Students Should Be Required to Study Abroad


Photo taken from CrazyEgg

Students that travel abroad have many options of where they can study. Many have chosen specific places all over the world that offer the best education for their specific topic of study or future career path.

A fourteen-hour flight?

Uncomfortable plane seats and unappetizing airport food?

Traveling without your family for the first time?

All of these describe the experience of a student traveling to another country to study abroad. The idea doesn’t sound extremely appealing at first, especially when one considers that when this hypothetical student finally reaches their destination, they’ll be greeted by unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar sights and an unfamiliar bed to sleep in.

Yet behind the veil of initial terror, lies the experience of a lifetime. For years, students have returned from foreign countries, bursting to regale their family with tales of their time abroad. This enthusiasm for life, for discovery, for something new, is exactly why all students should be required to study abroad in high school.

The word “required,” carries, I realize, intense undertones of foreboding finality, but when the benefits of studying in a foreign country are considered, it begs the question as to why studying abroad isn’t already a mandatory high school activity.

Photo taken from TripSavvy
For a student traveling abroad, the long flight to another country is the nerve-wracking start of an amazing journey. Thanks to the stories of returning students, however, many have taken the risk to explore the world and embarked on the life-changing adventure.

It is widely known that teenagers have a reputation of being very short-sighted, or selfish. They attend high school, where they spend most of their time and see the same faces every day. Their life, in a way, revolves around themselves, their school, and the people in it.  To most students, high school is the whole world right now, and not much of the actual world beyond it is visible. Despite the efforts of teachers and parents, students struggle to understand themselves and their place in the world when they haven’t experienced it for themselves. What better way to expose them to the world in a safe, integrative way, then to send them to study abroad?

According to School Year Abroad, a program that places students in foreign schools and countries for a year, studying in another country gives teens “the opportunity to better understand world politics, to grasp pressing socioeconomic concepts and to [become] informed citizens of the world.”

Students learn to look beyond their high school bubble and see the actual world, as well as how to function in it. Long gone are the trivial concerns of high school, now replaced with a broader perspective of global issues. The stifling social anxiety surrounding all things “teen,” is replaced with a mature, adult confidence that gives students the courage to converse with new people, involve themselves in new things and make the most out of every situation that comes their way.

Photo by Emilie Anderson
Austrian exchange student, Felix Müller, stands for a photo before he heads off to school with his American host-sister, Emilie Anderson. Müller and the rest of his Austrian classmates have already met many new friends at their host sibling’s American high school.

This confidence comes from “finding oneself,” a common expression many travelers have used when describing the purpose of their adventures. In this case, it rings true.

Forbes, a media company and magazine, claims that learning in another country “changes the way high schoolers interact with the world” and “requires [them] to undertake more ‘grown-up’ challenges, such as… how to be self-sufficient, manage money, solve problems, network, plan and organize.”

Students are forced to learn how to take care of themselves, and what it’s like to be on their own— an extremely important skill that proves itself vital not only in college but throughout their life. They are given the opportunity to make independent decisions, without the influence of family, allowing them to ‘find themselves’ and return home with a clearer idea of who they are and where their interests lie— often revealing a possible college major or career choice to explore.

Beyond fending for themselves, students also learn what it’s like to fully immerse themselves in another culture and live like a local. They are exposed to new traditions and behaviors, and experience differences between their home country and their host country, both big and small.

Photo by Emilie Anderson
Enjoying the sun, Müller pets his host family’s dog during a weekend sailing trip. Soaking in the sun, he enjoyed his time on the water.

Felix Müller— one of the Austrian exchange student that visited Sage Creek High School— described his experience in America, highlighting the differences between his home country and the land of the free: “America is beautiful, and I’ve made many friends. In Austria, we don’t have a beach, and the food is different.”

The ‘new friends,’ that Müller mentions shines a light on another major perk of studying abroad— making foreign connections. Meeting new people around the world not only leads to lasting friendships but also serves as networking for future career possibilities. The ability to reach out to people in foreign countries and unite for career purposes, or adapt to new situations (such as living in a new country with a new culture) is something many colleges and employers look highly upon and would consider an advantage on a resume or application.

One student abroad program, Greenheart, explains that once students study abroad, “[they’ll] be inspired to seek out more new and different experiences, like volunteer trips, internships, discovering new places and meeting new people.”

Photo by Emilie Anderson
Müller and his host family smile after coincidentally meeting another Austrian exchange student visiting Sage Creek High School. Both host families had the same idea to show their exchange students the unique Sunny Jim cave that lies underneath the La Jolla Cave Store.

This thirst for adventure and discovery is something that colleges and employers recognize as unique to students that have traveled, and usually, value highly when searching through a pool of applicants— providing a leg up to those who have studied abroad.

Despite all of these advantages, both personal and professional, many still hesitate to become an exchange student or send their child to another country. When thinking of possible obstacles to studying abroad, the largest one is obvious: price.

Most programs ask for some sort of compensation, and for most families— with the price of college looming in the near future— sending their child on what seems like a glorified vacation seems like a waste of time and money. However, it doesn’t have to be.

Hundreds of scholarships specifically for studying abroad are available for students and can lessen the price of traveling or entirely cover the experience. In addition, students being required by schools to study in a foreign country may also open a discussion of possibly fundraising in order for schools to provide students with the funds needed to study abroad instead of leaving the responsibility of rummaging up the money solely on the student and their family. In truth, multitudes of money saving tips are out there for students to utilize, as long as one doesn’t mind a little research.

Photo by Emilie Anderson
A letter from Müller sums up his experiences with his host family. Upon returning to Austria, he couldn’t wait to tell his friends and family about his time in America.

As for wasting time by choosing to study abroad, or worrying that a student’s travels may end up as a ‘vacation’ more than an ‘education’, the advantages previously mentioned make it clear that the skills gained while studying abroad will serve students throughout their entire lives, and will aid them in the process of growing into mature, educated and worldly scholars.

The time to study abroad is now, while students are young and impressionable, and when they should be pushed to form opinions on the world from their own experience, rather than from the loudly stated, and poorly researched, opinion of a random sophomore boy in the middle of English class.

When asked if he would recommend his experience abroad to other students, Müller stated, “Of course, it was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot.” He finished by encouraging students to travel like he did to “see other countries and other cultures.”

The following Thursday afternoon, Müller departed back to Austria. Like many exchange students, he returned with new friends, new memories and most importantly— a new perspective.