If you’ve found the time to study abroad, the next question might be “How much time do you want to spend abroad?” You’ve probably heard all the buzzwords, that study abroad is a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” but when it comes to being away from home, how much of your actual “lifetime” do you want this opportunity to be?
While being away from home can be hard, studying abroad for an entire academic year has many perks that summer, short-term, and semester long programs simply cannot and do not offer. Here are a few things to think about if you’re concerned about spending a year abroad (and trust us, even after 12 months, you’ll be bummed to be leaving so soon):
1. It’s a good value.
Often when it comes to study abroad, the longer you go, the more “bang for your buck” or “punch for your pound” you'll get. Summer or short term programs are often just as expensive as semester long options, whereas year-long programs may have some perks. While you might pay for two semesters of tuition and housing, you only have to pay for airfare, visas, and many other fees once. That’s not to say studying abroad for a year is a “better” value than a semester, after all, it will probably cost you twice as much to do twice as much, but it is definitely a good value.
2. There’s time to adjust.
Studies show that it can take international students nearly eight to ten weeks to adjust to their home culture. If you only study abroad for a semester, more than half your time might be over by the time you’ve learned to navigate your new home town. Studying abroad for a year can help you really immerse and understand the culture you are living in. After a semester you might think that napping every day in Spain is awesome, but after a year, your siesta will be part of your routine.
3. More travel, to more places.
When you study abroad for a year, you’ll have more time to venture out and see more sites. In a semester, your travel might be limited to big cities and easy to reach destinations. A full year will allow you to see the tourist traps (the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, etc.), while also being able to enjoy some off the beaten path destinations, such as the bone ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic or the Tian Tan Buddha in Hong Kong. These lesser known sites allow you to move beyond just seeing the world to instead experience life as a local.
4. Find your favorites.
If you have a whole year to explore, you won’t have to pack all of your travel into long weekends like your semester-long counterparts. This means you can enjoy some weekends around your university and discover some favorite sites nearby. Maybe you’ll find a coffee shop to study in or a park to go for a jog. Maybe there is a church that is way more beautiful than the famous one all the tourists cram into, or perhaps you’ll find a market to buy some fresh produce on your way home.
When you have a whole year to explore, you can live life slower and enjoy the scenery around you.
5. You can get involved.
Having a year also gives you time to get involved in the community and make some great local friends. When you aren’t trying to cram through your homework to travel every weekend, you’ll have time to get to know both the other exchange students and the local students in your classes. You can form study groups, meet work-out partners, join a sports team, attend a club meeting or get together, and learn to cook some local food. Of course you can do all these things on a semester program too, but a year gives you more time, less hurry, and the comfort of knowing you’ll have each other for the full time you are abroad.
6. Job or internship opportunities.
If you need to make a little money to offset your study abroad, a yearlong program is definitely a better option for you. While interning and working abroad bring about a separate set of visa issues you may have to deal with, the odds of finding a part-time job or internship are greater when you’ll be in country for more than just four months. Employers are more likely to hire you when you have longevity to offer. Plus, you’ll still have time for homework and travel while working.
7. Focus on YOU.
One of the hardest parts of studying abroad for most students is being away from their friends and family for an extended period of time. That being said, this is also the fuel that generates the most personal growth for students. Without a support network, you’ll be pushed to become independent, creative, patient, and flexible while navigating a foreign world entirely alone. It also gives you time to develop your own ideas and opinions without the influence of others. Maybe you’ll change your views on politics, religion, or even your career path. All of these skills, including self-awareness, will be extremely advantageous in navigating your future.
8. Develop foreign language fluency.
Study abroad is a great way to hone language skills, but fluency isn’t born overnight. It takes time and many embarrassing encounters to really grasp a new language. Even then, it will be months before your brain begins thinking in the new language, without stumbling through English translations in between. Studying abroad for a year gives you the time to work through the frustrating fumbling and still gain some useful practice while abroad.
9. A calendar of culture.
No matter when you study abroad, your adventure will be full of unforgettable memories. Maybe you’ll celebrate spring at a May Day festival or celebrate a holiday you didn’t even know existed. If you’re studying abroad for a whole year, you’ll experience many different aspects of culture by seeing how each of the seasons affect the people you live with. You’ll celebrate Christmas in a new way, see summer in a new light, and experience celebrations that are totally new to you; this will give you a perspective not many travelers gleam, and enhance your international understanding of the world.
Studying abroad for a year ultimately comes down to one central theme: time. It means you have time to study, travel, work, explore, immerse, understand, and learn. Your time overseas will be a special opportunity to reinvent yourself. By spending a year of time and money abroad, you’ll be making an investment in your future with benefits to last a lifetime.