The study abroad complex

I love what I do. Truly. Every day, I’m amazed that I get to wake up and go some place that will pay me to do something I am obsessed with, something that I am passionate about, something that I fully 100% believe in. #blessed

All that aside, and in all seriousness, there is a certain amount of privilege tied into study abroad. I’ve known this all along, but I’m finding I’m better able to articulate what exactly that privilege is which enables students to study abroad.

In order for a student to pursue a traditional semester abroad, they have to know about it pretty early-on in their college career, and they have to be encouraged to explore the possibility early-on. You have to be empowered to do that–and then empowered to follow through on it, because you will undoubtedly be met with additional obstacles you have to overcome–and this empowerment is dependent on so many factors.

1. Your major- can you manipulate your semester/4 year plan to be off campus for the entire semester? What about your post grad plans? Do those allow you to be away for a semester?

2. Your financial situation-Can you afford the expense of being gone for an entire semester–living and traveling abroad and most likely not working (unless you’re thinking Australia). Do you have the means to rebuild your savings or commit to a budget after spending and not earning for approximately 6 months?

3. Your family situation/support network- Are you comfortable being away from that for 6 months? Is your family situation stable enough to allow you to thrive while abroad? And continue to develop upon your return? (Will you only be made to feel guilty for being gone?)

4. Time-Can you miss out on all the things that will happen while you’re abroad? Weddings, births, deaths, relocation? What about practical experience you would gain? Can you miss out on job opportunities or internship possibilities while abroad? How can you know the practical experience you would gain will be matched by your time abroad?

5. Your phase of development- Are you mentally and emotionally ready to live in a new country and immerse yourself in a new culture? If not, what will help you prepare, or when will you be ready? How do you know? How will you know if you’re ready? What are the signs of being ready?

I didn’t study abroad for a semester because I had “no” responses to all of these questions. I went to community college for two years, so my knowledge of study abroad was nil. I transferred into a four-year institution and convinced myself I didn’t have the money, time or opportunity to study abroad. I picked up a minor late my junior year–no way I could be off campus. I had to graduate on time because I was on scholarship. I couldn’t leave my younger siblings for that long. I picked up a semester paid internship my senior year and definitely didn’t see the benefit of skipping that. I wasn’t mentally or emotionally ready to live far away and be on my own for a semester. (At least…I didn’t think I was. No one told me any differently.) I had plans to go to grad school after graduation and spent all of junior year figuring out where and how. Then I had to apply and prepare for the GRE. Then I had to find a place to live and work once I was accepted to grad school.

I realize now I didn’t have to commit myself to all, if not most, of the things above. Hindsight is 20/20. It would have worked out, and it would have been great. But to my college-age self, yes, those were my priorities, and I couldn’t justify a semester abroad. In the years since, I’ve developed a bit of a study abroad complex. And I have to remind myself of this change in my demeanor, and what my students might be struggling with when they avoid me or seek me out.

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