This is a guest post by Maria Rainier. Read more about her at the end of this post.
This post could also be titled, “Top 10 Reasons to Get a Summer Job,” or “Top 10 Reasons to be Super Nice to the Parents This Summer.” The point is this: studying abroad in Italy and later in Vietnam were the two best decisions I made in college. Whatever doubts you may have, you’ll soon be able to set them aside.
- It’s the fastest and easiest way to learn a new language or brush up on an old one. Although I studied Italian for six months prior to my semester abroad there, there’s no guidebook as effective as a whole country full of potential tutors. Take advantage of every situation—from trips to the grocery store to drinks at the bar—as opportunities to learn the language and about the people who speak it. Locals are usually happy to help if it’s apparent you care about their culture.
- Improve your chances of employment during or after college. When you tell a potential employer that you completed a project or semester abroad, he or she hears three things: that you probably know another language, that you’ve communicated with people from diverse backgrounds, and that you’re a risk-taker but responsible enough to survive abroad. All of these things are attractive qualities in an increasingly globalizing economy.
- Expand your network. Who says you have to work in America or only with Americans? No matter where you are in your college career, it never hurts to start making connections—as friends or professionals. I met a fellow writer in Naples; not only did I have a traveling buddy for a few days, I also got a few helpful notes on the publishing business.
- Travel young. While it’s not true that you can only travel when you’re young, it’s certainly less of a guilt-trip if you do it now. You don’t have any kids to leave behind and you don’t have a mortgage weighing down your shoulders. Go now while you still can apply for scholarships and awesome student discounts.
- You actually can pay for it. Many schools offer scholarships and even jobs on their campuses abroad. Alternatively, depending on the amount of time you’ll be there, you can find a job locally. This prospect becomes more likely if you’ve already got a vague grasp on the local language; the rest will follow naturally as you adapt to your surroundings. If even this isn’t enough, I have two words for you: summer job.
- You’ll still be able to graduate on time. As long as you plan your other semesters accordingly (say, taking 21 credits instead of 16), you will make the deadline. And trust me: a semester spent abroad is so worth a semester in the library.
- Be an ambassador. You’ll likely learn a thing or two about what locals think about your mother country, but you can also teach them—through behavior and politely worded opinions—that not all Americans are the way they might think. (For example, we’re not all obnoxious tourists; some of us really are there to learn.) As a representative of your culture, you can encourage positive impressions whereas they might have only ever seen negative ones.
- Look at the world (and your mother country) in a new way. Immersing yourself in a foreign country is the best way to learn about its culture and history. Leave your prejudices at home, as Frederick Douglass said, and look at the world through the eyes of locals.
- Grow up. The three months I spent in Europe and the few weeks I spent in Asia were the most memorable and educational times of my life. I learned my limitations. I learned that, despite being a neurotic wreck on most days, I am capable of taking risks and reaping their rewards. I learned that I can survive a trip alone to Naples without getting lost or mugged (although I had my doubts sometimes). In those months, I was my own person, separate from my family and crew of friends I’d known for years and stripped of any crutches I’d been leaning on to survive. No semester of college or employment opportunity since has compared.
- It’s an excuse to get out of the classroom. Admittedly, you’ll probably be walking straight into another classroom (just in a foreign country), but then again you may end up in a castle, like I did when I studied literature under the de Rachewiltz family in Brunnenburg Castle. You might work in a vineyard instead of a laboratory and spend your weekends in Florence and Assisi instead of a dorm room. Studying poetry by the Grand Canal in Venice while eating gelato instead of sipping coffee in a dimly-lit classroom? Yes, please.