Studying Abroad: Making A Pro’s and Con’s List

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Hi guys and a happy Tuesday to you! Hope you had a wonderful Monday. I know I did. My Monday was spent going to the movies in the middle of the day and having a giant ice cream cone. Needless to say I feel pretty blessed and happy right now. To spread my joy, I am doing another post pertinent to college students. I feel I can reach out to them through blogging because they are millennials like me and because I am a trained teacher (and a former college student) so they can relate to what I say and learn from the advice I post. So here goes…

Like millions of college goers, I know at some point in college the decision to study abroad toys with all of us. I know I thought about it several times myself. When I was studying in Foothill College, I thought about doing a quarter/semester abroad in Europe. I had visited Europe after high school and was so in love with it that I wanted to return. But, I made a mindful decision not to go because my priority was working really hard to get into my dream college and saving for it. A couple years later when I did get into my dream college, I spent most of my time studying and struggling with all sorts of life challenges thrown from me deciding to be a young adult. I worked during summer and winter vacation. And somewhere in there I hung out with my roommate, went out with our apartment building buddies on budgeted dinners, and traveled to Japan and Pakistan with family. Yes, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times, but honestly I created memories and friends that I hope to cherish for the rest of my life.

The two years I was in Berkeley,  I thought about doing a summer abroad in University of Oxford, England. I wanted to do a summer program because it was cheaper and required a lot less time committment in my opinion. Yes, it was going to be more intensive, but I thought a couple of months away from home was far better than six months in a foreign land. Once I got over that “thought” hurdle, I looked at the costs really closely and weighed whether it was truly worth that cost. The program was to take place in the summer of 2004 and cost $7000. It didn’t include sightseeing costs or travel costs. To me that sounded ridiculous! I neither felt prepared for the trip nor felt it was worth the experience. I made a pro’s and con’s list and concluded that I can travel to England anytime for a fraction of the cost and the experience of not studying abroad was a sacrifice I had to make.

I know you college goer’s face the same dilemma especially when your classmates return with once-in-a-lifetime experiences to share. The best piece of advice I can give you is to make a pro’s and con’s list when taking this important financial step.

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Pro’s

  1. You gain worldly experiences. Learn what it is like to study in a foreign university under foreign professors.
  2. You make friends from all over the world.
  3. You may learn a new skill like a foreign language that looks great on a resume.

Con’s

  1. A semester abroad is usually more expensive than finishing a semester at your college. Consider why you really want to spend thousands of dollars when there are other study/travel options available now.
  2. You get homesick. You miss your family. If you get in trouble, you have no one to really support you, but your “new” friends. Comforting? I think not.
  3. You are financially responsible for EVERYTHING. Sure, your parents may be paying for school, but do you have skills to budget your daily meals, transportation, and sighteeing?

What You Can Do Instead:

When I graduated, I had no regrets I didn’t study abroad. I had money in my bank, I had a career path, and of course a degree from a prestigious university. Honestly, not having studied abroad was the last thing on my mind when I walked across that stage to receive my diploma. My brother, on the other hand, did spend a semester abroad in Durban, South Africa. Yes, he had a great time and made friendships that surprisingly have lasted till now, but there were a lot of scary moments too. Africa, like Latin America, and Asia, is not as developed or regulated as Europe. So yes, there were scary moments, like when he was almost run over by a car, his friends got robbed, and other horrible stories. But, he did come back with a lifetime of stories (and souvenirs!).

So consider “the worst case scenarios” in your pro’s and con’s list. 

As luck would have it, in 2010, I got a chance to “study abroad”. I had just left a teaching job and wanted to take a break from working. I felt burnt out and didn’t want to go back to work until I spend sometime with myself and reassess my life goals. Yes, college grads, there are times in your life post-college when you are just so fed up with something that you leave it because it is no longer fulfilling you as you’d hope. There is nothing wrong with leaving and no one should feel guilty about it.

The pendulum didn’t swing entirely in a different direction, however. One of my friends (or mom’s friends?) gave me the idea to get TEFL or TESL certification. After much research,  I decided to spend a summer in Costa Rica to get certified in Teaching English as a Second Language (TEFL). I don’t remember what my thought process was, but I do remember thinking it was affordable and safe (only because there would be other Americans there as well). Maybe I wanted to teach abroad; maybe I wanted a certification on my resume, but I know for sure, I wanted to make up for the experience that I missed back in college.

The six weeks in Costa Rica were pretty good. Yes, I had a great time teaching students English, and made friends to go sightseeing with, but there were a lot of other things I didn’t consider and they weren’t advertised. For example, I thought I was going to stay with a Costa Rican family who spoke English, when in fact, they barely spoke a word of English. The water in that house was not heated so taking showers was painful. And lastly, my TEFL classmates and I got into some pretty stupid situations where we weren’t thinking about our safety. Honestly, looking back I thank God our entire group returned without a scratch.

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In conclusion, I am asking you to consider “studying abroad” not at face value. Really weigh in the pro’s and con’s before making a big step. Practically, I can’t think of anyone hiring a college grad because they studied art history in Prague, unless the job is in an art gallery or something. In your pro’s and con’s list, consider how studying abroad will help your resume. Will it add value to it? If you are going just for the heck of it, honestly, the return is pretty minimal. Yes, you make friends and maybe those friends last a lifetime, but are they worth shelling out $10,000+. In my book, no, and I am sure your parents will agree. There are plenty of other trips you can take in college with family (national and international), which are fun, educational, and life changing so consider those. Happy traveling!!!