The thought hadn’t even occurred to me, but once the seed was planted, there was no stopping it from taking root. Before the year was out, I was enrolled in the University of Heidelberg as part of the California State University exchange program. It was the single best decision I made while in college. Between the incredible new friends, the picturesque landscape of Heidelberg, and the copious amounts of cheap beer, I had more fun than I thought possible and became a lifelong advocate of study abroad programs. Whether you’re in high school, college, or wanting to go back to school, here are some reasons to consider hopping on a plane and picking up those credits overseas.
Not as Expensive as You Think
Aside from the plane ticket to get there, my living costs were virtually the same. I paid my same college tuition for the program, any financial aid I was eligible for still counted, and although the Euro was (is) much stronger than the US Dollar, Germany (like many countries around the world) offered a lifestyle for students that was far from breaking the bank. Living in student housing, my rent was subsidized and while I wasn’t living a lavish lifestyle, my living expenses ended up being about the same if not cheaper than while living at home. You’ll have to check the specifics of your country and your work eligibility, but in many countries a student visa enables you to work a certain number of hours. During my second semester, I was able to pick a part-time job with the university and that helped a lot too.
Learn Another Language
My parents were supportive of my desire to study abroad, but there was one requirement. I had to choose a country where English is not the native language. Damn. Next time, New Zealand. Learning a language is not an easy undertaking even for those of us gifted in that department, but studying abroad provides you the ideal environment for taking on this challenge. Between my German roommate, my intensive language courses, the part-time job, and the ability to take a plethora of university courses, I was able to devote every waking moment to learning the language. I had professors, students, and friends who were devoted to helping me through the process, which is not something that you’ll necessarily have as you travel or work overseas later in life. The student lifestyle is the most conducive to learning a second language. Take advantage of it.
Opportunity to Travel
Besides the obvious experience of staying in your host country and town, you’ll have ample opportunity to meander to nearby towns or countries. I saw more of Germany than I even imagined possible while taking advantage of off-season flight deals or weekend train passes, but I also managed to sneak in a few other countries as well. A weekend trip to Paris? Yes, please. A road trip with my German roommate to the Netherlands? Totally. A spring break trip to Belgium and Luxembourg? Check. Skiing in Austria? Check. Hiking in Switzerland? Done. And all of this managed with the constraints a meager student budget. Sweeeeeet.
Course Credit for Traveling
After one year in Germany, I had picked up enough additional credits to graduate with a degree in German in addition to my degree in English. That’s called winning. Traveling is the best classroom the world has to offer so while you’re collecting stories to tell over a beer, why not pick up some course credits too?
The most obvious reason. While I devoted a great portion of my time to studying, my year abroad still felt like one big party. I’ve lived in a few other countries since studying in Germany and I’ve traveled to many more, but I haven’t been able to emulate the experiences I had as an exchange student. For one year, I was forced to live outside of my comfort zone. I joined a running club, taught kayaking, took hip hop courses, sang in a choir, joined a kayaking club. There were so many adventures, new experiences, and amazing people (from Germany and all over the world), that every day was exciting and full of activity. Naturally there were days when I wanted nothing but to go back home, but even with those days in the mix, my experience was incredible and one that I would like to see every student have the opportunity to take advantage of. The life of a student is an amazing one and the life of an exchange student is just that much more awesome.