Misinformation and outright falsehoods keep many students from even considering studying abroad each year. Too many students mistakenly believe that there is no place in their academic plan or major for time abroad or that study abroad is just a luxury that they can neither afford nor benefit from. Au contraire! Below are some of the most common myths students believe about studying abroad and, more importantly, the facts that debunk them.
Myth #1: I have to study in an English-speaking country because I don’t know any foreign languages.
This is a common misconception. There are many study abroad programs that require no prior foreign language instruction and will provide you with intensive language classes at the beginning of your stay abroad. Other programs require just one semester of a language before you depart for a given country. It’s true that the more language background you have before you leave, the more immersed you can become once you arrive. However, you shouldn’t let lack of skills in a language stop you from studying in a particular country. Study abroad programs in English-speaking countries are far more competitive than those in countries where other native languages dominate. This is in part because so many students share the common misconception that their monolingualism restricts their choices to English-speaking countries.
Myth #2: I’ll have to extend my studies or won’t graduate on time if I take time out to go abroad.
The fact is that you can typically earn college credits while studying abroad, both toward fulfilling general education requirements as well as toward your major. In fact, study abroad can give your language skills such a boost that adding a minor or even a second major in a language may require very few, if any, additional courses after you return to your home campus. In addition to year-long programs, many universities offer semester-long or summer programs. And if it so happens that you must delay graduation for a few months to fit in studying abroad, what you will gain from the experience far outweighs what you think you’d be sacrificing.
Studying abroad often costs the same or a little more than spending the same time at your home campus. Especially if you study in a country that has a lower cost of living than at home, your day-to-day living expenses may be far lower than those you are accustomed to. In addition, if you qualify for financial aid, you can still receive this aid while studying in a credit-earning study abroad program. Because your personal contribution is assumed to be less while abroad (since it’s not expected you will be able to work while out of the country), you may even qualify for more aid for your study abroad year. For the same reason, students who have never qualified for financial aid may do so for the first time when they decide to study abroad.
Myth #4: I can always travel later once I have a job and am earning money. That is just as good.
Easier said than done. Once you are locked into a job and responsibilities, it’s very difficult to get away for any length of time. You may have a difficult time getting the time off from work and you probably won’t be able to afford unpaid vacation time because you will have locked yourself into long-term financial responsibilities: a car, rent payments or a mortgage, credit cards, and family responsibilities, for example. In addition, traveling as a tourist is a much different experience than living as an integrated part of a foreign culture. The two experiences are incomparably different. As a tourist, you will typically be seen as an outsider. When you live in a foreign culture and participate in its day-to-day life, you become an immersed and daily participant in the culture.
Myth #5: Only language majors study abroad.
Study abroad programs are open to students of all majors, and in fact, more STEM, social sciences, business, humanities, and arts majors study abroad than foreign language majors. You certainly could add a language major to your studies as a result of your study abroad units, but you will also very likely be able to earn units for other majors as well as to fulfill general education requirements at your university.
Myth #6: Study abroad is not for everyone.
No matter what your major, gender, ethnic background, or interests, studying in a foreign country can benefit you personally, academically, and professionally. There are a myriad of programs available around the world. There are sure to be several that suit your needs and interests.
Myth #7: Study abroad is a luxury.
Some students (and their parents) believe that studying abroad is not really studying. Quite the contrary! It’s true that the academic setting will probably be different than what you are used to, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. In addition to the formal instruction you receive, numerous learning experiences will happen outside the classroom – experiences you would never get at your home college or university. The entire experience abroad will change your life as well as enhance your resume and employment potential. In fact, international experience is increasingly important for those seeking a job in a global economy that relies on good relations and the ability to communicate with diverse peoples around the world. If you talk to anybody who has ever studied abroad, they will likely tell you that any worries or concerns they had before they departed melted away once they arrived in their host country. They will confirm to you that their experience was well worth any extra expense or time it may have taken and that the benefits they have experienced as a result are more numerous and lasting than they ever could have imagined.