While I was going to college, I never had the opportunity to enroll in a study abroad program. However, a number of years later, I took the opportunity to move to Spain and lived there for four years. During my time there, I met a number of American college students, as well as college students from foreign countries enrolled in the Erasmus program. After getting to know them, and seeing the parallels between their experience and my own, I realized what a valuable experience that it can be for American college students to study abroad.
Temporarily suspending inhibiting factors like the availability of a study abroad program in your school and/or financial constraints, let’s look at the benefits of studying abroad: learning a language, making diverse new friends, distinguishing yourself and granting yourself the richest college experience possible.
Of course most of the benefits of learning a language are obvious. Learning a language rounds you out as a person, and puts you a step ahead of most other Americans who are linguistically challenged, to put it diplomatically. However there are other considerations. One is that the world has become a global community. By showing that you have a global perspective and think about people and cultures outside of American borders, you open yourself to a whole new territory of common ground to share with new people you meet. After living in Spain, and having French, Italian, Swiss and Irish roommates, I’m rarely at a loss to find something in common with a stranger I’ve just met. You never know what that stranger might bring to your life, whether it’s romance, a job, or maybe a lifelong friendship.
That brings us to making new friends. When you’re young, you might not fully realize the importance of friends, and not cherish them enough. You can never have enough quality friends from as many backgrounds possible. I have two friends in Spain I call “hybrids.” They are both half Spanish and half Americans. I never met a Spaniard in the United States before I moved to Spain, much less a “hybrid.” I didn’t know they existed! The amazing experiences that I’ve had with them, due to their ability to bridge cultures and countries are truly astounding. They were always able to help me understand even the most subtle aspects and nuances of Spanish culture, whether it was slang, traditions, customs or taboos. Seemingly overnight, an entire new world opened to me, which broadened my knowledge all thanks to them.
This knowledge will undoubtedly come in very handy after you graduate. The business world is becoming more global by the day. If you have the ability to distinguish yourself on your resume and separate yourself from the competition, this can give you an edge when looking for a job. The three top most spoken languages in the world are Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish. You already know English. If you can learn Chinese or Spanish, in addition to English, you can speak with an enormous amount of people. Besides, American businesses have many offices in Spain, South America and China. Considering how difficult it is for college grads to find work in the States currently, you might be extremely pleased when you find out that the company you’re interviewing with has offices in a country where you speak the language. The company will be impressed by this, and also by your confidence to venture out of the generic formula for college success.
Among other things, traveling builds tons of confidence. When living in a foreign country, even the most trivial everyday chores and errands can become tricky obstacles. At first, you’re awkward, stumble and look ridiculous at times. But then you start getting a hang of things and before you know it, you’re mitigating the stickiest of situations. All these little stories, encounters, endeavors and vignettes mold you into a person you never realized that you could become. You fully realize your potential instead of trying to one up people with petty competitions over dorm stuff. And it’s each one of these experiences that not only make you a better and more interesting person, but they also act as a lush catalog to choose from when answering a tough interview question, that can make the difference between you getting the job of your dreams and being stuck in a cubicle. That’s why you should think outside the cubicle and consider studying abroad.