Study abroad was not common when I went to college but a foreign language requirement was. Back then, there wasn’t much talk about a global economy although we did often say, “It’s a small world.” Today, students need soft skills, hard knowledge, and practical experience to set themselves up for success. If done right, ubiquitous study abroad programs can deliver all of these. Plus parents can benefit too if they visit, in the form of a family vacation.
A recent survey of freshmen found, “In terms of personal goals, keeping up to date with political affairs and influencing social values are more important to those who believe there is a very good chance they will study abroad.” I discuss this and other findings in my article 9 college prep insights from Freshmen Survey Part 2. It seems just thinking about the study abroad possibility prompts more civic responsibility.
Benefits continue to grow when students merge and take seriously travel and studying. They can develop independence, self-reliance, and communication skills. Living another cultural lifestyle can lead to greater understanding, patience and tolerance. Combined with academics, the experience becomes a practical skill-builder worthy of a prominent place on a grad’s resume.
Here are five ways to maximize the advantages of studying abroad:
- There are different costs depending on the study abroad program sponsor so shop around. Compare programs offered at the student’s college with those offered by home and other state schools. Students may be able to participate in another college’s program, too. Just make sure the credits are accepted by the student’s college.
- Financial aid can follow the student’s educational program. Based on foreign education and living expenses, costs may turn out to be the same or cheaper than attending a semester at the student’s college. Make sure the program is properly approved.
- Plan college courses on campus carefully so studying abroad won’t delay graduation. Watch out for prerequisites and compare when courses are given so they don’t conflict with when students desire to study abroad. Even adding one more semester can be a budget buster.
- Plan college courses abroad just as carefully to make sure they fulfill necessary graduation requirements and enhance class selections towards the diploma. And check out internship options.
- Although personal travel time and excursions may be offered, study abroad programs are not vacations. Choose both the country and program based on how they fit with personal, educational and career goals.
The parent-student team can have the study abroad talk and touch on the above five points. Beware the fifth one. Extra expenses from excursions and personal travel can be significant. Students must know the rules, regulations and laws so they act appropriately. It’s a good idea to learn about medical care available, room and board options, and transportation from living quarters to classroom. Students should understand that studying abroad is a privilege and a responsibility that requires thoughtful preparation to maximize it’s advantages. They should also understand the timing both for what they are getting as well as what they are giving up on campus.
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