Going to college is a transformative experience that prepares students to become mature, productive members of society. Although every college education offers these benefits, some students go above and beyond by seeking out opportunities to study abroad at an international host university. There are incredible personal, career and academic benefits of studying abroad, and all college students are strongly encouraged to consider taking advantage of these programs.
In This Article:
- What Is the Main Benefit of Studying Abroad?
- Five Advantages of Studying Abroad
- How To Prepare To Take Advantage of Study Abroad Benefits
What Is the Main Benefit of Studying Abroad?
Because of the many academic benefits of studying abroad, these programs are quite popular at universities across the country. Some colleges design and administer their own study abroad programs, while others partner with various study abroad providers. A study abroad program may last for one semester, a summer, just weeks or even an entire year.
Regardless of their administration, all study abroad programs share one thing in common: They provide a truly immersive learning experience that nurtures academic, personal and professional growth among students. In other words, a study abroad program can change your life for the better.
During your program, you may live in university housing (such as a dormitory or student apartment) or with a host family. You’ll attend classes and complete assignments for your host university while continuing to make progress toward completing your degree. You will also have plenty of opportunities to explore your host country and enjoy one-of-a-kind experiences to create memories that will last a lifetime.
Five Advantages of Studying Abroad
Studying abroad has become an increasingly popular option for students seeking to broaden their academic, cultural and personal horizons. There are considerable benefits of studying abroad. According to International Student, some of the main advantages of pursuing a study abroad program are as follows:1
- Learn through travel experiences
- Exposure to a different educational system
- Cultural immersion and an open mind
- Advanced language skills
- Increased general cognitive ability
Below, you can get an in-depth exploration of each of these studying abroad benefits.
1. Traveling the World Offers Limitless Opportunities for Learning
Simply traveling to new places can be very educational, and studying abroad offers a unique opportunity to experience new cultures as well. Not only will you have the opportunity to explore your host city, but on your days off from school, you will also likely be able to explore the surrounding towns and countryside. You’ll be able to see new sights and meet new people.
To get the most out of your study abroad program, it’s helpful to thoroughly research your host city and the surrounding area ahead of time. Create a comprehensive list of historical sites, cultural amenities, activities and similar things you would like to experience while you’re there.
You can broaden your perspective by seeking opportunities outside of your field of study. For example, if you’re a science major, you might consider visiting some art museums. Similarly, if you’re someone who typically prefers indoor activities, consider making an effort to go on a hiking trip or otherwise take in the natural beauty of your host country.
The benefits of studying abroad aren’t limited to museums and natural attractions. Traveling helps instill practical life skills that will serve you well throughout your life. You’ll learn valuable life lessons throughout your stay, such as figuring out how to navigate a new public transportation system, learning how to make new friends from other cultures and adjusting to living outside your comfort zone.
2. Gain Exposure to a New Education System
Another studying abroad benefit includes the opportunity to experience different education systems. School doesn’t look the same in every country. For example, did you know that in the U.K., universities feature primarily lecture-based classes that typically require only occasional assignments throughout the semester and a final exam at the end? Or, that schools in Japan integrate moral education (compassion, work ethic and so on) directly into the curriculum?
The curriculum, style of education and class format all differ from one country to the next. As a student who is studying abroad, you will be immersed in a brand-new educational system. This will enhance your global perspective and cultural competencies, helping you strive toward a greater understanding and acceptance of people from other nations.
In terms of curriculum, you may learn things in your field that you might not have learned in the U.S. In addition, you’ll certainly explore topics of interest from different perspectives. For example, have you ever wondered how the British teach the American Revolution in their schools or how Japanese textbooks explore the post-WWII reconstruction period? One of the many other advantages of studying abroad is the opportunity you’ll have to experience the world through diverse cultural perspectives.
3. Study Abroad Benefits Include Cultural Immersion
Another reason why studying abroad is important is because it enables you to thoroughly explore a new culture and learn about people from other parts of the world. Each time you travel from one country to another, there are many cultural differences to become adjusted to. Culture comprises many factors, including the following:
- Shared history
- Customs and traditions
- Recreation and sports
- Social ambience and behaviors
From learning about another culture’s religion and customs to trying their food to using their currency, there will be plenty of new things to do and explore when you first arrive in your host country. As you progress through your study abroad program, you are likely to find that you’ve developed an enduring appreciation for your host country, its people and its culture. You’ll gain a deeper level of acceptance, and you’ll find that you genuinely understand how there is no one universal “correct” way of life — every culture is a little different.
Developing greater cultural awareness and stronger cultural competencies is crucial to helping overcome divisions and harmful stereotypes. Having a better understanding of other cultures and their people is another one of the advantages of studying abroad.
4. Studying Abroad Benefits Your Language Skills
Among the academic benefits of studying abroad is the effect it will have on your language skills. Typically, if you intend to participate in a study abroad program, you will likely take some foreign language courses at your university to prepare for the experience. However, you can expect to make even more progress with your language skills during your study abroad experience. After your program, you likely will find that your fluency in your second language has improved significantly.1 Studying abroad offers the opportunity for immersive language learning. An immersive language learning experience is one in which you are completely surrounded by the language you are learning. You will practice listening, speaking, reading and writing the language all day long — from ordering breakfast in a café to communicating with your professors and fellow students to watching movies in a theater.
An immersive learning experience is one of the most effective ways to learn a new language and to start speaking like a native. In one study, a researcher evaluated the brain activity of language learners and found that those who learned the language in an immersion-like environment demonstrated brain activity similar to native speakers of that language.2
As you begin preparing to study abroad, one of the factors to consider is where you will obtain lodging during your program. You may have the option to be lodged in the host university dormitories, or you may be placed with a host family. Either option would allow you to connect with native speakers on a daily basis, which builds on your immersive language experience.
You’ll also have opportunities to practice your language skills in the classroom, while socializing on campus and exploring your host city. Notice that all of these scenarios involve using language in a practical way — a key differentiator between classroom instruction and immersive learning. It is this focus on practical, meaningful use of the language (compared to rote memorization) that reinforces learning in the brain and allows you to significantly advance your language skills.
5. Studying Abroad Contributes To Increased Overall Cognitive Function
Exploring a new culture, visiting museums, learning about other educational systems and acquiring advanced foreign language skills are just a few of the academic benefits of studying abroad. There is also the potential for studying abroad to improve your overall cognitive skills, processes and neuroplasticity. How? Quite simply, becoming bilingual improves your brain’s capabilities.
Decades ago, it was thought that raising children to be bilingual would only confuse them, resulting in poor academic performance and even developmental delays. Fortunately, scientists now know that nothing could be further from the truth. Quite the contrary — bilingualism is a pathway toward greater cognitive possibilities.
Scientists now know that the brain possesses neuroplasticity — a remarkable ability to forge new neural connections that allow for enhanced learning and memory retention. In other words, learning a new language is a challenge that stimulates the brain and forces it to acquire new capabilities. This boost in cognitive capabilities and processing also lends itself to enhanced learning abilities in every other academic subject.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), which conducted an in-depth review of the scientific findings on bilingualism, students enjoy the following cognitive benefits when they become adept with a foreign language:3
- Students display better school performance across all subject areas (including significantly higher scores in mathematics and language arts).
- Students gain a greater understanding of the vocabulary and sentence structure of their native language.
- Foreign language learners consistently perform better on standardized tests than monolingual students.
- Students demonstrate excellent problem-solving skills.
- Bilingual students display superior verbal and spatial abilities.
- Foreign language students demonstrate better listening skills and superior memory retention.
- Students learning a second language have greater cognitive flexibility and higher-order thinking skills.
The cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language extend beyond what is listed, as achieving fluency can lead to greater cultural understanding, expanded global perspective or a higher sense of personal achievement. For many college students, the prospect of scoring better on college exams and enhancing their career qualifications is sufficient to justify planning a study abroad experience in order to enjoy immersive language learning.
How To Prepare To Take Advantage of Study Abroad Benefits
As you can see, programs that give you the opportunity to study abroad benefit all who take the leap in a wide variety of ways. Students who are thinking about studying abroad have many important decisions to make. One of these is deciding which host country, city and university to choose. This is a decision that you should make in consultation with your academic advisor and the study abroad program staff.
It’s generally best to choose a host country and university that will contribute to your field of study. For example, if you’re a Spanish major, you will want to study in a Spanish-speaking country. If you’re a history major and you love learning about the Roman Empire, then you should consider studying abroad in Italy.
Next, consider when you should depart. There are exceptions, but most students study abroad during their junior year of college. This is often ideal because you’ll have time to take language courses and prepare for your experience, but you’ll also have one more year of college left when you return to ensure you complete your degree requirements.
As you make your preparations, be sure to consider the following:
- Education: Will the host university’s courses and credits transfer to your degree program at your school? Will you still be on track toward your graduation date?
- Insurance: Will your healthcare coverage extend to your host country? Will you need travel insurance?
- Costs: What are the fees associated with your study abroad experience?
- Medical: Will you need additional vaccinations to enter your host country? Visit a travel doctor for guidance.
- Legal: You will need to apply for a passport and, if necessary, a visa as soon as possible. It can take up to a year to complete this process, in some cases.
- Financial: Inform your bank/credit card provider that you’ll be abroad. You’ll need an online account that you can access overseas, and you’ll need to navigate the currency exchange.
- Communication: International cellphone plans can be quite expensive. A more fiscally prudent option is to get a local SIM card upon your arrival.
- Research: Do lots of research on your host country and city well in advance. Learn about the local customs, geography, government, food and so on. You should also learn about regional etiquette to avoid inadvertently offending your host family, classmates and other locals.
- Transportation: Be sure to check on whether public transportation is available in your host city.
As you can see, there is quite a lot that goes into preparing for a study abroad experience. The sooner you begin your preparations, the better. You can rely on the program staff and your academic advisor for guidance as you plan your overseas excursion.
At Grand Canyon University (GCU), we design the curriculum for our degree programs to encourage students to explore global perspectives and acquire cultural competencies. Students have the opportunity to enjoy cultural and linguistic immersion via our study abroad program. We offer options that last a summer, semester or full academic year with one of our approved partner organizations. In addition, students may consider participating in an international internship (via The Intern Group) or a global mission trip.
If you aren’t yet a student at our Christian learning community, you can learn more about joining GCU by filling out the form on this page.
1 International Student. (n.d.). 10 Benefits to Studying Abroad. International Student. Retrieved March 27, 2023.
2 Brito, A. C. (2017, January). Effects of Language Immersion versus Classroom Exposure on Advanced French Learners: An ERP study. Pursuit, The Journal of Undergraduate Research at The University of Tennessee. Retrieved August 2021.
3 National Education Association. (2007, December). The Benefits of Second Language Study. NEA Research. Retrieved August 2021.
Approved by the program coordinator of the Honors College and Study Abroad Program on April 24, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.