Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Opinion: Studying abroad is valuable

This column is a response to a column that ran in the April 5, 2018, edition of the Daily Gamecock, entitled "Studying abroad not worth it."

I like to think of studying abroad as a microcosm for the college experience in the United States as a whole. While both can be expensive, strenuous and even dangerous at times, they offer excellent opportunities to meet new people and explore new places. And like college, studying abroad is also cloaked in a thin veneer of mysticism, like some rite of passage for students to take, and as such has many myths and rumors surrounding it.

First of all, studying abroad is as expensive as you make it. Of course, to say something is “expensive” is entirely relative to the person footing the bill, and the sheer number of study abroad programs makes it even more difficult to nail down how much money “expensive” is. This is completely ignoring the scores of scholarships for study abroad, which are offered by both USC and third-party organizations. The program I studied abroad with last fall in Ireland gave all students from USC an immediate $2,000 discount, thanks to a partnership between the university and ASA, the program provider. Even including my plane ticket, my semester abroad was less expensive than a semester at USC and allowed me to travel to several notable places in Europe, like Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Another great study abroad myth is that it “messes up your classes.” While this may be true if you are getting a degree with a specific track in mind, classes offered abroad are usually tailored to your major and are a great way to get electives out of the way. I also find it extremely indicative of the American college environment that more concern is placed on whether or not classes are “messed up” than an actual education. You know, that thing you’re spending your inheritance on to attend an accredited four-year university? If you only care about coasting through classes to get a fancy piece of paper with your name on it, I might suggest a local trade school or community college.

A recent study has found that nearly 40 percent of Americans have never left the country and 76 percent want to travel more but lack the means to. This is why studying abroad is pushed so hard on college students. These brief years are the only time when we are not tied to an income, a family or a mortgage. Regardless of how interconnected the world is now, there are things anyone can learn from being in a foreign country — some more tangible than others. Being a minority in a place where you do not speak the language and have little understanding of how anything works is an experience nobody can teach in a classroom. And to be frank, the stereotypical obnoxious American tourist is, in my opinion, created when people do not live abroad for a long term, and go simply as tourists. If anything, study abroad programs reduce the overall level of gawking, fanny pack-laden tourists, not the other way around.

To be fair, studying abroad is not for everyone. Some majors simply do not offer good study abroad experiences, and some students may not be comfortable leaving the United States. But to say studying abroad is irrelevant and useless is a misstep in my opinion, as it offers great life-changing experiences to those who do go.

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