A period of academic exchange or study overseas can be an incredible way to enrich your Australian studies. Studying in a different country is a very immersive experience and is likely to contribute significantly to your professional and personal development. I have personally spent a semester studying in Mexico and completed an intensive subject in Argentina, and both were highlights of my time at university. I recommend overseas study to all university students who get the opportunity to do it, as I believe that very few people would end up regretting it. Here are some of the reasons why.
When you study overseas, you can learn a lot about the culture and history of your host country
One of the most obvious reasons for travelling overseas in general is the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture and learn more about it. However, actually studying in a country you find interesting will give you so many more chances to develop in-depth knowledge of its culture and history. Many universities offer very interesting courses specifically about their country in the areas of language, politics, sociology, anthropology, history, business and many others. Of course, whether or not you can do these types of subjects will depend on your degree, but you can always save up your electives and do them overseas! On top of your studies, you will experience and absorb so much just through your day to day life that you would be unlikely to observe as a tourist. In Argentina I learnt about the country’s fascinating political history in a much more tangible way than could ever be possible from Australia. I saw the culture playing out in front of my eyes – locals constantly sipping mate from traditional gourds, people who still keep a shrine to former First Lady Eva Perón decades after her death, and the passion for soccer tantamount to a religion.
You may find that it leads you down a new and interesting path
When you study overseas you open yourself up to a whole new world of possibilities. If you spend your whole degree in your home country, you could limit yourself by thinking that the possibility of working internationally is too overwhelming or just not possible. When I first went to Argentina to study I never would have imagined I would still be living in Latin America two years later, but here I am. There’s nothing like being in a foreign country to inspire you to try new things and to start to consider alternative paths in life. You could find out that the job market of your field in the host country is completely different and/or has very interesting internships or graduate positions that aren’t available at home. Or, as you get swept up in immersing yourself in different things and giving everything a try, you could end up discovering a new passion or area of interest entirely. Whatever happens, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll come home with some fresh ideas for your future.
It could give you a competitive edge in the job market
OK, study overseas won’t necessarily get you a job. But it does show that you are independent, flexible, and culturally aware, all of which are important assets to many employers. When you’re interviewing for a position you may be able to draw on examples from your overseas study experience to demonstrate that you can adapt well to change and pick up new things, like a foreign language, quickly. On top of all that, there’s no denying that it will add a layer of interest and personality to your CV that can make you stand out from others.
It can challenge your foreign language skills
If you choose a university in a country where English is not spoken, you will be sure to either learn the basics of the local language if you don’t already speak it, or improve rapidly if you already speak some. The second I got off the plane in Buenos Aires, Argentina to start my intensive subject about Argentinean culture and history, I realised how poor my Spanish speaking and listening skills really were. I had studied Spanish for two years already at uni in Melbourne, but seldom had the opportunity to have real conversations with native speakers. It was a rude shock to become painfully aware of how little I could understand and how difficult I found it to express myself. This spurred me on to really make an effort to improve, and by the time I arrived in Mexico I was even able to take some subjects taught solely in Spanish. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the local language in your host country, there are many universities all over the world that run normal university classes in English and also have beginner courses in the local language. And whether you’re a beginner or an advanced speaker, you can’t ask for a better environment to improve your fluency than living somewhere where you’ll get chances to practice every single day.
It can give you a taste of expat life
Spending a semester to study overseas is a very convenient and structured way to get an idea of what expat life would be like in your host country. You will likely receive a lot of support from your host university with logistics like being granted a visa, finding housing and getting your bearings in your new home, which would probably not be the case if you just moved there as an expat straight off the bat. Meeting new people and building a social life will also likely be easier, as you will be put in classes with people who you already have some things in common with. Most universities also have a large range of opportunities to get involved in university sports, clubs and events. If you’ve never spent an extended period of time overseas before, studying abroad is also a relatively simple way to ease yourself into life in another country and see if it feels right for you, without making longer-term commitments like signing a work contract.
You will get the chance to create professional networks in a different country
Studying at any university generally provides a wealth of opportunities to make connections with others in your field. Whether it’s your fellow students, your professors and tutors, or people you meet at networking events or through internship or mentoring programs; those who make an effort to mingle with their colleagues while studying overseas can end up with an impressive professional network in a different country. This could prove invaluable should you like your host country so much that you choose to return as an expat later on. Even if you do not return to the country, you never know when it could come in handy to have contacts in a different region.As you can see, there are a number of reasons why studying overseas can be an extremely valuable and even life-changing experience. I really do think everyone who has the opportunity should give it a go.
Most Australian universities offer a number of different types of experiences to study overseas, including:
- Intensive subjects and study tours, which are usually up to a month in duration and run by your home university in a different country. These are popular in language and history subjects.
- Exchange, where you spend a semester or year at another university with which your university has an exchange agreement without any change in the fees you need to pay. Most universities have agreements with quality universities all over the world… Europe, Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa. In some cases you are required to speak the language of your host country and in some cases English subjects are offered.
- Study abroad, where you organise everything independently with the university of your choice and must pay the fees set by that university. This is obviously more difficult and expensive to organise, but may appeal to those who have their hearts set on a particular prestigious university.
Many Australian universities offer a number of scholarships to help students fund their study overseas, and some students may also be eligible for an OS-HELP loan.
This article was written by Bonnie Gillies. Bonnie is an Australian English teacher and freelance writer. She is currently based in Medellín, Colombia.