Higher education experts around the world share what they believe to be the main benefits of studying abroad including experience in a global hub, and developing language skills via immersion in an international experience, as well as key factors to consider when choosing a location for your studies.
1. Experience a new culture
Dee Roach, group manager and European marketing for the Navitas Education Group, says nothing beats the immersive international experience you get while studying abroad. “The best way of finding out about another culture is by immersing yourself in it, and you can only do that by living in a country. Once you are working, your holiday or experiences overseas might be limited to only two to four weeks per year so studying abroad is a great opportunity to remain in a country and learn all about it over a longer period of time.”
Elizabeth Dalferes, assistant director of admissions and graduate program administration at Tulane Law School, adds that if you’ve stayed closer to home for your undergraduate degree, enrolling in a master’s program can be the perfect time to get this international experience. “Students will often pursue a master’s degree at a foreign institution to gain a unique cultural experience while acquiring new skills.”
2. Make friends from around the world
Its likely that the university you choose for your international studies will have a large community of students both from the local area and all around the globe. If you take full advantage of this opportunity, you could graduate having established lasting friendships with people based in many different countries – great for future trips, and also a good basis for an international professional network. As Dalferes says, “Spending time studying abroad can provide an excellent opportunity to make new contacts and build invaluable relationships with peers from around the world.”
Being part of an internationally diverse academic community can also enhance the quality of your learning, providing a wider spectrum of opinions and expertise – a point made by Professor Kimberly Hutchings, program director of the MSc in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
3. Become truly independent
The experience of university is, for most new students, a steep learning curve in gaining independence. But studying abroad takes that a whole step further, challenging students to really develop as individuals. Dee Roach says, “You obviously have to cope on your own when you are studying abroad. You have to be able to look after yourself and sort out your own affairs.”
4. Change the way you think
Studying abroad may well change the way you view all kinds of things which you’d previously taken for granted. Sarah Han of the Department of International Cooperation at the Korean Council for University Education says, “Studying abroad provides an opportunity to expand one’s field of view and helps one to understand and analyze problems and phenomena from a longer-term, worldwide perspective.” She adds, “Moreover, long-term experience in other cultures has a tendency to help one think objectively about oneself and one’s home country, tolerate differences, and recognize and appreciate diversity.”
5. Get ready for an international workplace
Han continues to explain how this international experience prepares students for future careers: “Students are more open to new knowledge and expertise when abroad, and that knowledge is often more easily applicable and adaptable to situations requiring international interaction; thus one can expect to be more competitive in today’s era of globalization.”
Lauren Welch, head of advising for the US-UK Fulbright Commission in London agrees that studying abroad is likely to enhance your future job prospects. “Employers are looking to graduates to have international experience either by studying or working abroad. Now there are many more opportunities to study and work abroad, or stay on and work afterwards.”
Dee Roach adds, “Anyone who is able to put on their CV that they studied abroad is at a great advantage in terms of impressing future employers. At a very basic level it will give you something to talk about in an interview. But much more importantly it will prove to your potential employer that you have the ability to stand on your own two feet, that you can fit in when placed in different environments, and that you are resourceful and have initiative.”
6. Develop your language skills
For many international students, studying abroad is a chance to develop language skills, either through studying in a second language or by practicing the language spoken locally. A growing number of courses around the world are taught in English, particularly at graduate level, and of course proficiency in English has many applications across all kinds of careers. But indeed any additional language skills are an asset.
“Language skills obtained while studying abroad will always be beneficial to the student and their home country in both the short- and long-term,” says Sarah Han.
7. Study in a global hub for your field
As Lauren Welch points out, studying abroad is also a great opportunity to spend time in a location which is known as a leading global hub in your field of interest. This could mean you may have opportunities to learn from renowned experts and guest speakers, and perhaps gain some impressive work experience. For example, those studying finance may be attracted to global hubs such as New York, London or Hong Kong, while those interested in politics may be looking at universities in major political centers such as Washington DC or Brussels.
Dee Roach also notes that some countries are especially well-known as leaders in a particular field of research and development, or a particular strand of education. “Germany is synonymous with advances in engineering technology, the US with top business and management programs such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford (to name but a few), Australia screams art and design and sport, and Canada has its world-renowned ‘co-op programs’.”
8. Travel more widely
Finally, studying abroad is a chance to travel more widely around the world region in which you’re based. “Obviously you will not just be tied to the university or city you are studying in. You will also have the time and opportunity to travel within and around that country,” Roach says. “Country-hopping during holidays and weekends is also possible, depending on where you are based. This will normally be with the added benefit of cheaper travel, as you will be armed with your student (discount) card.”