Study Abroad: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
by Juan Avila
When I received my college acceptance letters, many factors weighed in on selecting the right college: the feel of the campus environment, the location of the college, the size of the classrooms, the student-faculty ratio… the list goes on. For some of us, study abroad may be one of the factors that influences our decision to commit to a particular college. For others, study abroad is something that we think of later on when the opportunity presents itself.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I really considered studying abroad. As much as I wanted to go, there were also many questions that I needed to ask myself:
Where would I study abroad?
Why do I want to study abroad?
Does it fit into my schedule?
What will I gain from it?
The list goes on. After giving it a great deal of thought, I finally chose to apply to study abroad in Strasbourg, France. I was taking French at the time and I figured it’d be a great way to practice the language and immerse myself in the culture. I considered studying in a Spanish-speaking country (where I could speak the language fluently), but ended up choosing France because I wanted to know what it was like to learn — and even struggle to learn — a foreign language in a new country.
My parents came to the United States with Spanish as their primary language. I always wondered what it must have been like for my parents when they first came to the States in terms of the language and cultural barriers they experienced. No matter how hard I try to put myself in their shoes of learning a new language in a different country, I will never know the full extent of the language barriers and cultural challenges that they have faced. However, studying abroad in France allowed me to experience some of the challenges that come with adapting to a foreign language, a different culture, and a new environment.
After I submitted my study abroad application materials, I waited a few weeks to hear back and I was glad to have gotten accepted. However, it was one thing to get accepted and another to fully commit to the program. It’s kind of surreal knowing you have the opportunity to study in another country. Was I really gonna do this? What if it doesn’t turn out how I imagine it? I heard a lot of great things from students who studied abroad, but it wasn’t until the week I got accepted that I started hearing about students’ bad experiences. If I committed to studying abroad, how would my experience turn out? Would it be the experience of a lifetime, or one that I may regret? It’s hard to know, but one thing was for sure: I would rather take the risk and find out, than regret not having done it in the first place. Thus, I clicked on the “commit” button on the study abroad portal, submitted the necessary paperwork, attended the mandatory informational orientations, and now here I am studying abroad in a foreign country.
Would I recommend that every college student partake on study abroad, if given the opportunity? I do believe it to be an invaluable experience, so I would definitely suggest it if you have even the slightest interest. However, I would also recommend asking students who have studied abroad previously about their good and not-so-good experiences. It can be very easy to idealize the idea of study abroad, so it’s good to ask about the highs and lows that come with it before making the decision to study in another country.
Here are some tips I would give to a student embarking on their studying abroad journey:
- Explore! Meet new people, try new foods, and venture into your surroundings. It can be challenging at times, but it’s what makes studying abroad an unforgettable experience.
- Document your experiences. Whether it’s taking pictures of the places you visit or writing about your adventures, make sure to have something where you can reflect on your time abroad.
- If you study abroad in a country where you are learning the language, then speak it as much as you can. It’s frustrating making mistakes and struggling to find the right words — trust me, I’ve made many mistakes when breaking out my franglais — but it’s all worth it in the end.
Juan Avila, a native San Franciscan, is a rising junior majoring in Economics at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This past spring quarter, Juan had the opportunity to study abroad in France and wrote about his experiences studying abroad upon his return.