreign language? Why not get out there in real life and sign up for language study abroad for adults programs? Learning face to face with a language study abroad for adults program is often better than struggling with an app because you have someone who can teach you the nuances of the foreign language and answer all your language related questions. Learning a language with a real person is also more authentic and you’re more likely to learn more current vocabulary words too! Plus, your language partner can become your local guide to the nooks and crannies of your study abroad location.

2. Travel abroad programs for adults

Maybe you’re not as limber as the younger folk but that doesn’t mean you can’t sign up for travel abroad programs for adults. If you’re reasonably fit for your age, don’t let anything get in your way. Sign up for adventure travel, whether it’s bungee jumping, paragliding, you name it! On the other hand, if you’re a bit more cautious about breaking bones at your age, you can still have a lot of fun doing cooking classes, wine tasting, art, yoga, or even salsa!

Woman walks along a windy rural road wearing a backpack

Take your own path to study abroad for adults.

3. Through your graduate program

If you’re at grad school in your home country, don’t go the boring route and only schlepp to class and the library day in day out. Sign up for an adventure of a lifetime by pursuing time abroad. You could choose to spend short term study abroad for adults during your semester breaks. You can even commit to an entire semester if you like. You may choose to study your subject in a foreign language if you’re really gung-ho or sign up for English instruction classes only and take beginner foreign language lessons instead. Your pick!

4. As a researcher

Maybe you’ve already completed your degree and grad school and you’re already knee deep in your career. You can still do study abroad for adults by becoming a researcher! If you do your homework and browse the interwebs, there are lots of opportunities out there to help you further your career by conducting research in your field almost anywhere in the world. Whether you’re passionate about conserving sea turtles or preserving cultural artifacts, sign up for a research program and the sky’s the limit (literally)!

  • Recommended locations: China, Egypt

5. Fulbright and similar programs

The Fulbright program is totally awesome because it provides grants and other opps to help you fund a cultural exchange almost anywhere in the world. It also gives you the option to do research or teach in the country of your choice. However, the competitive Fulbright isn’t the only option. Whether you’d like to teach English to monks in Tibet or study one-of-a-kind species on the Galapagos islands, there’s a program to help you get there. Some of these programs also allow you to become an exchange student with another person from a foreign country. Bonus: Fulbright and other programs look pretty good on the resume so they’re worth pursuing. 

  • Recommended locations: All around the world!

6. As a graduate student / for your entire degree abroad

If you’re thinking of grad school, why not up the ante and sign up for your entire degree abroad? For instance, instead of studying for a master’s in international business in your hometown or home country, apply to university graduate programs in global business hubs like Shanghai, New York, or London. Studying abroad like this will do wonders for your resume, especially if you want to work overseas. Doing your entire degree abroad can also can help get your foot in the door to better jobs and promotions in the country you choose to study in.

[16 Incredible Study Abroad Graduate Programs]

Next steps for adult study abroad

GIF, Billy Madison, I am the smartest man alive

And then, at the end of your semester or year abroad...

We’re gonna repeat it again. You’re not too old! Put away the dentures and hair dye and live your life before it’s too late! Here are some resources to get you changing that mindset about the non traditional student study abroad experience.

The saying is true: you’re only as old as you feel so don’t let your age get in the way of your dreams of of long term or short term study abroad for adults. Show the kids/grandkids that you’ve still got it and can give them a run for the money!

Adult study abroad is a thing and you should do it

ice cream eating
We see lots of adventure and adult ice cream flavors in your future. 

Ready to strap on that backpack and rock the non traditional student study abroad look? Well, maybe not. At your age, you can probably afford sensible luggage that doesn’t hurt your back so much (in fact, we recommend it!). Get on board with summer abroad programs for adults, short term study abroad for adults, whatever you choose. Challenge everything you know, share your life experiences, and totally enrich your learning adventure. We dare you!

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