Should I study abroad during college?

There are many reasons to study abroad during college. It’s a great resume builder that shows future employers the work you have done to become a culturally competent person. These experiences also lay a foundation for future travel and cultural experiences. You’ll be comfortable navigating local transportation and communicating through language barriers. Plus, studying abroad often kindles further travel, exploration and learning.

If you’re thinking about going overseas during your undergraduate education, here are some additional points to consider.

Choosing a program

There are many different study abroad program providers. Find out what programs your college partners with to ensure your credits will be honored. Even if you book a summer experience, you will likely need to be actively enrolled at your university. Start exploring your options early in your college career to ensure you’ll be able to graduate on time. Some programs are designed with certain majors in mind. Talk to your academic advisor. They may have knowledge about the right type of program for your interests. Some programs may include internship or other practical experience.  

Cost/financial considerations

Scholarships and financial aid may also be available. Here are three possible sources:

Your college: check to see if your college offers scholarships specifically for cross-cultural exchange. Determine your eligibility (income, GPA, etc.) and the programs in which the aid can be used.

National scholarships: The most popular study abroad scholarship available to students nationwide is the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Administered since 2001, applicants must have financial need and be receiving a Federal Pell Grant.

Study abroad programs: If you are using a study abroad company to facilitate your experience, check with them to see if they offer scholarships. For example, CIEE, a program with more than 40 study abroad locations, offers scholarships to students with demonstrated financial need, proven academic merit, or for specific CIEE programs.

Reasons to study abroad according to a college professor

Dr. Paul Neufeld Weaver, director of global education at Bluffton University, has traveled to more than 27 countries. During college, he studied abroad in Honduras and Costa Rica and learned Spanish. Now, he encourages students to gain similar experiences.  

“I advise students when they go to college to be an active participant in their education. Not just a passive recipient of education. Think about the kind of person you want to be and make sure you’re getting the kind of education that will help you become that person. While there are a lot of good books and classes that will help you learn, it isn’t the same as immersing yourself in a different culture. Don’t pass up the opportunity to have an experience which will affect you and change you and help you grow on multiple levels simultaneously.

It may be something that pushes your comfort zone because it means traveling with new people, going to sites you’ve never been, trying new foods and staying in new places. However, it’s exactly those things that makes studying abroad a much more impactful experience and one that’s transformative. The experience will provide you with new perspectives on yourself, on others and on the world that will inform your future work, your future study and your future relationships.”

Thoughts from current students who studied abroad!

“My cross-cultural experience was life changing. I went to Germany, Czechia and Poland and as a history minor who studied Nazi Germany, it was eye-opening to be in the places I’ve read about. I had never left the United States before, and I am extremely grateful that I was able to choose a trip that allowed me to get out of my comfort zone.” – Olivia D.  

“There is no other way to be totally immersed in a culture other than to go and live and be with people of that culture. It definitely has its challenges. Ecuador was so far away and there was a significant language barrier, but this helped me find other ways to communicate effectively. There are so many things to learn outside of traditional college classes, and this seems to be the best way to do it.” – Shelby S.

“My piece of advice is to EXPLORE, EXPLORE, EXPLORE! This is uncharted territory for many people so it is important to visit as many places as you can while you are there. You never know when you will be able to do an experience like this again, and you do not want to leave saying ‘I wish I would have gone to…’ or ‘What if…’” – Carter R.

At Bluffton University…

Choose a short-term opportunity led by Bluffton faculty or study abroad for a semester through a partner program such as Central American Study and Service (CASAS). Referred to as cross-cultural experiences at Bluffton, alumni often say immersing themselves in a new culture was the most impactful part of their education. A cross-cultural experience is a great resume builder that develops you into a global citizen. At graduation, you’ll have the education, skills and understanding to make a difference in the world.

Written by Tricia Bell, content manager, with input by Paul Neufeld Weaver, director of global education