Studying abroad is always a great idea and a wonderful adventure if it happens. Growing up, I’ve always been told that studying abroad would help to enhance our lives in terms of career prospects and livelihood. While I studied my entire degree locally, I did manage to spend nearly one year in South Korea on a student exchange program. Although that’s not exactly studying abroad, it did give me a taste of what it would feel like. Adding on to this, I was an education consultant in my previous job where I assisted students to achieve their study abroad dreams.
Although studying abroad usually comes highly recommended, there are times where you might have to evaluate if it would be beneficial or useful in the area of your study. Some of the factors that a student should consider about studying abroad are the professional qualifications – whether the degree they study is transferrable and applicable if they come back to work in Malaysia and whether the experience of studying abroad is worth the cost.
The recent pandemic has also changed the scene of how education can be done. With travel limitations in place, a lot of students were not able to study abroad. But if they wanted to, they are still able to get an overseas education through digital platforms and distance learning. While they may miss out on being physically in another country, there are additional advantages to studying online. The pandemic has changed the way we look at studying abroad.
For this article, I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad. Please note that my writing is based on my personal experiences and anecdotes from my previous job as an education consultant.
Advantages of studying abroad
1. See the world
For a lot of us who grew up and went to school in Malaysia, studying abroad would be one of the chances to step out of the country and experience something totally new in our lives. By studying abroad, you will have the opportunity to go to a new country and explore different cultures, customs, and activities. The possibility to see different sceneries, natural marvels, and landmarks in that country is definitely a major plus point. If you are there for a few years, you can take advantage of that to explore neighbouring countries at a much lower cost too!
2. Instil independence
Moving to another country to study will force you to be self-sufficient. You might not have anyone to rely on and you will have to step out of your comfort zone if you want to make the most out of your experience. I remember learning so much from my time as an exchange student. From simple things such as when to do your laundry and setting up your bank account to more complicated matters such as self-discipline and time management when it comes to your studies – you’re going to have to figure it out all by yourself. This process of adapting and integrating into a new place will help you discover who you are and what you are capable of.
3. Broaden mind and develop self
Studying abroad also enables for personal growth in ways that would be impossible to achieve if you stayed at home. Living and travelling alone provides you a better sense of freedom and greatly broadens your worldview. Traveling the world allows you to learn (or brush up on) new languages, witness new sights and learn from cultures and societies beyond the world you knew. You will get to meet people from all walks of life who have different perspectives, and this will add onto your own. From this, you will learn the values and principles that you hold in life and shape how you grow as a person.
4. Build lasting relationships
One of the most valuable aspects of studying abroad is the ability to make new acquaintances with people you normally wouldn’t if you stayed in your own country. As you mingle with your classmates and people you live with, you will get the chance to get to know them better and form lasting bonds with them. Researchers have found that people tend to meet their best friends in their early 20s. I can attest to this as I met two of my besties in the first semester of my degree. Additionally, these buddies can be valuable networking tools in the future.
Disadvantages of studying abroad
1. High cost
There’s no denying that studying abroad will cost a lot more than studying locally. Add on 3 to 4 years’ worth of accommodation and living cost and it will look like a lot of money. Personally, I had the dream to study abroad after completing my high school. Alas, due to my financial situation, I opted to continue to Form 6 instead. But in my previous job as an education consultant, I’ve learned that not all hope is lost. There are a lot of scholarships available that can reduce your financial burden. If you cannot study the entire degree in another country, there are universities locally that offer the option of doing one year or one semester of your study abroad. This would reduce the amount of money that needs to be spent and you will still get your study abroad adventure!
2. High risk
After spending some time in a foreign country, you might find it too difficult to settle in for various reasons. Maybe you don’t like the course you chose, or you are feeling too homesick. If this forces you to return home early, you will have spent far more time, effort, and money than if you had decided to study from home. This is the risk involved when thinking of going to study abroad. I have known students whose parents have brought them to the country that they are thinking of studying in for a vacation. This would help them scope the place out and decide if they want to study there. Of course, not everyone can do this. My advice would be to learn as much as you can about the course you want to study and to speak to students who have studied in that country or university so that you will know what to expect.
3. Language and cultural barriers
While studying abroad is a fantastic way to learn a new language, you may encounter some language barriers at first. This is especially true at the beginning, when you need to set up a bank account and find housing. It’s also possible that you’ll run into cultural barriers related to religion, food, gender norms, or communication styles. These barriers can feel overwhelming and difficult to overcome especially for those who have a more introverted and shy personality. I struggled with these barriers too when I was in South Korea. But if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone by joining a society or going for that get-together that you were invited to, you will find that these barriers will eventually disappear.
4. Miss out on events back home
As sad as it is, it is inevitable that you would miss out on important events and celebrations. Birthdays, weddings, special occasions – it’s just not possible because of the distance. You might feel left out and alone during these times. This is when technology becomes your lifesaver. While it may not feel the same, you can still be a part of that moment through video calls and live streaming.
These are my take on the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad. Feel free to comment or drop any questions you have and I’ll see if I can help!
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