Opportunities to study abroad do not come along every day and can be a rewarding and memorable experience. For many people, studying abroad can be a huge adventure, but the decision to do so is one that students should consider carefully, because there are both advantages and disadvantages to studying abroad. Knowledge is power and it is far better to know both pros and cons before launching into anything, because you can avoid or neutralize the cons and make the very best use of your experience. Thought and planning before you go will save you time, money, and heartache.
You will need to think about many things before committing to studying abroad, these divide into educational and personal considerations. Educational standards are not the same across the world; you need to ensure that your learning abroad will be acceptable in your own country and that you will be able to use it towards your degree or qualification. You need not worry about this if you will be studying abroad through an exchange programme arranged by your university, or school, as your tutors will help you with problems regarding educational credits et cetera.
You should also remember that teaching attitudes and styles might be very different to those in your own country, for example, in the United Kingdom; undergraduates do much more independent study than their counterparts in the United States do. In the UK, undergraduates read for a degree. Tutors expect students to make up their own minds rather than just regurgitate facts from lecture notes and undergraduates have much less teaching time than their counterparts in the USA.
If the language in the country is different to your own, will you be able to understand enough to learn, learning in another language requires fluency. Even if you are studying in a country that uses the same language as your own, you should remember that language and culture will be different, for example, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia all speak English but language and culture differ widely between the four countries.
Studying abroad can enhance your curriculum vitae, your life experience, your perceptions, and understanding but it also poses difficulties. When you study in your own country, even if your educational establishment is a long way from home, and you have a problem, it is much easier to get home easily and cheaply. In a foreign country, it is more difficult to fly home suddenly, not to say costly. In your own country, you have a support network of family and friends to whom you can turn for advice and help with problems. In a foreign country, you may have to rely much more on your own emotional resources.
Email, internet telephone calls and international telephone calls are much easier than they were. Planning before you leave will ensure that you can keep in contact with friends and family. You will need to find out about internet and mobile telephone coverage and prices, in the country to which you intend to go before you leave. Do not expect the digital revolution to be as advanced in other countries as it is in your own, because it may not be so, for example, internet use, prices and coverage is very different in France to what it is in Britain.
In a practical sense, you may not be used to all the chores that come when you have to look after yourself, cooking, cleaning, shopping, budgeting, paying bills, dealing with officialdom and much more. Living, and other, costs and accommodation standards may be very different to those in your own country.
You should also remember that looking at a culture from the outside is very different to living in that culture. Behavioural and cultural norms may be very different to those in your own country. This is true even in different European countries, in the United Kingdom, for example, man and women students enjoy social life in the student bar but drunkenness in South West France is unacceptable, especially for women. You can obviate the risk that your behaviour gets you into trouble by learning all you can about these matters before you leave your own country. You should also learn the law in the country that you propose to go to, for example, in the United Kingdom, legal adulthood begins at 18 years old, but in the USA, the age of majority is 21, which means an eighteen year old drinking in America could be breaking the law.
Women may have to dress more modestly than they are used to doing in their own countries. In some countries, shoes and feet are unclean in others table manners are different. Little things can give great offence and cause you to make terrible cultural gaffes, which will spoil your experience, for example, in French, you speak in a very formal way to someone older than you are. You would not call an older person by their Christian name, until they invited you to do so. You must always remember that you are a guest in someone else’s country. You may privately think that their customs are old-fashioned or silly, but trying to impose your culture on them would not only be rude, it would also be fruitless. Try to think how you would feel if a visitor to your own country tried to impose their culture on you.
All this may seem as though the disadvantages to studying abroad outweigh the benefits, but there are huge advantages. Not least, employers seeing your CV in the future will appreciate not only that you have experience outside your own country but also that you had the resourcefulness to study abroad and live in another culture. Studying and living abroad will change your attitudes and broaden your horizons. It will make you more self-reliant, independent and resourceful. You will have the opportunity to study another culture from within and it will broaden your understanding of others and, indeed, of yourself. Ironically, in living in another culture you learn much more about your own. You also have the opportunity to see places and learn things that you would not experience in any other way.
When considering studying abroad, you need to consider both the advantages and disadvantages to doing so. You can design out many of the disadvantages by learning all you can about the country, to which your studies will take you, before leaving your own country. Studying abroad is not for everyone, but for those who are well prepared, it provides life experience, personal benefits and challenges, which will inform your character, development, career, character, and thinking for the future.