Studying Abroad: Mind the Hype

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Disclaimer: Cultural immersion, a highly touted benefit of studying abroad, isn’t always possible, especially in racially segregated countries (Goldoni 360-62). 

Show me a study, of even a closely-related population, that recorded a 100% incidence of positive impact generation from studying abroad, or from anything, and I would quit writing. Moreover, inter-individual differences affect outcome replication, thus negating global-scale generalization of research outcomes. Therefore, before pursuing a study-abroad opportunity, assess your peculiarities, and consider if the opportunity is well-researched, optimizable, relevant, timely, healthy, inexpensive, and thrilling. In essence, a study-abroad opportunity is only worth it when it’s WORTH IT.

Thousands of students fail to research institutions before applying to them (Paton). Two outcomes are likely when this occurs in the study-abroad context: They miss out on programs that fit better with their scales of preference; they underutilize development opportunities associated with great programs. Either way, there’s a resultant devaluation of their study-abroad experience(s). 

Furthermore, research demonstrates that when students partake in designing their curriculum, learning is, mostly, improved (Greenberg and Zanetis 5). This possibility, of optimizing study-abroad experience, is one of many that should be considered by students. Factors such as school-attendance time requirement, school-based extracurricular activity structure, development resource availability, study-work policy, visa requirements of nearby countries, cultural/racial mix of the institution etc. are other determinants of the optimization potentials and worth of study-abroad programs.  

Also, to determine the worth of a study-abroad opportunity, answer these questions: “Does this opportunity align with my personal or professional goals?” “Does it offer me modern, special, and relevant skills?” “Is the relevance of such skills limited to a specific location?” I cannot overemphasize the importance of these questions, considering that approximately 50% of Americans and 43.7% of Australians consider their degrees irrelevant to their careers (Wellemeyer; Roberts et al. 71). Moreover, not all study-abroad credits are acceptable in students’ home institutions, and this can lead to graduation delay. Since there is evidence that time-to-graduation is indirectly proportional to wage levels (Casalone and Aina 10), a potential increase in time-to-graduation might decrease the worth of study-abroad programs.

Need I explain why only rightly-timed study-abroad opportunities are worthwhile? If need be, reflecting on these questions will help: In 2019, would you have advised Nigerians to study in South Africa, where Xenophobia thrived; or the United Kingdom, which announced a “two-year post-study work visa” benefit for international students? Won’t you prefer going abroad in the summer when the weather is great, and when most conferences/summits/events are held? “Would you forgo writing an unrepeatable examination for a two-week study-abroad experience?”

Additionally, the development state of the travel medicine and health insurance sectors of students’ home countries can be determinants of whether studying abroad would be healthy. For example, there’s little justification for going to a country with disease outbreak(s) without, first, obtaining proper prophylaxis and international health insurance coverage. Also, when studying abroad, it’s possible to become chronically stressed, and to develop severe homesickness, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or other mental disorders. These disorders can lead to violence, substance abuse, sexual risk-taking, physical trauma, or legal penalties (Flaherty et al.). Thus, studying abroad might not be valuable if one has history of severe mental disorder(s) and difficulties managing them.   

Interestingly, in America, the average time to settle student loans is 21.1 years (Hess). If possible, avoiding such lifelong debt is sensible. To do this, consider attending inexpensive (not necessarily cheap) program(s). In this regard, when assessing a study-abroad program’s worth, consider your financial responsibilities, the cost of living abroad, home-abroad currency exchange rate, sponsorship opportunities, fee payment plan, fee increment trends etc.   

Cambridge Dictionary equates “worth” with “being enjoyable…..”, thus agreeing with the last “T” of WORTH IT. Personally, I will only go to a tourism-oriented country, unexplored by me, or one with unique learning system(s) or unfamiliar culture(s).  

Although popular in the media, it’s illogical to ascribe a singular verdict to all study-abroad situations. To improve the basis on which students measure the worth of study-abroad opportunities, more research, utilizing non-conventional outcome indicators and in unpopular study settings like Africa, should be conducted. Moreover, the media should avoid misconstruing research findings by providing adequate context in their publications. Let’s empower students to make their own decisions.

Works Cited

Casalone, Giorgia, and Aina, Carmen. “Does time-to-degree matter? The effect of delayed graduation on employment and wages.” Working Papers 38, AlmaLaurea Inter-University Consortium, 2011, p. 10, https://ideas.repec.org/p/laa/wpaper/38.html.

Flaherty, Gerard T., et al. “Learning to Travel: Reducing the Health Risks of Study Abroad Opportunities.” Journal of Travel Medicine, vol. 25, no. 1, Oct. 2018, doi:10.1093/jtm/tay085.

Goldoni, Federica. “Students’ Immersion Experiences in Study Abroad.” Foreign Language Annals, vol. 46, no. 3, Wiley-Blackwell, Sept. 2013, pp. 360-62, doi:10.1111/flan.12047.

Greenberg, Alan D., and Jan Zanetis. “The Impact of Broadcast and Streaming Video in Education.” Cisco, Mar. 2012, p.5, http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/ciscovideowp.pdf.

Hess, Abigail. “College grads expect to pay off student debt in 6 years—this is how long it will actually take.” CNBC, 23 May 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/23/cengage-how-long-it-takes-college-grads-to-pay-off-student-debt.html.

Paton, Graeme. “Thousands of Students Do Not Research University before Applying.” Telegraph, 30 Mar. 2020, www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10731709/Thousands-of-students-do-not-research-university-before-applying.html. 

Roberts, Madeleine R. H., et al. “What Students Are Telling Us about Why They Left Their ICT Course.” Innovations in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, vol. 10, no. 3, Higher Education Academy, Nov. 2011, p. 71, doi:10.11120/ital.2011.10030068.

Wellemeyer, James. “Half of Young Americans Say Their Degree Is Irrelevant to Their Work.” MarketWatch, 11 Aug. 2019, www.marketwatch.com/story/half-of-young-americans-say-college-isnt-necessary-2019-08-06.

“Worth.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press,  www.dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/worth. Accessed 28 May, 2020.


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