Viewpoint: Values of Studying Abroad

Geoffrey Allen ’23

Studying Abroad. It’s a marketing strategy for college admissions. Or it was the weird time when you were stuck in a country for a couple of months and only managed to pick up a few words from the country’s language. Perhaps it’s the opportunity you have always envied because your degree pathway won’t permit you to go during a regular school year. Everyone’s got an opinion on it. But not everyone has done it (yet), and some people don’t fully appreciate the experience. So here I am, aiming to sell you an experience that will cost you and may support the college admission’s status quo. Nevertheless, I’d argue that studying abroad is more than just a college semester on vacation. Rather, it is an awakening of an independent self for many of us. This is especially the case for us students at this small liberal arts school in northeast Ohio.

It’s been six months since I had the privilege of going abroad and I’m still processing the experience, not because of anything particular to the place I was visiting, but because of how it has changed me as a well-rounded individual. Speaking of well-rounded, let me paint you a picture. I’ll introduce my first point: studying abroad helps expand one’s plate of knowledge. That’s right, a plate for eating and all. If you are reading this, at some point you found your way to a liberal arts college that, despite what your opinions are on the dining service, is rich in opportunities to study whatever you want and as much as you want. Some people at this school study one thing and hone in on that throughout their four years at school– that’s a respectable thing to do. However, there is also a potential to double major (dare I say triple major), to select pathways, to minor and of course to take part in a plethora of extracurricular clubs and activities. That’s a lot of options I could analogize as food if I wanted. The choice is always on the table if it’s something you can manage. But out of all these things, I’d say the real side dish on the college menu has to be taking a Boeing flight and placing yourself in a totally different environment. It’s like your favorite vegetable, if you have one. Being able to learn a different way of life, no matter how similar or apart, is arguably quintessential to being more well rounded. Perhaps you figured out where all the nooks and crannies of Wooster, Cleveland and other surrounding areas of the College are, but what if you tried something bigger? Trying is similar to learning to navigate college again, but also akin to becoming a postgraduate adult. 

This brings me to my second point. Studying abroad confronts the challenges of being responsible and independent, not just a tourist. Sure, the classes are there, maybe the friends you make along the way are there, but the position you’d be in as an individual is not the same as when you walked through the arch during first-year orientation. Because even if you do have these activities and people for you wherever you are, there’s usually more downtime, allowing you to reflect on the person you are. It’s about the fact that you have to pick up the pieces again. Maybe your program doesn’t have a dining hall or you don’t know the best spots to cook in your first week…and maybe you didn’t cook much at home either. It’s not like you needed to face this pressure before at the College due to the fact that students are always on a meal plan. It’s OK! You’d be surprised what being isolated can do to help you confront anxieties such as these. 

These are just two strong cases for why I think some students at The College of Wooster should study abroad. Yes, I know that money, academic planning and other factors play a role in inhibiting one’s ability to follow in my footsteps right now. But perhaps it will be something to aspire to during the summer or when you’re fresh out of college. Perhaps those who have grown up with an international background know this far more than I do, and that’s incredibly respectable. So, if they made it this far, amongst other previous students like myself, it is worth the chance even if it looks scary in the opening days, weeks or maybe even the first month. But no one can deny the person they became following their experience–a stronger independent mind who has the capacity to work together.

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