The idea of traveling to a foreign country and immersing yourself in its culture may seem like a farfetched idea—but it shouldn’t. Just 1% of U.S. students study abroad, making it a rare but still invaluable experience. Finances or time constraints may deter students from spending a semester or more overseas, but with a little research and resourcefulness, study abroad can become a feasible reality with long-lasting benefits.
Study abroad as a cog in the wheel of foreign policy
First lady Michelle Obama recently traveled to China on a goodwill tour of the country. While there, she encouraged American students to participate in study abroad as a means of becoming “citizen diplomats.” Speaking at the Stanford Center at Peking University to an audience composed of Chinese and international students, Obama noted that study abroad is a “vital part of our foreign policy.”
“I’m here today because I know that our future depends on connections like these among young people like you across the globe,” Obama said. “We believe that relationships between nations aren’t just about relationships between governments or leaders—they’re about relationships between people, particularly young people.”
She went on to mention that, growing up in a working-class family, she never considered studying abroad and that many students who are struggling to pay for school may not think about it either. “That’s not acceptable,” she said, “because study abroad shouldn’t just be for students from certain backgrounds.”
Study abroad will allow you to immerse yourself in another culture and then bring home the experiences and lessons you’ve learned. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through technology and increased ease of travel, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend months or even a year or more in another country can give you a leg up in life and in your career.
As the first lady said, “Study abroad is about shaping the future of your countries and the world we all share.”
A game-changing stamp on your résumé
If you choose to study abroad, you’ll also be making a priceless investment in yourself. The job market may not be as dismal as it has been in recent years, but it’s still dog-eat-dog out there. An international experience may help distinguish your résumé from others and make you a more well-rounded employee once you're hired.
“The benefits of studying abroad are almost endless,” Michelle Obama said in a CNN iReport interview. “It is going to make you more marketable in the United States. More and more companies are realizing that they need people with experience around the world.”
Studying in another country teaches many skills that will serve you well in whatever career you choose to pursue, such as learning to listen, how to work with people from different backgrounds, and how to be independent and advocate for yourself. Study abroad also forces you to think beyond your own culture and experiences and approach people and situations with thoughtfulness and empathy—a trait that can prove useful in the workplace.
Making your study abroad dream a reality
While spending an extended period of time in another country can be expensive, it’s far from impossible. The CollegeXpress Scholarship Search features dozens of scholarships for study abroad—that’s free money. There is some federal aid available for study abroad, such as Pell and SEOG grants. Your school may also have institutional financial aid resources to help fund your time overseas. And you may even be able to find a job in the country in which you’ll be studying, which could help cover some of your personal expenses.
If you can find a way to make it happen, do. Study abroad will change you for the better—and perhaps, in turn, help you change the world for the better. To quote the great American traveler Anthony Bourdain, “If you’re 22, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel—as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them—wherever you go.”
Need more convincing? Check out Michelle Obama’s iReport interview with CNN: