What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad in another country?

30 Answers

hnystrom's profile pic

hnystrom | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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One important experience to be gained from living abroad is empathy for other people who are different from us, especially those who come to visit or stay in the US.  In 1991 I viist Thailand for two weeks.  I had tried to learn some Thai before I went there and thought I was pretty good.

The first feeling I recall is what it felt like to be in the racial minority.  I was strongly aware of what it was to be different from everyone else.  I looked different.  I was taller than most people on the street.  I wasn't always acknowleged in a store or at the train station.  I wasn't used to the hot tropical climate. I was aware how my eyes, hair, and skin color were different.  In the US I walk around without thinking about this at all.  In the US I'm a member of the "dominant culture".  I don't think about such things. I don't have to.  There I was not.  It gave me insight how a visitor or immigrant mast feel walking aound the US.

My command of the language was woefully inadequate.  The is not one way to say something, there are many ways. I had only learned one.  The pronunciation was different.  People spoke faster.  The alphabet is different and it made my head ache just to try to read a simple sign.  There were many little things I could not do because it required reading and speaking.  However, being there I couldn't escape having to make an effort.  It made me realize the challenges others have when trying to come to the US.  I wonder about those who insist that foreigners use English only.  How would they fare if they went to live in another country.

To really appreciate another country you have to go there for a period of time.  We are a rich people even if we don't necessarily feel that way.  After all we could afford to go to their country.  This made most ofthe people I had contact with try to serve me or sell me things.  I was frequently bombarded with offers to buy things like gems or even prostitutes of either gender.  I was overcharged by unscrupulous merchants and taxi drivers.  I am not saying this to discredit Thailand at all.  This goes on everywhere, even here in the US too.  This is a totally different experience than living in a house, walking to school every day, buying you food from alocal store and talking with neighbors on the street, as I did in Japan several years later.  It took me several weeks to shed my status as a wealthy visitor and to begin to live like a local.

Living abroad is a challenege!  For me, it has also reaped great rewards.  It has made me realize what is truely valuble about my own culture and to not take it for granted.  It has helped me become more patient and empathic with others, and not just with foreigners.  Each trip abroad made me more skilled in adapting to new and daunting situations.  Thailand was hard - sometimes day by day andminute by minute.  Now I can walk into anentirely new place - Russia or China for instance - an know how to handle all sorts of things more quickly and easily.  I heartily recommend it!

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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For Americans, the experience is invaluable.  So many American students (and their teachers for that matter) think their country is the only free, democratic, and open society in the world.  Little do they know that it can be a closed-minded and rather Puritanical place.  If a student studies abroad in Europe, for example, his eyes will be forever opened to the plurality of its society in terms of liberal education, diversity of languages, and confluence of culture.

Adding to the "Ugly American" point, traveling and staying overseas is, indeed, a humbling experience.  For, many Americans do believe their country is the best.  e.g.The standard of living and quality of life is much better in the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, where there is, per capita income, a higher standard of living and FAR less violent crime than the United States.

Traveling and studying abroad teaches students the lesson of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird about walking around in other people's shoes.  One learns to objectively perceive one's own attitudes and values.

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In my opinion, an educated American needs several courses of study:  To understand the U.S., especially the history of its government, I think; to understand your own culture, a good tool for learning which is to read some historical and some creative fictional literature produced by members of your culture; to understand the ancient Greek and Roman influences on Western civilization which again may be had by reading their own historical and imaginative literature; and to understand that other cultures than our own are in some respects better and in some respects worse, and almost always different.  I lived five years in a foreign country; the first year I hated it; they did everything "wrong."  Then after about a year I began to appreciate that some aspects of their culture were better than my own, and those aspects that weren't, well there were 50 million of them and one of me so it was up to me to accommodate; 50 million of them were not going to accommodate to me.  After that I enjoyed my stay there very much.

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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One of the advantages that has been mentioned but perhaps not in a lot of detail is the fact that in many places, unlike here in the US, higher education is often funded by the state, even for foreigners.  You could be a citizen of the United States and attend classes at a University in Germany for free.  Of course you will need to get a visa, find a place to live and cover living expenses, but it can actually turn out to be a good deal, particularly if you speak the language or can be able to pick it up in a reasonable amount of time.

Along with that, I think the advantage of having your eyes opened to a new culture and new ways of looking at the world can be invaluable.

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Studying in another country is a wonderful opportunity to observe and participate in a foreign culture. It can also provide the chance to practice language skills by immersion if you are in a country where English is not the native language. Being a student in a foreign nation is far different from being a tourist. The long-term nature of study offers the opportunity to really see the day-to-day life of the people there.

Among the disadvantages are the potential lack of protection from terrorism and kidnapping, a very real risk for American students in some countries. Expense can also pose a barrier to international study in some nations.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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For Americans, the experience is invaluable.  So many American students (and their teachers for that matter) think their country is the only free, democratic, and open society in the world.  Little do they know that it can be a closed-minded and rather Puritanical place.  If a student studies abroad in Europe, for example, his eyes will be forever opened to the plurality of its society in terms of liberal education, diversity of languages, and confluence of culture.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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I only wish I could speak from experience, but being a world traveller, I know it can give you the opportunity to see other parts of our great planet while you complete your education. You can also get a greater feel for the culture of the country where you plan to study, and it's a great way to pick up a second language. If you have the opportunity, do it while you're young. Your native land will always be awaiting your return.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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There are way more advantages than disadvantages in my opinion.  Besides learning possibly another language and culture, you broaden your perspective in terms of the world and your home country.  It's FUN!  In 17 years, I have yet to hear from a student that they had a bad experience.  You also gain self confidence, starting over in an unfamiliar place and society.  If you can succeed doing that, what can't you do?

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lfawley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The major advantage is that you get the chance to experience an entirely different culture from food to religion to social structure and language. This is an experience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. The disadvantage is that you are away from home and you may have a hard time learning the material in your classes if it is not presented to you in a language with which you are familiar.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I am all for studying in a different country, especially if it is in a radically different culture, where you can learn a new language in context rather than in the safety of your home culture and experience a completely new way of looking at life and the world. Such an experience, as long as it does not detrimentally effect your ability to re-enter your old education system, is worth far more than gold.

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ako6777 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The biggest advantage to studying in another country would be learning the culture and language.  Being able to imerse yourself in another culture would make you more marketable to a perspective employer, especially in business. 

The disadvantage would be being away from your family and comfort zone.  You would have to learn a new way of behaving so you would not be seen as rude. 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Immersion is definitely a great thing for learning another language.  I don't speak any foreign language better than the one I got immersed in...

I think another issue is that you lose some amount of opportunities if you study abroad.  If you spend a whole year abroad, that's a year of networking and such that you lose -- it gets to be harder to apply for internships, etc.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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While the exposure to other cultures is nice, I’m not sure that students always get an accurate picture of the culture. What the get is a very selective exposure in terms of housing, socio/economic situations, and etc. Don’t get me wrong--this is what we want for them, but is it an accurate representation of the culture?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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I do not see any disadvantages other than the possibility of having to uproot after having been comfortably settled somewhere with friends and neighbors.

Other than that, the cultural exposure, the history, the mannerisms, the customs that one learns from traveling and meeting others is pure richness.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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I would agree with the other posters that an advantage is being exposed to another culture. I think that a disadvantage would have to be that you lose a year of high school with your friends and miss out on all those activities associated with high school.

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