Studying abroad is an educational phenomenon that continues to grow among college students. Last year at Saint Louis University, over 450 students spent a semester studying abroad and spanned the geographical region of over 20 different countries. These students had spent the previous semester carefully planning and preparing for their cultural experiences, which exposed them to many positive and negative life-altering changes.
A semester abroad requires a carefully contemplated decision, as it is an experience that will greatly affect a student in one way or another. From complete immersion into a different culture and lifestyle to the educational aspect and long-distance communication involved, studying abroad consists of numerous outlets through which a student can be shaped and affected.
“It is really difficult to generalize how a study abroad experience impacts a student, both positively and negatively, because each student’s experience is so different,” stated Annie Cavedine, assistant director of studying abroad at SLU. “In most cases, the impact of a study abroad experience is heavily influenced by the goals of each student.”
While many students partake in the experience for the cultural immersion and international travel, some use it as a way to enhance their fluency in a foreign language or for an international internship. The reasons behind the decision to study abroad are endless, as are the reactions to the experience.
“Studying abroad was an experience that brought about many necessary changes for me,” said Alexander Garbin, a senior at SLU. “Being in Spain changed my views on several things. I realized I was uninformed on many different subjects…. [and] this made me want to gain more knowledge of these things.”
Many students have reported that their semesters abroad gave them a confidence that they had previously lacked, as this is usually the first time they have lived by themselves in a different country.
“As a study abroad student myself, the personal growth I feel that is attached to studying abroad is priceless,” stated Admission Counselor for the SLU Madrid campus Diana Hidalgo. “Having to learn to fend for your own, to solve issues in a more independent manner, for me was the greatest benefit.”
While studying abroad has various positive outcomes, the negative aspects should not go overlooked. Insufficient research of a host country can propose complications for students, as can the occasional home-sickness. Many students also experience culture shock when first arriving at a foreign country as well as when arriving back home.
“We try to prepare the student as much as we can, but [culture shock] is something that most of our students going abroad will experience at least once,” said Hidalgo. “This can affect how the student adapts to the culture, and if they fight immersing themselves it can result in a negative experience and their academics can be affected by this.”
Loss of motivation, depression and feelings of alienation can accompany the emotional rollercoaster that comes with studying abroad, but this does not seem to impose on many students’ fond memories of this time in their lives.
“When I look back on my time in Ecuador, I see that I was in the midst of a fascinating experience of new things and new people, and I also know that I was in the middle of a very hard struggle to make and keep all of my relationships as deep and meaningful as possible,” said senior Sito Sasieta.
These struggles as well as highlights are what keep study abroad students reminiscing about their experiences and promoting the program to younger generations, as well as planning for future returns.
“I strongly believe that the positives outweigh the negatives, and I tell every freshman and sophomore that I meet to study abroad,” stated Alex Abbate, a senior at SLU who plans on studying abroad again, this time during medical school.
“Going abroad again and traveling in general is without a question something that is very important to me.”