We all know someone that has studied abroad in Europe. I get it. The attraction of the Eiffel tower in Paris, smashing plates in Greece, and Hogwarts in the U.K. are all hard to beat. There is no worrying about languages, and the cultures do not typically require much adjustment. In essence, Europe is an experience abroad not straying too far from the norms of home. There is nothing wrong with this. Europe can be a rewarding experience, and lots of people love it there. I’m just going to tell you a few reasons why the road less traveled is worth it when considering where to study abroad.
Before even leaving the U.S., the benefits of choosing somewhere besides Europe are present in your wallet. Not only are there more university and national scholarships for regions like Latin America and Asia, but they pay more on average as well. When I studied abroad, I received the Gilman Scholarship. Usually this award pays 3,000-5,000 dollars, but because I was going to China and taking mandarin classes, I received 8,000 dollars from just one scholarship. This was well over half of my total cost abroad!
Studying abroad in a non-traditional location helps you in the job market too. Interning somewhere like South Africa makes your resume stand out, and gives you an easy talking point for your interview. Since coming back, there hasn’t been a single interview where the person hiring didn’t ask me about my life working in China. Even if you only took classes, or stayed a few weeks, bringing up your trip abroad in the interview will get their attention. This won’t guarantee you the job, but the interviewer will definitely remember you compared to other applicants.
Living in a culture different from western traditions sets the stage for a truly individualized experience. When you go somewhere besides Europe you literally live a different life, throwing your old habits out the window for new ones. Instead of coffee, you may be meeting up with people for tea. Rather than going to the movies, karaoke might be the new group thing to do. What is normal for everyone else will be a very odd experience for you.
My weirdest memory abroad is sitting in an old French mansion, eating German ice cream, listening to Christmas music, in mid-July, in Shanghai. Weird, funny, confusing, or all of the above, quirky memories like this make your trip abroad something to reflect on the rest of your life.
Excluding this year’s Brexit, Europe is not often at the forefront of international affairs. The opposite is true for regions with mostly industrializing nations. Going to places with more international attention brings you face-to-face with history in the making. When people talk about things like, China fighting the U.S. for power over the South China Sea, you get to say you were there when it happened. It doesn’t matter if you are an International Relations and Global Studies major like me, or just someone who occasionally watches the news. Having the ability to associate what you study and see on T.V. with what is happening right in front of you alters your perspective of the world forever. This change in perspective is what makes study abroad important not just for you as a student, but as a human being too.
I can’t tell you what destination is right for you. I can’t say that one region is comparatively better than another region either. But, when I look at the advantages I’ve had as a result of studying abroad somewhere different from the norm, it would be criminal of me not to tell other people what they are missing out on.