Monday, March 7, 2011

Ten reasons why you should study abroad

Currently I am in the middle of my 3rd year abroad. I've spent 1 year in the USA and now I am in my second year in the Netherlands, and most likely I will move on to yet another country after graduation.

Even though I had participated in every possible short exchange, I never really packed up my belongings to move abroad and explore life in another society until 3 years ago.

I'm convinced that the challenge of moving and studying abroad is one of the best schools you can attend. Here are 10 reasons why you should consider studying abroad too.

1. Find a scholarship you can be proud of

Studying abroad might be a financial challenge. It is one of the best opportunities though to apply to a scholarship you can be proud of. I'm more than happy to be a Fulbrighter and BAEF grantee, as I feel related to the philosophy of these funding organizations. Applying for a scholarship can be an administrative hassle, but don't feel held back by this. The benefits (being able to study abroad) are much more worth than the time and energy it takes you to fill out the lengthy applications.

2. Gain some experience with the monster called administration

Not only applying for scholarships, but applying for the visa, foreign degree certification (if needed) and all possible administrative tasks are far from being the most enjoyable experience out there. However, getting used to fill out forms, to plan accordingly is a skill you will benefit from later on. Consider all these administrative tasks as a project with a huge reward at the end. Don't consider it as You versus The Bureaucratic System. Everyone has to go through this.

3. Replace bad habits by better habits

And so you have arrived in a country where you might have never been before. You have your class schedule ready, and now it's time to start building up a certain routine. Being in a different environment is the ideal situation to replace a bad habit by a new one. You can replace your evenings of watching TV and eating chips by going to the gym, and being in a new environment will give you a boost to change things.

4. Travel and explore

Get to know the country you are living in by traveling and exploring as much as possible. There are plenty of cheap possibilities to travel around (backpacking, couch surfing, last call tickets). Don't forget that random wandering around in your new environment are also part of this exploring. Take some time to find your new favorite places: your new favorite bar, coffee place, movie theater, pizza restaurant...

5. Enjoy a different perspective...

Every university has its own teaching methods and philosophy. Working together with students from different backgrounds and learning from them is one of the most valuable aspects of studying abroad. Your won thinking patterns will be challenged and improved, and you get the chance to teach others the best parts that originate from your educational background.

6. ... and a different education

Your professors will have a different teaching style and advising style too. When I transitioned from the 40 hours of classes in Belgium, to only 12 hours per week in the US, I needed to rethink all my study and learning habits to become adjusted to this different schedule. I also had to change my way of working from a strongly mathematics based education in Belgium to more engineering-oriented education in the USA. Now that I am again experiencing a different university and a different style of education, I am feeling the advantages of the variety of education I had in the past.

7. Improve your foreign language skills

It's the old cliche: the best way to learn a language is to go and live abroad. I thought my English was good and took pride in my good TOEFL and GRE scores. However, the first months in the US I simply couldn't follow the lectures. It was going too fast, there was too much to adjust to. That feeling was completely at the end of the first semester.

8. Learn what really matters to you

You can't keep all your clutter with you when you move regularly. It has become much easier for me to sort out my belongings knowing that it has to fit in suitcases or expensive shipping boxes. I've also learned to value my home country. A cliche again: absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or in my case: I've learned to relativize the political problems Belgium has, and I've grown admiration for our system of free education, very affordable health care and public transport. I also know which friends matter to me: the ones that kept in touch, the ones that came to visit me abroad.

9. Learn to be fully independent

When you get in trouble far from your family and friends, there is no way to go and lean on their shoulders. Instead, it's time to grow up and deal with your problems, failures and setbacks yourself.

10. Become a citizen of the world

After a stay abroad, you will have fresh ideas, friends with different background and you will have grown as an individual. You'll come home and experience yet another cliche: you'll realize that home has stayed the same, but you are the one that changed.

Have you studied or are you studying abroad? How are you benefiting from this experience?

2 comments:

  1. I wished I had studied abroad. It wasn't something I was interesting in doing during my time as an undergraduate. But, now I can see how I missed out on living and studying in England or Jamaica. Maybe, I'll get the chance as a visiting professor one day.

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  2. Totally agree about understanding the joys of paperwork as a non-national. I tell people how much easier work is when you're in your own country: no needing to sign up, worries about dual sets of taxes, making sure you don't accidentally do something you shouldn't on your student visa (e.g. freelance). It's a good taster for what you'd have to deal with should you want to work somewhere other than your home country!

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