“Study abroad. Broaden your horizons, meet new people and have a fancy line for your CV!“ However, does the – seemingly – simple concept live up to the hype surrounding it? Is it worth the effort (and money)? Please note that most of this analysis applies predominantly to degree courses (i.e. not exchange programmes for short periods of time) and is based on personal experience.
Usually, the main reason students are so tempted to 'run away' from their home country is that they want to attend a better university or follow a course that is available only abroad. Fortunately, in most cases, students succeed in getting a better education (albeit this is highly subjective). If you choose your university and programme wisely, you are likely to land in an environment where professors are encouraging and their lectures make sense, your classmates are motivated and ask thought-provoking questions, members of staff are helpful and a library becomes your second (third) home.
It is clear that you cannot live in your own bubble, you will have to engage with others. You will be confronted with a (maybe completely) different culture and style of living. Different beliefs, superstitions and prejudices, religion, food, music… or even a different language. For example, my Dutch housemate once walked into the kitchen in his extremely dirty shoes and washed them in the sink. I was flabbergasted, because in my country (Czech Republic) wearing anything else than your indoor shoes in your flat is out of the question (and do not get me started on the mere idea of putting them where dishes normally belong).
Anyway, if you are a social animal, you will (get to) love these cultural exchanges and they will enrich you forever – not to mention the benefit of having 500 [Facebook] friends scattered all around the globe who can prove to be invaluable contacts one day.
On the other hand, there is more to studying abroad than the official leaflets tell you. From my experience, getting used to a new country and learning to stand on your own two feet is quite easy. Sure, you make mistakes (and sometimes get embarrassed), but you will learn. Eventually. My theory is that once you cannot go and visit your parents every weekend (and get fed), you have to grow up. Being an adult has nothing to do with age; you are an adult once you can live (survive) independently.
Of course, independence and the feeling “I can do whatever I want“ can easily backfire – especially if you find yourself in a liberal country like the Netherlands. Actually, I call it the freedom effect. You might know that in this country, smoking marijuana is legal. Many international students fall prey to this lure – and suffer the consequences after receiving their final grades.
Unfortunately, there is one big issue with studying abroad that is not always carefully considered (and the corollary is an emotional Big Bang): Relationships. It is very difficult to leave the ones you love and see them only during your holidays (i.e. you can count the number of times you see them each year using your fingers – of one hand). Naturally, you may object to this by saying “Yeah, but we have Skype and Facebook and mobile phones and…“ No. It is not the same. Especially with your significant other it is not the same. Which is not to say that it cannot be done and that such a relationship cannot last.
Lastly, many people forget that university is not just for studying, but also making connections. Regrettably, this makes it much harder for you to go back to your home country to earn a living there, because most of your professional contacts are related to the country where you studied. Again, I am not saying that it cannot be done, but merely that it can complicate one´s life.
Overall, from my perspective of an economist-to-be, if you weigh the pros and cons of getting a degree abroad, it is definitely worth it. It might not suit everybody, but for those who are tempted and want to be challenged, it is a grown-up decision to make.
Written by Lenka Habetinova