When I decided to study abroad last year, I knew that the decision would open new doors for me, academically and personally. But I never really imagined the impact it might have on my life.
As a third-year student at the University of McGill, I knew that although I loved Montreal and the school I attended, I needed a change. I believed that, to benefit my education, it would be in my own best interest to take time to learn things from a different perspective.
As a political science student, I focused on international relations, and my search for an exciting place to study led me to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. With a fantastic reputation and great incentives, I completed the long application form with just a couple months to spare before the term began. In early December, I received my acceptance letter, booked a flight to Israel, and left for a new experience.
Studying abroad is a new phenomenon among university students. A Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) study indicates that “91% of employers (interviewed) identiﬁed the importance of cultural and other beneﬁts (from study abroad).”
Learning a new language, a living in a different culture, becoming more independent and self-sufficient are only a few of the skills students learn, and bring back, to their home university.
Abby Plener, an English literature major at McGill University, spent a semester at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “My semester abroad taught me a lot – probably more than I will ever realize or could even begin to process now,” she says. Employers and academics are remarking the importance of studying abroad in allowing students to have a well-rounded education.
Thevi Pather, associate director at Camosun College, says, “After 15 years of work in international education, it never ceases to amaze me when I see the profound changes that occur in a student after their return from a study abroad experience. Many leave our shores with nervous excitement but very visible fear of the unknown. Most students return brimming with conﬁdence, and ready to tackle the next big challenge in their young lives.”
Researchers are now even attributing an improved academic performance after students return to their home campus from studying abroad according to an in-depth analysis on study abroad headed by the Georgia Learning Outcome of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative (GLOSSARI).
Eden Sagman, a McGill graduate who now works in the high-tech industry in Israel, where she spent a year studying abroad in 2008, says her program has helped her break into the business she always dreamed of working in. “Studying abroad enhanced my education. It opened my eyes to other perspectives about controversial issues.” Learning about new cultures is key to a flourishing economy, which needs new ideas to breed entrepreneurship and start-up companies.
Although studying abroad has been seen as beneficial, it can be difficult to arrange. Picking a school, approving courses, planning a budget and sometimes enduring a longer semester are all part of the difficulties of studying abroad. You can look forward to meeting with 10 professors just to get one course approved, and once you return, you have to ensure all your information is received in a timely fashion.
However, don’t let this bureaucracy hold you back. Studying abroad helped me realize so much about myself that I never would have discovered. I learned to be independent in a foreign country, navigate across cities and met incredible people along the way. And I know next semester, my education will have benefited because of it.
“While at UCT, I often got the question, ‘Why are you studying here? The universities are so much better in North America.’ In general, studying abroad made me reflect a lot on the degree to which Western countries have a monopoly over education – defining the standards of what is ‘good’ education, how the university system should work, what we value in or educational institutions, and even the texts and authors we focus on,” Plener says.
There are so many other viewpoints out there. Studying abroad makes us question everything we’re learning and helps us become better people. We learn to always strive to demand the best out of educations and ourselves.