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Studying Abroad for Grad School: Pros and Cons
Are you considering studying abroad? Then I'm totally psyched for you and know exactly what you're going through since I was in your shoes just two years ago.
When I was considering studying abroad for Graduate school, I scoured the Internet looking for reassurance that I'm making the right decision. It's a big one, so I too wanted to know what possible advantages and disadvantages associated with making this move are.
I had my first study abroad experience when I went to Italy for a semester during Sophomore year of college. I must've caught the travel bug there though because five years later, I left my comfy corporate job and decided pursue a Master's degree in Portugal.
In this article, I will review both the advantages and disadvantages that I have encountered in my experience of having done my Master's abroad.
Tips for Study Abroad
- Read up about the country where you're going.
- Have copies of your passport. In case you happen to lose your passport, it's a lot easier to replace it if you have copies handy.
- Keep your embassy's phone number in your contacts list. You'll probably never need to use it... but you know what they say, never say never.
- Go home for the holidays. Although I had complete confidence that I'd be fine being away from my friends and family for the holidays, come Christmas-time, I was desperately missing everyone. It's a lot harder being away from your loved ones than you may think.
- Create a comprehensive budget. It's very important to create a budget for every last detail because the last thing you want is to run short on money before completing your studies. Do your homework and find out the costs of everything you may need during your time abroad. If you plan to stay at student dorms, be forewarned that you'll need to take care of that housing option at least half a year in advance. If you plan on opening a local bank account, consider monthly fees. I never paid monthly checking account fees but in Portugal, it costs me 8 Euros per month.
Advantages of Studying Abroad
A survey conducted by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) of 3,4000 former study abroad students from 1950 to 1999 found that studying abroad "positively and unequivocally influences the career path, world-view, and self-confidence" of students who partake in such programs.
Below are the advantages that I've found in terms of studying abroad vs. studying domestically.
Test whether you're made for an international career. Are you considering an international career? I've also always been interested in possibility of working on international assignments however my Bachelor in international marketing wasn't enough to land me any international assignments even in the international firm where I was employed. I needed at least one year of experience living abroad so choosing an international Masters program was the perfect fit for me to gain that one year experience. Unlike my study abroad experience during my Sophomore year of college when everything was set up for me by the school, I had to do everything on my own as a Grad student. This really showed me how much I enjoyed being in an international environment and further spurred my interest in pursuing an international career. However, I also realized that being away from my friends and family back at home was a lot more difficult that I imagined.
Cheaper tuition. Tuition costs are usually just a fraction of what they are in the US. Yes, you have a handful of ivy league equivalent grad schools around the world (Oxford, Cambridge, INSEAD, etc) where tuition costs are similar to those of the US but I personally was not willing to rack up debt again to further my education. I chose to go to a leading business school in Portugal, where tuition cost me about $10K. That's under a third of what one year of college cost me!
Global thinking. We live in a globalized world where there is an increasing need for international contacts. By studying abroad, you will undoubtedly broaden your horizon and meet lots of international people and make friends for a lifetime. My Masters' class had a total of 18 different nationalities from around the world so it was fascinating to work in multicultural teams and learn from each other.
A competitive edge over your colleagues. Taking the leap to study abroad shows your flexibility and adaptability - both traits that are important in today's ever changing and increasingly international business environment. Employers will be impressed with your ability and willingness to learn a different culture, your curiosity, and pro-activeness in pursuing your interests.
Improved language skills. There's no better way to learn or perfect a language then to be immersed in the language. If you want to perfect a language skill, choose a Grad program in the country where that language is spoken.
International programs are taught in English. If English is your first language, you're in luck because international grad degrees are taught in English so it will be a lot easier for you to grasp the classes than say a Chinese-speaking student who had to take an English proficiency exam to get into the program.
You'll make friends with people from all over the world. Your international study abroad program will have students from all around the world. So you'll make lasting friendships and have friends in cities all over the world!
Do you plan on studying abroad?
Disadvantages of Studying Abroad
Just like there are many advantages of studying abroad, there are a couple of disadvantages that I've found.
- People may mistake your study abroad for a gloried vacation. Yes, you may be studying in a dreamy vacation spot but as a study abroad student, you're definitely not lounging out on a beach chair drinking a Mojito! Although some people may think you are. I took a leave of absence to pursue my Masters degree and on numerous occasions, I was led to think that my supervisors are under the impression that I'm just on a long vacation and not in classes, and spending "free time" on group assignments and reports. All in all, yes, studying abroad is fun and you do get to experience a different country, above all, you're there for the education and that's what takes up your time. You know, even winter break is a lot shorter than in the US. In college, my winter break lasted nearly a month, in Portugal, it was just over a week (the day before Christmas, until the day after New Year's Day).
- You will need to get your foreign degree evaluated. Your foreign degree isn't just automatically valid in your country upon graduation. You will still need to take the extra steps to have it evaluated and counted as an equivalent to the education you receive at home.
- You will experience culture shock. It sucks, but most people experience it when abroad for an extended period of time. Symptoms include depression, loneliness, and a longing to go home. Oh and once you do go home, you'll most likely experience reverse-culture shock. The symptoms are the same as culture shock, except you'll experience it when you return home. Oy vey!
- Your newly acquired contacts will be in a foreign country but do you really want to remain in a foreign country? One of the top reasons for an education is networking. The friends you make and the professors you meet may help you land your next job. However, if you plan on returning to your home country, you'll be lacking new contacts there so there won't be anyone to root for you and you'll be job hunting without local recommendations.
Studying abroad has both its drawbacks and benefits but I think the many benefits really outweight the drawbacks. Just remember, the right program for YOU depends on your current career goals, your personal life, and your lifestyle.