July 2, 2018
Over the weekend, I called my teenage sister to wish her happy and safe travels during her upcoming adventure in Germany, where she is going to spend a month abroad in an exchange program. This might not sound like the biggest accomplishment, but I think it is a big deal for a 17-year-old to leave her homeland alone, and immerse herself in a foreign country, and a foreign language. This type of experience seems much less common for students based in the US.
According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA), only about 1.6% of U.S. students enrolled at US institutions of higher education studied abroad for credit during the 2015-2016 academic year. There are many possible reasons behind the apparent lack of participation in study abroad programs, with the main one likely being the price.
It is estimated that the average cost of tuition for studying one semester abroad can range from $10,000 to $30,000. The specific cost varies from program to program depending on the country of destination. Currency exchange plays a very important role when deciding if and where a student will go. Maybe the current strength of the dollar will encourage more travel this summer and fall. Any assessment of the cost of being abroad must factor in room & board, everyday living expenses, and even discretionary costs such as sightseeing, dining, and traveling to nearby countries.
On a more positive note, there are some scholarships and grants available that cut the cost of this experience significantly. Some colleges even offer programs that consider the student’s current financial aid, and allow the traveler to pay the same amount they are paying for their US tuition.
Cost is, of course, not the only reason why people decide not to travel outside of the US. Many college students prefer to use their time off to get a summer job or internship, driven by the desire to start building up their resume. In addition, students may be discouraged by the potential visas and permit fees, international health insurance, etc., needed to travel internationally. There is also the possibility that in a country as vast and diverse as the US, many young Americans feel that traveling to different states can provide experiences much like those of traveling abroad.
While there may be many reasons as to why someone would not want to travel abroad, there are also many good reasons to try and do so. Regardless of your preference, one thing stands true: experiencing a new country and culture helps us increase our understanding of the world, become more independent, and overcome obstacles and situations we would not normally come across. Moreover, it is a different kind of resume builder. If the opportunity presents itself, and you can afford it, consider the possibility of traveling to a new place to continue your education (or just for leisure!). You will not regret it.