Why Study Abroad Should Be Mandatory

Nigel Dollentas
Jul 28, 2018 · 9 min read

I know it has been a minute since my last article, but a lot has happened behind the scenes.

Since I published What Studying Abroad 7,100 Miles From Home Taught Me:

  • I’ve launched my personal website, nigeldollentas.com.
  • I’ve been writing more for BTCManager/BitcoinNews
  • I’ve launched NXT Gen Podcast, a podcast for Millennial/Gen Z.

And it was the last one that got me back here and writing this article. Specifically, a recent episode I did talking about the importance of travel.

While I typically present the advantages of something I want to persuade my listener/viewer/reader and neglect the disadvantages, let me directly address any downsides that studying abroad may have first.

The downsides I will be negating are taken from this article if anyone wants to read that. It’ll give a little bit more backstory, allowing what I’m going to say below to make more sense.

Disadvantages Of Studying Abroad(And Why I Think They’re Irrelevant)

1. You probably will not get a better education overseas.

My first immediate retort is “you probably won’t get an education that’s worse”.

Let’s take a look at the latest PISA scores. The PISA exam is a worldwide exam taken every 3 years, measuring 15 year olds from countries already over the world.

I don’t think any commentary is necessary.

A “better” education is also subjective. Everyone has different weaknesses, strengths, and learning abilities.

But studying abroad also teaches a lot of unquantifiable factors, such as being comfortable with uncertainty, exposure to different cultures and societies, as well as perspective.

2. It’s expensive.

I’ve covered this before in a previous article, so I’ll cover it briefly and just link the article. Check out reason 5.

It can be sure, but usually, it’s not. Long story short, combine lower tuition (if there is a tuition, some countries are free), lower living expenses, and scholarship opportunities for massive savings.

3. You can step out of your comfort zone in your college town.

I mean, this isn’t a wrong statement. The article claims that “new cultures and experiences are just a dorm room away” but it’s not the same.

Whatever culture and experiences will be watered down, and yes it’s different, but it’s not authentic. The article argues “it may be more challenging to seek out new cultures and experiences within your university life” , in the context that it will push you outside of your comfort zone, which sounds like a disadvantage to me.

Also, students also miss out on massive amounts of growth. There’s a difference between sticking your toe in the pool and jumping into the deep end.

4. Now is not the only time in your life you can travel or live abroad.

No, it’s not. But it’s the easiest and most socially acceptable time to.

Summer and winter breaks allow for travel without having to ask off work or dealing with other commitments. People’s expectations of 20 year olds are to “have fun, see the world” (another topic for another time) while someone in their 30’s and 40’s would be given weird looks if they tried to do the same thing.

Jobs don’t usually let employees relocate for weeks to months on end, while that same ability in college is a couple signatures away.

5. You miss out.

On what?

Taken from the article:

Even though you may be having a great time in (insert European city here), you only get four years at college. Students will try to stay in touch, but it’s hard. Back in College World, life goes on without you. Clubs elect new leaders, friends figure out housing situations for the following year, people date and break up — and you watch (some of) it happen over Skype. And before you know it, you’re walking across a stage towards a diploma having missed five months worth of college stories you’ll never get back. By that point you may realize that short time in London probably wasn’t worth it.

I’m not sure if the author of this article is familiar with opportunity cost. Typically used in investing, it’s a term that applies to any situation where a choice is being made.

Investopedia defines it as:

Opportunity cost represents the benefits an individual, investor or business misses out on when choosing one alternative over another.

Source

In simpler terms, it’s what you miss out when you make a choice. If you go to a restaurant and order water, your opportunity cost is every other drink. If you date Jake, your opportunity cost is John, Jim, Adam, etc.

For me, the comparison seems to between experiences that you have any time you’re at your home university vs once in a lifetime experiences made in countries all over the world.

And they’re not just experiences that occur at college. Your first flight alone, handling yourself when you miss the bus due to a delayed flight and have to navigate the Korean subway to barely make it in time for curfew (true story), clubbing until 6 am, learning a new culture, those are all things that can’t be replicated back home.

Advantages of A Mandatory Study Abroad Within Curriculum

While looking at the opposite and addressing it has actually expressed quite a bit of the upside of studying abroad, there is still some things I’d like to say.

Exposure to New Culture, Values, Beliefs

In a world that has become more globalized, many companies are going international. The workforce has become more diverse, with people of all ages, races, and walks of life.

People need to learn how to work with all kinds of people, and studying abroad will teach students how to tolerate and accept differences, making them a better worker and person.

Note: IES Abroad is a leading provider of study abroad programs within the USA for college. It is to not be confused with actually begin a study abroad program.

Survey results from various questionnaires support this, and their findings state:

  • One study reported that 80% of study abroad students questioned were able to adapt better to diverse work environments, thanks to Study Abroad.
  • Another survey looked at 50 year alumni of their study abroad program, with 89% of them saying study abroad enabled them to better tolerate ambiguity, and 95% stating that study abroad had a lasting impact on their worldview.

Study Abroad Shows Improvements In The “Real World” Too

For those looking for more solid numbers, check out these figures:

  • Looking to get into grad school? 90% of Alumni got accepted into their 1st or 2nd choice graduate or professional school.
  • Or how about a job? I know I am. Again, nearly 90% of Alumni found their first job within 6 months of graduation, compared to 49% of the general college population.
  • And not only did these students find just any job, 65% of them found a career, in a time frame that met or exceeded expectations.
  • Similar results were reflected in the UK, with a lower percentage of graduates being unemployed (5.4% vs 6.7%), and study abroad graduates earning more in 11 out of 17 areas if they remained within the UK and 40 out of 67 areas if they went abroad.

Study Abroad Helps Students Do Better In School When They Get Back

For those worried about their GPA or their performance in school suffering because of time away, worry not.

  • A Georgia study showed that the mean GPA of their control group was 3.24 before heading overseas, but rose to 3.30 after returning.

The Georgia report showed some smaller improvements than the rest of the study but I love this quote from the article:

“At worst, it can have relatively little impact on some students’ educational careers. And at best it enhances the progress toward degree. It enhances the quality of learning as reflected in things like GPA.”

And it’s true. At worse, you’ll receive an education that is on par with what you get back home. At best, it’ll be a life changing time in your life, that will totally change your trajectory moving forward. I’ll take those odds.

Okay… But HOW Could We Implement Campus/Curriculum Wide Study Abroad?

There’s an interesting article I’d like to reference, an article about how a business school actually did require all undergraduates to study abroad in some way, shape, or form.

They achieved this through a group effort of policy change, good communication with faculty, and approaching all the students with the assumption they were studying abroad.

Keep the requirement broad, be flexible, work closely with faculty and the relevant administrative units on campus — including the offices of admissions and financial aid — and advise early and often.

Create Dialogue, Have Additional Campus Resources

By lowering the barrier as low as possible for studying abroad, this allowed the requirement to meet a wide range of financial situations. Everything from a 2 week spring break to a year long exchange was acceptable.

A big reason why study abroad is rare in the USA (Only 1.6% of all US students enrolled at college do) is that there’s no dialogue for it.

No one mentions it in high school, and it’s usually an addressed afterthought mentioned if someone brings it up during college orientation.

If a bigger focus was put on creating a dialogue earlier in students lives, that alone would help study abroad enrollment rates skyrocket. This doesn’t cost the colleges anything, and perhaps very few additional man hours. This is an easy implementation.

Another fix which costs a little bit more in terms of resources would be allocating additional staff for Study Abroad advising. That, or educating everyone’s existing advisor to be capable of also advising for Study Abroad.

In Troy, there is one study abroad advisor. One. If there is to be a focus on increasing student participating, the infrastructure needs to be in place to handle the scaling.

What ended up happening for the business school when they implemented this (and a couple other things) was participation rates of studying abroad approaching 100%. There were 2 students who couldn’t go, due to medical reasons.

And still, they traveled to a different state and studied “abroad”.

The most popular destinations students chose were Italy, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and China for faculty-led programs. For longer term programs, Britain, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Australia were favored.

The reason why I mention this is because all of the above countries are part of the G20, an international forum that represents the top 20 economies in the world and produces around 85% of the gross world product (GWP).

It may be a reach, but I think this ties in with the fact that our world is becoming more connected, and it’s even important for business students (study abroad isn’t just for “easy” majors) to learn how other countries function.

I’ve noticed just in my community the influx of people considering studying abroad, simply due to these articles and me talking about it. If we can get the dialogue going, I’m sure many will follow.

Nigel Dollentas

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Writer for Bitcoin Pr Buzz, Bitcoin News, and BTCManager. Photographer, Videographer, Occasional Youtuber and Blogger.