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Editorial: Study abroad is not for everyone

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 22, 2013 5:00 AM

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For better or worse, globalization is an unstoppable force that will lead to giant economic upheavals, complete with its own set of winners and losers. To keep students on the winning side of globalization, universities around the nation are promoting study-abroad programs as the key to success in a global workforce.

The University of Iowa is no exception, enrolling 1,300 students in its Study Abroad program every year, and the administration intends to increase the percentage of students who participate in them.

We feel that study abroad is typically a beneficial option for students; however, they should seriously weigh the pros and cons of partaking in such programs. That is not to say we question the value of spending time in another country, but students would benefit from considering whether study abroad is the best way to learn about new cultures.

The financial cost is very high. Airline tickets are notoriously expensive, often climbing into the thousands of dollars for round trips to Europe, the most popular study-abroad destination for UI students. Depending on their majors and courses, they may have to graduate later. There’s also the cost of living, administrative fees, and travel insurance to consider. To top it all off, figure in the cost of sightseeing, and there’s got a huge bill to pay.

Granted, there are scholarships that can help cover some fees, and of course, going to another country can be a life-changing experience, so you could argue that it’s worth the cost.

However, there are other options for going abroad, such as the Peace Corps, that allow students to defer on or even cancel certain student loans, cover transportation to and from designated worksites, provide paid vacation and job-support services after participation, along with several other valuable benefits.

But what determines whether study abroad is the best way for students to spend their (and sometimes their parents’) precious time and money depends largely on the student, the selected program, and what else could have been done with the resources spent.

It’s not inconceivable that upon studying abroad, an American student would strongly cling to fellow Americans and continually eat at American fast-food restaurants. You can have a blast without truly learning about the place you visit.

Conversely, if students go to another nation with the right attitude and enroll in a quality program, there’s a lot more potential to experience something new.

Going abroad itself can help students learn another language or culture via immersion, but it is not necessary to be successful. The workforce should be prepared for globalization revolution, but you don’t necessarily have to go all the way to Poland to learn how to interact with and respect people from different cultures.

Global cities such as New York and Chicago are very diverse and offer many opportunities to interact with people who are culturally different, so an internship or other activity in such places could be as valuable as studying abroad for some students.

We encourage students to at least consider going to a place that is different from what they know and make the best use of their time and money. Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all option. It all depends on the person, and we hope students remember that when they decide whether to study abroad.


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