Traveling at a young age can give you valuable experiences and teach you irreplaceable life lessons. A study abroad program should become a mandatory part of college education because it pushes students outside of their comfort zone into another culture, environment, and education system and teaches them how to interact with people, improve their communication skills, and equips them to become future leaders.
Study abroad programs equip students with a great deal of physical and measurable knowledge that they can use throughout their life. Three examples of the physical knowledge they gain would be learning a new language, improving their social skills, and bettering their communication skills. A study abroad program immerses the student into an unfamiliar culture where they will learn new skills, talents, and habits along with a better understanding of how to interact with people from different backgrounds.
Students improve their social skills and social collaboration as they interact with people different from themselves. Alex Hammond goes over twenty-three soft skills, defined as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people,” in his article titled Soft Skills you will Gain from Studying Abroad. One of the most important soft skills that will be gained when studying abroad is listening. By processing a new language or having to think harder about what you are hearing, your perceived listening skills will improve. Along with these social skills will come cultural awareness: “the understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values”. Studying abroad gives a full experience into a culture, something that reading or traveling will never give a student. Staying on the topic of cultural awareness, studying abroad will also provide students with a sense of multicultural engagement. While the students learn about the local culture, they will also be given opportunities to meet people from all around the world. Having experience working with a diverse group of people is a vital part of working in our society today.
Besides gaining physical knowledge, studying abroad helps the student grow as an individual as they gain experience and encounter unfamiliar situations that will be unique to themselves and their stories. Study abroad programs will equip students with experiences that will prepare them to become future leaders, provide them with opportunities to grow in their character and personality, and gives them an opportunity to gain professional experiences that others will not have.
While abroad, students will have a multitude of opportunities to learn more about themselves and grow as an individual. Through various new experiences, each student will learn something new about themselves and learn valuable life lessons. Bailey LaPoint shared how her experience in Barcelona changed her in her article titled Life Lessons From Studying Abroad. She said, “I definitely found my independence… There were many times when I was alone. I can tell you that when you are left alone without your parents, friends, or any form of communication, you realize that you can take care of yourself.” Finding independence and a sense of being self-reliant is a huge aspect of studying abroad. Students learn to realize what it feels like to take care of themselves and live independently of their parents or friends. Another character quality that becomes more prevalent as you study abroad is the act of being adaptable to situations. The students who make the decision to study abroad learn to be flexible in unexpected situations and learn to adapt and find ways to fix the unpredicted circumstances. LaPoint stated “Obstacles are going to arise when you least expect them. They might knock you down, or change your path, but it’s how you respond to these challenges that help you learn and grow.”
After studying abroad, you immediately become more marketable to employers and companies. With broad, international experience and cultural awareness, you become able to adapt to different cultures when interacting with customers, employees or bosses. According to Jenny Marshall “The ability to absorb and adapt to new cultures is highly desirable, as is a cultural sensitivity that is often demanded of people when they study abroad”.
According to NAFSA, in the 2016-2017 academic year, only 1.6% of all American students enrolled at a university or college took the opportunity to study abroad. The reasons for not studying abroad would be the fear of missing out with friends or opportunities at their college in the United States, the expense of the trip overseas, afraid of being homesick or unsure if they can manage the amount of time they would be away. A numerous amount of those excuses are because people are simply afraid to try something new and different. The tradeoff and benefits of studying abroad are well worth missing a semester at their home school or putting aside fears. Troy Peden dismisses the excuse that it is too expensive by stating that studying abroad is surprisingly affordable and, in most cases, costs about the same as a regular semester in the United States. With the multitude of benefits studying abroad provides a student, it is incredibly shocking to see that only 1.6% of all college students make good use of the opportunity they are given.
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