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 imagined the impact it would have on my life.
As a third-year student at McGill University, I knew that although I loved Montreal, I needed a change.
I felt that to truly benefit from my education, it would be in my own best interest to take time to learn things from a different perspective, a new 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 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. Learning a new language, 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, 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 told me.
“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 on the degree to which western countries have a monopoly over education – defining the standards of what is ‘good’ education.”
But employers and academics are acknowledging that studying abroad contributes to a well-rounded education.
Thevi Pather, associate director at Camosun College in Victoria, B.C., said in the First National Report on International Education and Mobility by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges: “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 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 students’ improved academic performance after they return to their home campus to their experience studying abroad, according to an analysis headed by the Georgia Learning Outcome of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative.
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 helped her break into the business she always dreamed of working in, in the country she always dreamed of living in. “Studying abroad enhanced my education. It opened my eyes to other perspectives about controversial issues,” she said.
Although studying abroad is seen as beneficial, it can be difficult to arrange.
Picking a school, approving courses, planning a budget and often enduring a longer semester are some of the difficulties in 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 the 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 meet incredible people along the way. And I know that next semester, my education will have benefited because of it.
Vicky Tobianah is entering her final year at McGill University. Visit her online profile at http://card.ly/vickyt.