Why should we study abroad?

Rebecca Cole 


Studying abroad is an experience that, for many people, is an opportunity unique to their four years of college. It is a way to see the world and spend an extended period of time in another country that many may not have the chance to do later in life. It is an incredible opportunity, speaking as someone only slightly biased having studied abroad myself, but one that even Sewanee students sometimes do not take. As someone who spent most of 2022 abroad, and would love to return, I am writing this to perhaps explain the value that I see in studying abroad and hopefully convince at least one person to go somewhere new. 

Berlin, Germany Photo courtesy of Rebecca Cole

First of all, the main reason that many people don’t study abroad is the cost. Many programs are very expensive and end up costing more than many students can afford. But, Sewanee does this pretty cool thing where they pledge that studying abroad will only cost the same amount as studying on campus and no more. So now financial reasons, while for some may still be something to think about, are much less of a concern. Think about it, a semester on campus at Sewanee and a semester in Germany, France, Africa, Spain, etc. for the same cost?! I know what I would choose. 

Another reason that some are hesitant to study abroad is their major. Either they feel like they would be behind if they studied abroad, or they are concerned that the courses available to them don’t quite fit their major. Let’s tackle this idea of being “behind.” This is the most popular reason among my friends and I want to be able to explain why I think this should never be a factor. Being “behind” implies that there is a standard of what stage of your life you should be in at a certain age. This is an overwhelmingly American concept. And I get it. We all feel pressure, or have at least witnessed it in popular culture, to go to school, get a job, get married, and have kids, at specific times in our lives. Anyone who strays outside this mold is either “behind” or “too young.” This is something that has been pushed onto people since childhood and I think it is harmful. Social comparisons only prevent people from doing the things that make them happy in their own lives. Ultimately, they are our lives and we can choose what we want to do with them and how we would like to spend our time. If that means that to study abroad some people would need to stay in school an extra semester, if people can afford it, absolutely do it! What are we rushing to graduate for? A desk job? This concept of being “behind” is not helping us, it is only holding us back. When we get to create and choose our paths, why choose something that doesn’t make us happy? 

As far as courses go, there are so many programs out there and that is a concern that simply talking to the Office of Global Citizenship can help with. Their job is to help us find opportunities that fit what we like to study and where we want to be. There is absolutely a program for everyone and every major and that should not be holding anyone back. 

So if we can establish that there is no reason not to go abroad, then what are some reasons that people should

Something I mentioned above is that for many people, this might be their one big chance to see the world outside of the one they know. Let’s admit, traveling to another country is expensive, and many of us can’t afford to just jet off for the weekend. Plus, once we have grown-up jobs, it will be harder to take time off because we won’t get a built-in fall break, winter break, spring break, and summer break. So now is the time! We can live in another country and continue getting our degrees at the same time. 

As a history and German double major, I focus a lot on culture and language. If you are interested in those things like I am, then this is a great time to learn more about another culture, embrace their practices, and really speak the language with native speakers. Some study abroad programs offer homestays as an option. This means that you would live with a family in the country you are studying abroad in and it’s a great way to really improve your language skills and learn a lot about everyday life. If language and culture aren’t something you’re super passionate about but still pique your interest, then there are options to stay in other forms of student living like apartments, and explore those things outside of class in your free time. And there are always things to do and see no matter where you are. 

If you are worried about being alone, do not fret! Sewanee has a number of programs that consist of a group of students and a professor that are all amazing! This way, you can still have people that are familiar and most likely your friends with you and you still get to push yourself outside of your comfort zone with your experiences. For many, having familiar faces with them is a great way to stay grounded and not be so overwhelmed by everything new. If you are ready to get out of Sewanee and escape the people, don’t worry. There are also many programs that you can attend alone and meet a whole new group of students from around the USA or around the world! 

When I went abroad, I attended the Summer in Berlin program, stayed throughout the summer doing a Sewanee Undergraduate Research Fellowship and an independent research project as a Ledford Scholar, then attended the Sewanee in Germany semester program. I was in Berlin from May through December, and was able to experience Germany by myself, with friends, and make new friends along the way. I lived in a homestay, in an apartment with a local, and in a student apartment. I was able to see the places that I had read about so many times and learn from Germans about their experiences in the history and memory culture that I discussed in my classes. My language skills improved exponentially and I had experiences and I made friendships that I will cherish forever. 

I lived with a woman who I greatly admire and learned so much from. I went to beer gardens and had long conversations about life experiences, travel, family, and history with the people I care about. I made a new friend and we spent time together comparing experiences growing up in two different countries but found that we shared interests, passions, and views. I explored the city with friends and by myself. I visited museums, traveled, and read in the park in the summer. I was a regular at a coffee shop and was asked for directions by other Germans. I attended events, talked to new people, and learned to love exploring new places and new relationships. 

Studying abroad cultivates cross-cultural relationships and experiences that are valuable to our own development and contribute to our roles in the world as global citizens. Exposure to new perspectives and identities increases our awareness of our place in the world and broadens our understanding of others. 
Overall, now back on the Mountain, I can feel and see the growth that I experienced as a student, scholar, and individual over the course of those eight months. I have a new perspective on the world and understand better those that I may not have much in common with. What I learned is that I actually do have so much in common with everyone else out there. We may speak different languages, eat different food, and have different beliefs or practices, but we all want to live and love and learn together. We cherish the things that bring us together and want the best for those around us. I would not trade my time abroad for anything. In fact, I am trying to go back, because why not?