In my opinion, one of the greatest things you can do while attending college is to pack up your things and spend a little time abroad. I’ve been obsessed with the concept since I watched “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” and while I haven’t had the opportunity to study abroad in college yet, I did participate in foreign exchange programs during high school. Although my programs were only a few weeks in length, I can say I benefited greatly from them. While living in the Netherlands, I rode a bike to school, learned about Dutch politics and history, explored art museums and ate traditional Dutch food. I also made some amazing friends and a lifelong connection to the town I was staying in. This experience is definitely something I would recommend to everyone. It’s also why I think that study abroad programs should become more accessible to students and should also be included in certain majors and tracks.
According to the Office of International Education and Global Initiatives here at Binghamton University, studying abroad can cost anywhere between $2,000 to $30,000, depending on the program and if you are an in or out-of-state student. There are, of course, scholarships from both the University and nationally recognized foundations, but these don’t help everyone who is interested. Also, certain tracks like premed or pre-pharmacy, as well as majors like nursing or engineering, make it more difficult to study abroad due to their extensive career and major requirements. While there are summer and winter programs, these still may interfere with things like career-related internships and hospital hours. This seems like the end of the road for some students searching for the chance to travel. There is also the issue of safety. Some countries, although rich in culture and experiences, are unsafe for some students due to race, religion, sexuality or gender. This may lead to students feeling unsure about studying abroad and possibly putting themselves at risk. These problems shouldn’t be holding students back, especially since it’s been proven time and time again that studying abroad is extremely rewarding.
There are many reasons studying abroad should become more accessible and affordable for students. There have been several studies that show studying abroad can lead to higher grade point averages, especially for minority or at-risk students. This is important since there is a huge demographic difference in students who study abroad. According to NAFSA, from 2018 to 2019, 68.7 percent of students who studied abroad were Caucasian, while only 10.9 percent were Hispanic or Latino and only 6.4 percent were African American or Black. Also, participating in study abroad programs makes students more likely to graduate and retention rates for first- and second-year students are higher for those who travel with their school. This is very interesting since many people believe studying abroad will delay graduation. But this isn’t necessarily true, as many students who study abroad still graduate within the same time frame as those who didn’t.
On the other hand, for students in highly specialized programs, this may be confusing, since their programs lack the opportunity to travel abroad. For situations like this, universities should try to incorporate more study abroad programs with opportunities for these majors. An example of this is BU’s engineering study abroad program in Iceland where students work with renewable energy sources, or Pace University’s nursing study abroad in India, where students participate in clinical rotations. These programs help with major and career requirements, making it possible for students to get the full study abroad experience while still keeping up with their difficult majors.
In continuation, in the United States, we have an astronomically low number of people who can speak a language other than English. This is in comparison to an average of 92 percent of European students who are taught a second language in school. In other words, students in the United States aren’t ready to take on the world, mostly because they can’t understand it. Studying abroad has been proven to increase language-learning rates, especially when a student fully immerses themselves in that culture. This is extremely helpful for students pursuing international relations, business or political science degrees. They will be able to compete with students internationally, as they will have real-world experiences to back them up. Even domestically, there has been an increase in the use of non-English languages in the United States. Adding another language to your skill set would be extremely beneficial, especially to those entering the medical field.
Studying abroad can help you understand that country’s economics, politics and culture, which are all needed in these careers. Also, studies have shown that the skills that students may gain while abroad are extremely valued by employers, as it helps them expand their global network. These qualities include the ability to work and live closely with people who are different, fostering independence in a new place, considering different cultural points of views and overall leadership ability. So, if schools with business programs really want to increase their post-graduation employment rate, they should implement more study abroad opportunities for their students. The same goes for schools with competitive political science, international relations and language programs.
Of course, there’s also the fact that studying abroad is so much fun. Some of my best memories are from my time abroad. I talk about my weekend train trips to neighboring countries and morning bike rides to class to everyone who will listen, because it was truly the greatest. Having more accessibility to these programs, especially for students who wouldn’t have access to them otherwise, can make their college experience even better. This would include decreasing prices, implementing more safety procedures, including more majors in study abroad programs and including them in certain tracks would lead to overall more accessibility. One way to decrease costs would be to include it in financial aid packages like the Excelsior Scholarship. Since it has been proven to help students with employment and graduation, it is in the state’s best interest to pay for student abroad opportunities. When these students graduate and receive high-paying jobs due to their experiences, they will be able to continue the program by working in New York and contributing to the economy. For the issue of safety, we can install more programs in countries that are safer for students, while working on building programs that immerse students in the culture while still preventing them from being in unsafe situations in these possibly dangerous environments. The world is much bigger than our hometowns and our college campus, it’s time we truly explored it and became a part of a global community.
Nicolette Cavallaro is a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience.