Education abroad offers personal benefits to participants. On the more superficial side, it provides an opportunity to travel and see other parts of the world at a time when most students are less likely to be burdened by career and family commitments. It also provides a ready-made context in which to meet people from different backgrounds and nationalities.
On a deeper level, education abroad provides great opportunity for personal growth. By exposing us to unfamiliar situations and ideas, it helps develop independence, flexibility and tolerance of ambiguity. Moreover, by viewing ourselves through the mirror of one or more different cultures, we have the opportunity to critically examine our own culture and beliefs, reinforcing some and altering or discarding all together others.
As a Moorish proverb says, “He who does not travel does not know the value of men.”
Education abroad offers students the opportunity to enrich their academic study by viewing a subject from a perspective otherwise unavailable at home. For instance, a student of World War II would find a different perspective on the events in Germany and Japan, or even in Poland or the United Kingdom. A student of biology might have the opportunity to observe and study flora and fauna in or close to their native habitats.
Moreover, studies have shown correlation (not necessarily causation) between participation in education abroad and higher grades and higher rates of on-time graduation. Some studies have shown that education abroad may even affect the way our brains are wired.
The ancient Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca wrote, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”
When presented well, education abroad participation can be a valuable asset in one’s job search and career after graduation. International internships perhaps may be the most obvious way to connect one’s international experience to his/her career goals. However, even other education abroad experiences can develop skills transferable to the world of work, including independence, autonomy, the ability to think differently and a tolerance for ambiguity.
In the modern world and globalized economy, international and/or intercultural experience is an essential part of one’s education. When one considers the growing diversity of the US population, this is true even for students who do not envision themselves entering international business or politics. Doctors, nurses, educators, social workers, scientists, local business people and many more will have patients, students, clients and/or colleagues from a variety of backgrounds.
In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, one company president identified “strong collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills” as essential for new employees, stating, “I have to be sure the people we hire today are fit for tomorrow.”
In a separate ABC News article, one hiring director who matches candidates with internships abroad stated, "In today's day and age, having a global worldview is necessary."
This statement is borne out in a recent study by the British Council, Culture at Work: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace, which surveyed managers at 367 large employers in nine (9) countries, including the United States. When asked about the importance of intercultural skills to their organization, 58% of those US respondents indicated such skills were “very important” and a further 30% identified them as “fairly important”. Moreover, US respondents identified “finding qualified candidates” as the top business concern outside of economic and market-related challenges.
In 2012, third-party education abroad program provider IES Abroad surveyed over 1,000 students who had participated in an IES program and graduated from college from 2006-2011. Of those respondents, 90% secured a job within six (6) months of graduating, 84% felt their education abroad experience helped them build job skills and 50% felt their education abroad experience helped them land their first jobs.
While students are encouraged to study another language, both as a matter of principle and to enrich their education abroad experience, many program options allow participants to study in English regardless of the language spoken in the host country.
While some may take a little more research, there are program options for nearly any major. For those that may be a little more difficult for one reason or another, students may also opt to focus on general education requirements, electives or other aspects of their degree programs while abroad. Completing a co-op or internship abroad may also be an option.
Some students have work and family obligations and others have highly structured academic programs, which they feel prevent them from finding time to participate in an education abroad program. However, semester- and academic year-length programs are not the only options. Many programs exist that allow students to go abroad for anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months during the summer.
While this is a variation of “I don’t have time to study abroad” in some ways, it is worth addressing separately. As mentioned above, students have a number of summer options available to them and are able to satisfy a number of different degree requirements with education abroad coursework. Furthermore, resident credit restrictions are waived for education abroad. With proper planning and discussion with an academic advisor, any student should be able to participate in education abroad and graduate on time. It is also worth noting that studies have shown a correlation between participation in education abroad and higher rates of on-time graduation.
While it is true that certain education abroad options are costly, there are also many options that are approximate to or less than the cost of staying at The University of Akron for a given term. Moreover, financial aid and scholarships are available to help manage education abroad costs. Furthermore, like education in general, students may also wish to view education abroad as an investment in themselves and their futures.
While the Junior year is the most traditional time to participate in education abroad, it is increasingly common for students to do so at other times during their studies. It may be possible, for instance, to participate in a short-term, faculty-led education abroad program during the summer following one’s first year. Eligibility requirements vary according to each program, so students should research carefully. Students waiting to study abroad during their Senior year should be carefully to understand how and when credits will be applied to DARS and how that might impact their plans for graduation.
To some degree, this depends on how one defines “last minute”. Application deadlines vary by program and/or program sponsor, and some deadlines may be much earlier than one expects. Moreover, many applications may have multiple parts that take time to complete and to do well. Students should begin their planning and research far enough in advance to allow time for the application process and to make informed decisions. A good rule of thumb is to begin exploring options on academic year before the desired term abroad.
In theory, this is true. However, traveling abroad for any length of time, let alone for an extended period, can be more difficult once students graduate and begin working. Furthermore, there are sources of financial assistance available to students that are not available to independent travelers. Moreover, simply traveling abroad is not the same experience as living and studying abroad.