What Do You Lose When You Study Abroad?

Photo by Annie Bell '17 | Many students choose to study abroad in Europe for their entire junior year.

Photo by Annie Bell ’17 | Many students choose to study abroad in Europe for their entire junior year.

Sophia Zhu ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor 

We always talk about what we can achieve if we study abroad. However, study abroad is not the only option. The difficulties that we experience when studying abroad are meaningful to our growth, but we should not ignore the fact that there are many things we lose in the meantime that study abroad experiences may not compensate for. Nevertheless, this article is not to meant discourage students from studying abroad. Rather, keeping potential costs in mind and finding coping strategies in advance can ensure a worthwhile and memorable study abroad experience.

Assume your foreign language ability is far from fluent. You’ll have to expect a “personality change.” Though your major personality traits will stay the same, your identity as a foreigner will affect how people in this new environment perceive you. One change you’ll feel is that you can no longer be funny, not only because you don’t know how to tell jokes in a foreign language, but also because you are a cultural outsider. In order to be funny, you have to be sensitive to social and cultural cues. In a foreign environment, therefore, your charisma may be largely limited. Limitations caused by your lack of knowledge concerning a country’s cultural identity will have repercussions beyond the inability to tell jokes. You may become a quieter person because you’ll feel a loss of control over things surrounding you. These feelings of insecurity may stop you from becoming comfortable in public. Also, in order to conform to the local culture, you might overthink your behavior and thereby abandon your youthful and adventurous spirit during your stay in a foreign country. Upon falling back into your former social network, you’ll regain your true personality. On the other hand, your foreign friends may have made an impression on you.

The preparation for study abroad, therefore, should include an awareness that you will be experiencing some unpredictable changes, which is completely normal. Since your familiarity with the new environment has increased, your knowledge of another culture and its different perspectives will allow you to become integrated among your friends again. Adopting a different personality while speaking a foreign language is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, I tend to be more straightforward and expressive when speaking English because it is my second language. Social influences on individuals are enormous. Language itself is a powerful tool for the transformation of an individual.

If you study in a foreign college, it could be difficult for you to articulately express your ideas. College education requires high-level verbal skills. Even taking in information takes energy, and, despite your efforts, you might still fail to catch key points. In this way, the efficiency of studying in such disadvantaged conditions is called into question and demonstrates the cost of not studying in your native country.

A self-assessment and cost-benefit analysis are necessary. Study abroad is a good opportunity, but many things, such as time and monetary costs, are at stake. It is always beneficial to consider whether your ability to study would suffer before deciding to study abroad.

For those who study in a foreign nation for more than one year, or for those who desire to also get some work experience, networking can be difficult. Easier networking opportunities in a college in your native country represent the opportunity cost.

Overall, the feeling of isolation can accompany your entire stay in a foreign country. Study abroad is an experience involving advantages and significant difficulties. You need to base your decision on the costs and benefits rather than forcing yourself to go on a study abroad program without thorough consideration. Though others often encourage us to believe that difficulties can all be solved through time and effort, one must consider whether their study abroad experience would be beneficial for them.

One Comment

  1. This is an interesting article and very helpful. Hopefully students excited about study abroad will read this and understand that their expectations may need to be balanced with a few realities. Information is a good thing.

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