How Do I Know If I Should Study Abroad?

Grace Worwa
January 13, 2022
students walking around the city
a picture of Grace Worwa

Grace Worwa is a senior majoring in Political Science at Gustavus Adolphus University. She is on a pre-law track and hopes to pursue a career in immigration law. Her decision to study abroad in Buenos Aires aligns with her goals to improve her Spanish language skills and learn more about the country’s women’s rights movement.

Whether or not you study abroad is an immense decision. It can squeeze your wallet dry, and it can put you so far outside your comfort zone that you can’t even see it anymore. People tell you that it’s worth it, but they don’t know you or your circumstances. How do you really know it will all be worth it?

I debated long and hard whether or not to study abroad in Buenos AiresCOVID-19 hit during my junior year, and my program date got pushed further and further back until my only option was to go during my last semester of undergrad or not at all. I had to choose between doing the program or attending my own graduation with my friends and family back home. I ultimately chose to study abroad, but not without a lot of agonizing and hesitation. The following are the top four factors that went into my decision. Hopefully some of them will help you make yours.

1. Consider the relevance of the study abroad experience to your career

In the long run, how will studying abroad benefit you professionally, and will those benefits balance out the financial cost? In my case, I wanted to pursue a career in immigration law, but I needed to become fluent in Spanish in order to better interact with clients. Thus, studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country was a professional necessity. Ask yourself how studying abroad would help you in your career. Would you take classes or participate in volunteer or internship experiences that are relevant to your field? If so, that’s a big sign that studying abroad is for you.

2. Talk to fellow students who have recently studied abroad

As prospective study abroad students, we always hear about how your time abroad can be “transformative”, but what does that mean? Since we haven’t yet had the experience ourselves, we need to ask others. A friend of mine described to me how the first few weeks of her semester in Spain were tough because it was difficult adjusting to the new language. Then, about a month in, she caught on, and suddenly she was conversing with locals and making new friends in her second language. Not only did this experience seem exciting and new to me, but it made the idea of studying abroad seem plausible—if this real live person could do it, then so could I.

3. Plan your budget

Career and self-growth are both fantastic, but the reality is that all of this will cost a good chunk of money. For some, this might even determine whether study abroad is even possible. Take a step back and evaluate your current financial situation. Use your school’s and your study abroad program’s estimates to calculate how much an entire semester abroad will cost, from plane tickets to groceries to housing. Then, brainstorm ways to cover the costs. Maybe that looks like a second job over the summer, or applying to as many scholarships as humanly possible. Your school study abroad advisor will have plenty of scholarship ideas for you to look into. At the end of it all, figure out where you’ll be financially once you return from your trip. Is it doable? And finally, ask yourself the most important question: Are you excited enough about this trip to put in the effort required?

4. Don't let fear hold you back

If each of the factors above points you in favor of studying abroad and for some reason you still want to say “no”, consider how much your own fear may be holding you back. This was the situation I found myself in, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s terrifying to think about leaving everything you know behind to live in a foreign country. But look at it this way. That fear you feel at taking this huge step into the unknown is just a sign that it’s worth doing.

Studying abroad will scare you. It will challenge you with unfamiliar circumstances and produce unforgettable experiences, and in the end, you’ll be a different person. Whether or not you study abroad is a personal choice. The factors weigh differently for everyone, and if you decide it’s just not for you, that’s totally okay. Just don’t let fear be your primary reason for saying no.

Read more of Grace's writing on her blog. Explore our programs and our scholarship and aid. Connect with a former IES Abroad student. Ready to say yes? Apply now.

Grace Worwa

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