The Benefits of Studying Abroad & How to Get Started

Throughout my life, I’ve had the privilege to travel to numerous countries, including China, Australia, France, and Germany. Furthermore, I’ve been raised in a variety of places, from my tiny birth place of Pullman, Washington to College Station, Texas, to New York City and Toronto and finally Edmonton and its suburb Sherwood Park. As a result, I’ve become accustomed and drawn to adventure and exploring new places. This curiosity led me to explore the possibility of studying abroad. In this article, I’ll share some reasons to study abroad and some tips to get started.

Studying abroad refers to attending a post-secondary institution in a foreign country for any period of time; be it a month or a decade. Studying abroad began in the Middle Ages among the royal and elite as a way of creating alliances and enlightening their youth. Since the Middle Ages, many great leaders have recognized the potential studying abroad offers. In fact, even Napoleon was a strong advocate of studying abroad. He believed that the exchange of technologies and ideologies between nations would bring them together. Studying abroad can allow you to become a vessel of global understanding and unity.

There are several seemingly daunting challenges to studying abroad. It can be an expensive, time-consuming pursuit; making such an important decision can seem stressful; then there’s a lot of work involved in applying to programs and preparing to move.  However, taking the time to at least explore the option is a sound investment as studying abroad may change your entire future. Every year, thousands of students decide to study abroad because of the plethora of benefits it provides. Studying abroad can open your mind to diverse cultures, give you an edge in the job market, and it’s also a lot of fun!

Now, you might be asking, “How exactly does studying abroad expand your views?” For brevity’s sake, I’ll present one example. Most students learn about the political and economic systems in various countries. Unfortunately, what we learn is not always an accurate representation of reality. For example, you may have heard at some point that “China is a communist nation”. In reality, China is anything but its portrayed self, politically and economically.

I learned this first-hand when I visited China a few summers ago. While I was there, I observed that many aspects of China are capitalistic. Compared to business in western countries, China’s business practices are quite unregulated. Such a characteristic is completely unexpected based on the definition of a “communist” country. Experiencing foreign countries first-hand prevents you from becoming misinformed. These stereotypes can become problematic in diplomatic situations and can create unnecessary conflict. Furthermore, by exposing yourself to new cultures, you can become a more critical and rational thinker.  With fewer misinformed and more rational thinkers, we could overcome our differences and become more unified.

One major benefit of studying abroad is that it can lead to finding a higher quality job with less effort and stress. While Canada’s post-secondary job market isn’t terrible, it’s still far from great. Currently, the unemployment rate for graduates is doubled that of the regular job market. Furthermore, graduates who are employed earn meager salaries, which makes paying off student loans a struggle. These depressing statistics are why post-secondary institutions, such as Queen’s and UBC, are promoting participation in foreign exchange programs and encouraging students to get involved in the global job market. From these opportunities, students can tap into a diverse network of connections, which enable Canadians to become a competitive force in the global job market. Additionally, international work experience can increase your chances of finding a job in Canada. In 2009, the Canadian Bureau for International Education found that 91% of employers were more likely to hire applicants with international experience. Employers value international experience because it exemplifies diversity, independence and flexibility.

Of course, nothing in life is free; studying abroad is often expensive. However, most universities and some independent organizations offer scholarships for students studying abroad. You can find multiple scholarships through a simple Google search. There are also websites, such, that provide information on other sources of funding.

Now that you’ve heard about the splendors of studying abroad, you may wonder, “How do I get started?” The answer is different for every person, but I’ll try to provide some general guidelines. It may seem like a cliché, but it’s never too early to begin thinking about your future. The application process is competitive, since thousands of students are also looking to study abroad. This means that every mark (yes, even the electives) is crucial. To make your application stand out further, consider joining some extracurricular activities that showcase your strengths and interests. If you’re having trouble finding one, try looking through the NSN opportunities database. Apart from a good resumé, many foreign universities may require the completion of AP courses, IB courses, SAT exams, etc. Don’t fret if you’re already in university, it’s not too late for you. You can still look into your university’s exchange program. If there are no local resources available, there are several third-party organizations like AIFS, IES, and EF that help students study abroad. I encourage you to check out the list of resources below.

I sincerely hope that I have piqued your interest in studying abroad and that you will further explore your options. Happy travels!





Photo Credits: Nicolas Raymond via Freestock

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  1. Pingback: 6 Smart & Productive Ways to Spend Your Summer - National Student Network

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