I studied abroad. So, now what? The good news/bad news of the situation is that I’m in good company. The Mizzou J-School routinely pronounces that one-third of their students engage in international opportunities. The Institute of International Education continually reports that numbers of American students studying abroad is rising. But it also means that an experience like this isn’t special and is more likely to be overlooked in the long run.
This Universiy of Illinois student thinks studying abroad is a waste, because the educational and cultural opportunities that most students look for when studying abroad can be better found within our borders.
He’s wrong. But I don’t just want to tell him that. I want to show him (and you) why spending time abroad is beneficial in the long run.
I recently returned from a semester at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. I did all the normal study abroad things: met new people, traveled, ate delicious food, etc. It was a great time, and I’m thrilled I got those opportunities. But I determined to make this experience amount to something more than just six months of “frolicking around Europe,” as the Illinois student put it.
I acquired great language skills, amassed an international network and have an increased cultural perspective. I recently attended an event for students who had returned to Mizzou after going abroad. The advisor from the International Center says that during the first seven months after a student has returned, the study abroad experience is relevant and present in their lives. After that, he says it usually starts to lose importance and significance.
Follow me as I try to not be one of those students. I’ll be looking at ways to continually use my language skills (forewarning, Spanish will be my main focus, but some things could apply to any non-native language you are trying to use), maintain professional and personal relationships with students and professors I met and stay engaged with the things I learned abroad.
For those of you who have gone abroad and then returned, what initial experiences did you have being back in the country?