Even though more than half of all American college students say they’d like to study abroad, fewer than 10 percent actually spend a semester at an overseas university.The gap between the number of students who want to go abroad and those that actually do is a tragedy because study abroad is one of the best educational experiences possible.
Learn a Language
Really learning a foreign language in a stuffy classroom setting is nearly impossible. Studying grammar and memorizing vocabulary, the standard language-learning model used at most universities, simply doesn’t translate to the real world. Knowing how to conjugate irregular verbs does virtually nothing to help you order food at a restaurant or hit on a cute girl or guy at a bar.
According to Omniglot, the only reliable way to learn a foreign language is immersion. Studying abroad forces you to let go of your fears and learn to speak naturally, the same way children pick up language skills. When you practice your language skills in a foreign country, you learn the rhythms of the language, the local idioms and the peculiar accent. None of that is possible in a classroom in your home country.
Study abroad offers students tremendous opportunities for personal growth, especially in terms of their self-confidence and independence. According to IES Abroad, more than 97 percent of study abroad alums say their experience helped improve their maturity, and 96 percent reported improved self-confidence.
Gains in self-confidence help students in a variety of ways. Greater confidence often leads to better performance on the job market. It helps students make new friends in the future and helps them cope with the unpredictable stresses that are a permanent feature of modern life.
International study is a surefire recipe for building lifelong friendships. Most study abroad students end up making close friends with other international students and with locals. According to IES Abroad, more than half of all participants say they remain in regular contact with people they met during their foreign studies.
Those friendships often lead to future travel opportunities. When you know somebody who lives in Paris, it’s a lot easier to book a flight secure in the knowledge you’ll have a great time with your old pals.
Improve Academic Skills
Study abroad encourages students to engage with new academic challenges, and it often leads to better academic performance and higher graduate rates. A study at Indiana University found that more than 95 percent of study abroad students graduated in six years or less, compared to 65 percent of students who did not study abroad. Another study at the University of California at San Diego demonstrated that study abroad students have higher GPAs, even after controlling for their high school performance and test scores.
The reasons for the boost in academic performance are complex and poorly understood, but one big factor is that study abroad enhances students’ motivation and self-worth. Students with experience in a foreign country seem to value education more than those who stay home.