Studying abroad is just about the best real-life sociology education any students could get. Uprooting from the familiarity of your home country and planting yourself in an entirely different social context fraught with new cultural customs, linguistic barriers, and foreign patterns of interaction will help you develop a much more penetrating view of the field which is by definition the study of society. What better way to understand societal differences and social issues than my experiencing life in a new place?
Why Study Sociology Abroad
Sociology is an academic discipline which focuses greatly on examining the origins, development, and everyday manifestations of social behaviors. By studying sociology abroad, you will learn not to take any social phenomena for granted and you’ll get the chance to experience just how influential social forces and cultural contexts can be in building societies around the world. Inside the classroom you will learn fascinating new approaches to the field of sociology, however branching out and socially adapting to life in your new home and beyond take your learning far beyond the most traditional academic experience in any classroom.
There are two basic routes you can go in sociology study abroad programs: one of refinement or one of expansion. If you are coming from a Western society and choose to study abroad in another Western country, then this would be the route of refinement. You will be developing your lens by travelling to a civilization and culture which is somewhat similar to your own, but at the same time much different in nuanced ways and historical context. Studying abroad in this type of location will shed a great deal of light on subtle sociological patterns and social factors that influence human life. Interesting and distinct cultures can be found in countries such as France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S., but these nations will also illustrate some stereotypically “Western” social practices and expectations too.
The second route is expanding your view of sociology through study abroad, by traveling outside of your comfort zone to a country (or even all around the world) and experiencing a culture much different than your own. This can be a challenging step for many, but adventurous individuals will find it a highly rewarding experience (both personally and academically) and it will no doubt broaden their perspective of the field immensely. China, Japan, and India, as well as the nations of Africa and the Middle East, are all potential locations which will offer a truly definitive experience for any Western born sociology study abroad student. Students will find that social life manifests itself in much different ways in these nations and regions, than much of the Western world, which means the culture and history of the nation has uniquely shaped its people.
These routes and regional identifications are obviously broad oversimplifications, with the greater point being that you will have an incredible learning experience venturing to a place which differs from your own cultural context, whether in subtle or drastic ways. Whether you come from the north, east, south, or west, choosing to stay close or travel far away will largely determine the magnitude of the sociological differences you observe as well as the new perspectives you come away with.
Courses & Programs
As an incredibly broad and interdisciplinary field, the range of courses available to take while studying sociology abroad is wide open. Obviously you will want to get your hands on at least one specific sociology course, but studying disciplines such as Anthropology, Psychology, Political Science, and Economics within a different cultural context will prove tremendously beneficial academic experiences. In addition to the subject matter, learning how another country’s educational system approaches and examines all social sciences will be extremely relevant to the field of sociology.
Most sociology study abroad programs will offer you the opportunity to take courses at a local university, while some also have their own academic institutions which offer courses geared toward educating foreign students about the history and culture of their new home. Both course types can be highly rewarding, but keep in mind that the language barrier may prevent you from having full access to local university courses. If you are not planning to learn the language as part of your study abroad experience, then this may limit you to a smaller range of courses taught in English.
In a way, it doesn’t really matter where you study sociology abroad, as long you have the developmental experience of traveling beyond your own cultural context and learning to view patterns of social interaction through a new lens. But more importantly, where you go will largely define how your growth manifests itself and how significant your learning is.
The world is at your front step and the door is wide open, so take a lot of time to carefully decide what type of experience you are searching for in a sociology study abroad program. When all is said and done, you will return home newly enlightened and most definitely more educated in the field of sociology.