By Victor Uhlman
One of the fondest memories I have of my parents was the day I left for my study abroad program. I was going to Japan for a year, and they were understandably terrified. The car ride to the airport was painfully quiet. This was a big step, both for me and my parents, as I’d never lived on my own before, much less 12,000 miles across the ocean in a foreign country. They tried their best to be supportive, but the smiles on their faces quickly melted into tears as I said goodbye at airport security. I remember them saying to me that I was “the bravest person” they knew. In reality, I was looking at the two bravest people I’d ever meet. It took a lot of courage, commitment, and convincing, but allowing and supporting me to travel for college and study abroad was the best thing my parents ever did for me. If you’re on the fence about allowing your child to study abroad, here are some factors that might make your decision a little easier.
1. Your Child Will Grow in Meaningful Ways
Most study abroad programs range from three months to a year or more. This doesn’t sound like enough time to make a monumental personal change, but the unique nature of a study abroad experience provides the perfect environment for a personal transformation. You’re thrust into a new, and in many ways unwelcoming environment. Depending on where your child decides to study, they might be in a place where no one speaks their language, surrounded by a culture that’s completely alien. I remember never feeling more alone or scared than when I stepped off the airplane in Tokyo, and found myself unable to read a single sign. However, while this may seem terrifying (and it was, believe me), it’s environments like this that force an individual to adapt and grow. Experiences abroad like this help make young adults much more versatile and creative. Students have to rely on themselves and their own quick wit to help them succeed in a difficult environment, and conquering a daunting challenge like this can set them up for success throughout their entire college career and life in general. One study found that 97% of students who studied abroad found that it sped up their maturity in a meaningful way. A study abroad experience helps your child grow in an incredibly unique and effective way that can’t be had in any other way.
2. They’ll Learn A Lot
While it may be one of the most important parts of studying abroad, there’s more to it than just personal growth. Intellectually, studying abroad is one of the single most rewarding programs a student can participate in college. Not only will your child experience a brand new style of education, but due to the condensed nature of these programs, they’ll learn a lot in a small amount of time. Study abroad programs often emphasize the surrounding country and culture, making every experience unique and opening up students to a brand new world they otherwise never would have known. After returning from this experience, the knowledge students bring with them has a clear and measured impact on their academic performance. Students who studied abroad were almost 20% more likely to graduate than those who didn’t, and 100% of students who return from study abroad programs saw their GPA increase across the board. Programs like this clearly do a great job in educating students, but they also expose them to a variety of new things, which is important for reasons outside of education, too.
3. They’ll Expand Their Worldview
In today’s world, borders and culture lines seem to be vanishing in front of our very eyes. For this reason, it’s essential to let your child become immersed in an intercultural and interconnected world. 94% of students who studied abroad found it easier to interact with people outside of their culture, and their experiences abroad still influence how they interact with people from different cultures. More than half of those surveyed also said that it inspired them to explore other cultures outside their own. Another added benefit is that many of countries that are popular with study abroad programs report lower engagement in crime, and significantly lower enrollment in alcohol and drug rehab treatment programs. Spending time fully immersed in a new culture is an incredible experience that helps students learn things that no classroom could ever teach, and if your kids are anything like me, they’ll come back with a treasure trove of new recipes for you to try.
4. Long Term Benefits
It’s clear that in the short term, studying abroad offers plenty of benefits. But what about the long term? An overwhelming amount of students responded to a survey stating that their study abroad experience influenced their choice of major, and influenced all of their educational experiences afterwards. In fact, a majority cited it as a major reason for pursuing further education, including Master’s or Doctorate degrees. Even after college, many found that their study abroad experience influenced their future career choice. Study abroad experiences and internships look incredible on resumes and school applications alike, making everything that follows a study abroad experience much easier. In fact, 97% of students who studied abroad found employment in 12 months of graduating, while only 49% of students who didn’t study abroad found employment. Even in those careers there is a marked difference: students who studied abroad were found to make 25% more than those who didn’t study abroad. A study abroad program may only last a year or less, but the difference it makes can clearly last a lifetime.
The first day after my plane landed, I cried on a Skype call with my mom. In fact, the first two weeks of my time there, all I wanted to do was go home. My mom convinced me, however, that it was going to be the most rewarding year of my life. And despite not believing a word of it, I slowly realized she was right. It took time, but slowly I immersed myself in the culture of a place that was both literally and conceptually foreign to me. I made friends. I traveled on my own. I stopped being scared when I couldn’t read a sign or understand directions. I learned more than I ever thought possible, and two years after I saw my parents crying at airport security, I saw them cry again as I graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees at the top of my program in Japanese and English language arts. It may have felt brave to go, but the sacrifices and bravery of my parents were something I didn’t understand for a long time after that, and not until I saw all the changes studying abroad had made in my life. But in reality, I don’t thank study abroad for making me a better, more educated person. I thank my parents for letting me have this incredible journey. Without them, and without studying abroad, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It may be difficult, but letting your child study abroad might be the single most important and meaningful thing you could ever do for your children. It was for me.
Image credit: Westminster College Fulton MO, UFV Study Abroad, Modern Languages @ FLCC
Author BIO: Victor Uhlman is a writer, photographer, and film lover living in Detroit, MI. He currently blogs about drug and alcohol addiction, and how to move beyond them. You can find him on his days off cooking, playing hockey, or watching Netflix with his cat Luke Skywalker.
If you would like to submit a guest post on food, wine or travel to Where and What in the World, I would be happy to feature your travel experience , drink, special wine tasting, or family or simply delicious recipe. If you go to submission tab, you will see how to submit, as well as have the opportunity of telling me if you would like to would like to be a regular contributor. When uploading a file for submission, you are also able to upload jpegs. Please feel free to put a last paragraph about you and a link to your profile. No html please. You can also include a head shot.