To pick up for a semester, summer, or even a week to go abroad is a lot to process. Thus, this post is here to unpack the pros and cons of studying abroad easier.
And to me, studying abroad is personal. My experience in Spain led me to teach English abroad, intern abroad, and eventually move abroad again. So from the jump, one of the advantages of studying abroad is the gateway to other travel and international experiences.
However, there are two sides to every experience. While there are more pros to studying abroad, we will also outline the disadvantages of studying abroad. Are your paper and pen ready? Let’s get into the in-depth guide of the pros and cons of studying abroad.
What are the advantages of studying abroad?
Living and learning abroad
Studying abroad allows you to learn more outside the classroom. It is a full-on experiential learning opportunity to be fully immersed for a few weeks, a semester, or a year. Study abroad is where you learn from those who are experts in their culture and experiences.
A part of living and learning abroad means understanding the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Studying abroad allows you to show your respect for another community’s culture. You may not agree or like everything. But every day you will learn something new.
Making international friends
Ahhh, the social aspect of studying abroad! Introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts alike make friends while studying abroad. In addition, it is a rewarding experience to connect with people across nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and other identities that differ from yours.
Just be warned that making fast friends has its ups and downs. You may share things with them you have not shared with others because you yearn for community. It is ok to be vulnerable. But it is also common for conflict to arise because you became friends so quickly. It happens!
Yet, the genuine hard part is keeping in contact once you all leave. Studying abroad can be an immersive and fast experience that when you blink, it’s over. So, follow and add each other as friends on social media and exchange WhatsApp numbers before you depart. These will be some of the friendships you cherish for years to come.
Fluency in a language
One of the pros of studying abroad is the opportunity to learn another language. Studying for five to six months or a year or more can drastically improve your language abilities. In addition, living abroad makes it easier to infuse the language into your daily life as you immerse yourself in another country.
Fluency will not happen overnight. It takes work to force yourself to use a second language every day if you know people speak your first one. To take full advantage of learning another language abroad, use it as much as possible. Grocery stores, bars, classes, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and anywhere are good times to use the language.
Better communication skills
Intercultural and interpersonal communication has a whole new meaning when you study abroad. Between literally learning a new language, conversations with people from around the world, and maintaining friendships back home, communication is different abroad. As a result, you balance various forms, which is beneficial for your personal and professional life. So attaining skills in these two types of communication is a significant advantage of studying abroad in the long run.
Staying with a host family
I won’t lie to you, this one is hit or miss depending on the study abroad alum you ask. Some study abroad students do not adjust well to their host families. The reasons can vary from a host family seeing it as more of a financially lucrative opportunity to students who experience racism, xenophobia, and colorism abroad. Other students are, unfortunately, rude to their host families too.
However, do not get into your feelings quite yet! Negative experiences are not true for everyone. Staying with a host family has so many benefits. They are an excellent resource to learn more about the local culture and customs. Host families can also offer you tips on where to go, what to do, and what to eat.
Situations vary, so remember to keep an open mind. A host family is graciously letting you into their home, regardless if they are getting paid. Getting to know them and building that trust will not happen overnight. You have to put in the effort as well. But, it could be impactful and fruitful – like mine!
More independence, freedom, and flexibility
Many study abroad participants return with a new outlook on life. Not only are they more well-traveled, but their personalities change too. Study abroad brings out some of these unique traits, including increased independence to put themselves out there after making new friends.
After navigating destinations knowing little to none of the languages, study abroad students also feel more adaptable and flexible. Living, learning, and traveling on your terms give you a taste of what freedom can feel like in college or beyond. Those soft skills are some of the pros of studying abroad and apply to your life forever.
Increased travel opportunities
This point is obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Studying abroad means you have more opportunities to travel. Going abroad means you can pick a country on a continent you want to explore. From there, you can experience multiple destinations and start checking off boxes on your bucket list.
There are also so many reasons why you should travel! Seeing new places and experiencing new things is way better than reading about it in a book. Traveling also boosts your mental health and can improve your physical health. Finally, be inspired and creative through traveling.
What are the disadvantages of studying abroad?
Similar to culture shock, homesickness is something hard to avoid when studying abroad. A lot of things are changing fast, and studying abroad can be an adjustment. You miss those who are not there as your regular support system and routine. Those feelings of sadness and anxiousness are not fun and can be overwhelming.
Even though it is one of the cons of studying abroad, there are ways to handle homesickness abroad! You can overcome it with a bit of support. If you are looking for some strategies, check out this post for more. It is full of tips to help maneuver the ups and downs of homesickness.
Missing out at home
Let’s build upon homesickness a bit more. Just as you are enjoying your newfound freedom abroad, remember that life goes on back home too. Your family and friends will continue living their lives without you. And for some study abroad participants, that fear of missing out bothers them.
Though it may seem like one of the selfish cons of studying abroad, it is natural! Those feelings are because you love and miss your people back home—schedule times to chat and check in with them.
Old friendships fizzling out or changing
Even though this point is awkward, it must be said! Friendships form and fizzle out every day. But when you go abroad for a semester or a year, a lot can happen. People change, and sometimes that means friendships change with them. And most friendships do survive studying abroad.
Maintaining friendships at home is difficult, but not impossible. Similar to family time, schedule friend time too! You may not talk as often if you were at home, so you have to adapt and adjust. Just remember that you should not have to force a “friend” to make time for you. It takes reciprocity, communication, and willingness to continue the friendship.
Going through culture shock
Of all the pros and cons of studying abroad, culture shock is the most talked-about topic. Culture shock refers to the feelings you have when adapting to another country and culture for those who do not know. You can be happy and adjust one day, then sad and homesick the next. These feelings of up and down are a lot. Check out some examples and strategies of how to handle culture shock here.
Studying abroad is not always cheap! So yes, one of the most significant disadvantages of studying abroad is the price tag. It takes funds to pay for the flights, housing, extra travel, etc. However, you can save up money, use federal financial aid, and apply for study abroad scholarships. You have to factor in currency conversions too. So be sure to research how much your currency is worth in the places you plan to visit.
Lack of language-learning
Language learning does not happen overnight and is one of the pros and cons of studying abroad. Unfortunately, some students get caught up in the hype and forget their language needs. It is easy to hang out with all study abroad students and not immerse yourself. However, if you do that, you may lose out on the language.
Even though it is a preventable disadvantage of studying abroad, this situation is possible. You don’t want to go back home with the same language skills and no improvement. If you’re going to learn the language, commit to it.
Adjusting to new class styles
In addition to adapting to a new country, study abroad students have to adjust to classes. Teaching styles vary across countries. For example, European countries do not usually give as much homework compared to the U.S. Instead, it is common to have a few exams and a paper for your final grade. The new homework and grading flow can be a bit jarring at first.
Rely on your Resident or Study Abroad Director for any questions or concerns. You can also ask study abroad alumni about the flow of work before you go. Finally, lean on those pre-departure orientations to get your questions answered too!
Deciding which country is the best to study abroad
The pros and cons of studying abroad are all about making decisions. And one of the top of the decisions is choosing a destination. Of course, there are many factors to consider, including language and distance from family. Therefore, the following list is not an exhaustive one. But, here are five questions to ask yourself when deciding which country you want to study abroad in.
How far do you want to be from your loved ones?
Family support is essential to many study abroad participants. When you decide to go overseas, this support still exists, but it can be time zones away. Some people have family abroad and choose a destination close to them, which is excellent! But for most study abroad participants, this is not the case. It means you have to decide how far is too far.
Yet, there are strategies to help you have that family support and study abroad. Participants typically schedule a time to connect with loved ones on the weekends, early in the day, or late depending on the time zone. You do not want to be that person always-on video calling family instead of exploring your study abroad destination. Chat with your family to make out a plan.
What weather/climate do you want?
Climate is another critical question to consider. There are study abroad participants who want to change their climate completely. Other participants fear all the other changes with language and culture and pick a destination with a similar environment. People’s choices, just like the weather, vary.
There is no right or wrong climate to choose for your study abroad destination. Your decision is based on personal preference and comfortability. If you hate snow, maybe avoid the Scandinavian countries in Europe. For people with an aversion to heat, avoid desert-like temperatures and destinations. You may end up creating a list of the pros and cons of studying abroad in cold vs. warm-weather destinations to decide.
Do you want to learn a new language?
For some people, language learning is the primary reason to study abroad. They want to be fully-immersed. Others decide it is not for them – and that is ok! Studying abroad is your experience. If you know learning another language is not your thing, that is one less thing to plan.
Do not feel ashamed because you do not want to learn another language abroad. While it is one of the pros of studying abroad, you can still have a fantastic time. Understanding your capacity to incorporate language learning is a decision only you can make. It also dictates your destination too, so keep that in mind!
Which countries do you want to travel to on the weekends?
Yes, studying abroad is about adventures in your host country. But what about other places you want to visit? For choosing a study abroad country, factor in other destinations on your bucket list. You are essentially picking a continent or region just as much as a country. If you have chosen multiple countries in a region, it is clear you are interested in that area of the world.
However, do not make where you will travel the deciding factor. The other questions take precedent. It should not be a priority, but it is something to think about. Proceed with caution for this question and address the others first.
Do you prefer cities or small towns?
Choosing a country also means picking a city or small town to study abroad. Many students prefer bigger cities because there is more to do when they are not in class. Others do not have the option as their study abroad program offerings are not as robust. Overall, the population size is something many study abroad participants overlook. Do your due diligence.
How safe is it to study abroad?
Safety is one of the top deal breakers for people to study abroad in one destination or the other. Remember that anything can happen anywhere, no matter what safety statistics state. Pickpocketing occurs whether you are in Italy or Morocco. And most safety reports disproportionately favor Western/Global North countries over Global South countries. This bias further deters studying abroad in those destinations.
With that said, safety abroad is common sense. Be alert of your surroundings, do not wear fancy jewelry, and always have your phone out. If you want to check safety statistics, you can do so. However, ask your program to connect you with a study abroad alum. They can be your best resource to understanding the safety of a study abroad destination for participants.
Is studying abroad bad?
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. On the one hand, yes, studying abroad is terrible. But, on the other hand, due to the financial requirements, its elitism and classism can attract arrogant and entitled students. Some people see studying abroad less as a cultural immersion experience and more of a 24/7 party. Other people disrespect their host families and look down upon their host community.
There are also study abroad programs that exploit the host community and do not pay them well. Or haphazardly place participants in volunteer experiences that cause more harm. So in those cases, yes, studying abroad is bad. However, those students give other study abroad participants and programs a bad name.
Yet, again, there is a multitude of pros of studying abroad that make it worthwhile. Studying abroad can be the first time someone is going abroad. The study abroad experience can be the first time someone lives somewhere new and in a culture other than theirs. It provides an intercultural understanding to help people grow and understand how people different from them live.
Yes, studying abroad is worth it
Obviously, as a travel blogger who writes about studying abroad, I support it! The advantages of studying abroad outweigh the disadvantages. However, I do not think it is for everyone. Studying abroad requires a lot of drive, ambition, and flexibility to adapt to a new country far from loved ones. So it is not for everyone’s personality, and that is ok.
However, if you feel ready, by all means, pursue it. This list outlined some of the pros and cons of studying abroad. Continue to do your research to unpack other challenges that may lie ahead. Unfortunately, studying abroad is not accessible to everyone. Therefore if you have the privilege to do so, get planning. Do not let it pass you by. I wish you all the best on your journey!
Are you trying to convince your parents to let you study abroad? Then, read this post for tips.