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WHY STUDY ABROAD? 4 INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ANSWER

Check out an article by one of our amazing college admissions tutors, Rosanna Kataja


 

Are you considering studying abroad, whether it is a full degree or an exchange program?


Studying abroad has become more popular and sometimes certain study programs or schools even require a study abroad experience as part of the degree! School systems also vary in different countries, and your dream program might not be offered where you live. 


For this post, I approached students from all over the world to ask them about their experiences studying abroad, why they decided to do so, and what challenges they have had to face.



Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash


Polina, from Russia to the USA at Harvard University


WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO APPLY TO STUDY ABROAD?


“I decided to apply to study abroad because I was largely undecided about my field of study. In my home country, Russia, you have to know what you want to study when you enter the university, and you don’t have a chance to take classes outside of your major/switch majors throughout your college career at all. 


I was equally interested in social sciences and humanities, as well as wanted to explore other classes in fields like computer science and statistics, so the liberal arts system in many American universities was particularly appealing to me. Additionally, I realized that universities abroad have more opportunities for exploration and self-development in general — I could do arts, and research, take part in pre-professional groups, and get generous funding for summer experiences. Those things were impossible or much harder to get into universities in my home country.”


HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR SCHOOL EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT ABROAD VS. WHAT IT WOULD BE BACK HOME?


“It is very different in many respects! I have greater freedom of choice in terms of classes and extracurriculars, more opportunities to pursue independent projects and to work one-on-one with faculty members, and a more rewarding social experience, as I have classmates from all over the world and from very diverse backgrounds, which wouldn’t have been the case at home.”


WHAT ARE SOME OBSTACLES YOU‘VE HAD TO GO THROUGH BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO GO STUDY ABROAD?


“It was difficult to [do] college applications at the same time while preparing for Russian national state exams and brainstorming alternative options in case I don’t get into American universities. None of my classmates or friends were applying to universities abroad, so they largely did not understand what and why I was doing. At some points during my senior year I felt very overwhelmed and isolated. Teachers at my school never had the experience of having to write letters of recommendation, especially writing letters of recommendation in English, which also made things a bit difficult.”


HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED THOSE OBSTACLES?


“I think I had a very strong desire to try to get into a university abroad that kept me going despite all difficulties. I kept telling myself that after a few months those college applications would be finished and I would just have to wait and see what the results are, but now, when I still have a chance to influence my chances for admission, I need to do my best and work hard, so that I won’t have regrets later. This included sleepless nights doing research on what colleges are looking for in the application essays, translating all sorts of information for my teachers from English to Russian, as well as a having to explain countless times to family members that there are opportunities to study abroad for free (despite what they might have thought initially!)”


HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR ABROAD EXPERIENCE WILL AFFECT YOUR FUTURE (CAREER PROSPECTS, ETC.)?


“Obviously, the Harvard name brand can be very helpful in various kinds of contexts. This doesn’t mean that you can afford not to work hard, of course, but it certainly gives you easier access to more opportunities. American elite universities provide you with all kinds of fascinating connections (to people and to resources), and if you have enough ambition and desire to succeed, it would be much easier to build the future that you want (whether it be in industry or academia or anywhere else) than in other places. Additionally, getting an undergrad degree abroad allowed me to hone my English skills in a way that I would never have been able to in my home country.”


Melis, from Finland to the UK at KCL


WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO APPLY TO STUDY ABROAD?


“My story is not the most conventional, I applied to the UK as a plan B. Having stayed 0.25 points short of getting in to study at the University of Helsinki the year before, I needed a backup. I had always wanted to study abroad and once I got into King’s [College London] I realized that I had to go for it, so I ditched my plans to apply to Helsinki again and decided to head to London. Best decision ever!


HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR SCHOOL EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT HERE VS. WHAT IT WOULD BE AT HOME?


“It is definitely less flexible. The UK system is very fixed in its ways which is both good and bad. Studies here are very structured and timed but also very heavy and hectic. In Finland I believe you can tailor your degree to greater detail and also the deadlines are more giving. In the UK you learn a lot about critical thinking and focus on wider topics rather than for instance a single academic or textbook which I believe is how they do it in Finland. I also feel like the competitive atmosphere is stronger in the UK.


Overall I believe that the UK system is worse for one’s mental health but definitely pushes you more academically. Considering these things, it is tough to say which system produces ”better” results. Both have their benefits and their downsides.


WHAT OBSTACLES HAVE YOU FACED, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM? 


“Funding my studies and personal life. It was never a given for me that I would have the money to fund my studies. I have taken out all the loans that I can and am very lucky to have the Finnish government grants and parents who help me out. In terms of personal life, it is very difficult for me to be away from friends and family at home. I had 3 gap years after high school, so I had built a solid life back home which was not easy to leave. Over the years I have gotten used to it and have learned to balance two completely separate lives. It is difficult to say how I did it, since it has all been very trial and error, but it helps to have so many lovely people around me who support me even if we weren’t in touch for a while. I think it is only a matter of time and trying your best to make things work.


HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR ABROAD EXPERIENCE WILL AFFECT YOUR FUTURE (CAREER PROSPECTS, ETC.)?


“I feel like if I ever wanted to work in/for Finland, my degree would not be appreciated, especially considering how much hard work and sacrifices went into it. There are many internships that one cannot even apply to if they do not study at a Finnish university. That is one of the major reasons I decided to do my Master’s back at home.


I feel like it is a bit easier to go back to Finland if going into finance or business for example, but government is quite difficult to break into with a foreign degree. This is something that should absolutely be changed. I understand that some knowledge of Finland is required to enter such jobs, but having done all schooling in Finland until university, including the matriculation exams, should be enough proof of knowing Finnish society. It is especially irritating when job notices emphasize international experience. What is more international than immersing oneself in an entirely new environment surrounded by people from all over the world?


Hawraz, from Iraq to the USA at Harvard University


HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO APPLY TO STUDY ABROAD?


“In 2019 I did a 4-week leadership exchange program in the US and the experience was incredibly educational and insightful I knew spending my undergraduate years in the US would be a transformational experience. I also liked the idea of exploring different fields during my first year of college.”


HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR SCHOOL EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT HERE VS. WHAT IT WOULD BE AT HOME?


“Very different for sure. The [universities at] home weren’t like the standards of the US and there was less of residential life (which I think is important for connecting with classmates).”


WHAT OBSTACLES DID YOU FACE AND HOW DID YOU MANAGE THEM?


“There wasn’t anyone back home to guide me through the US college application process so I had to Google my way in. I also come from a country that is hard to travel from and I had lots of trouble with visas (Covid made it harder). Patience and being strategic helped with this.”


How do you think your abroad experience will affect your future (career prospects, etc.)?

“I believe the connections with professors and classmates will boost my professional career greatly. Harvard College has also enabled me to take challenging but rewarding courses that helps with joining the workplace.”


Sara, from Finland to the UK 


WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO APPLY TO STUDY ABROAD?

“I had taken part in a Erasmus week long exchange in my high school and figured out that I really liked learning about other cultures and getting to know people internationally. After that I started taking part in all available international events or programs in high school and once it was time to apply for university I thought it would be so exciting and fun to experience an international environment and new culture for a longer time in form of studying abroad.”


HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR SCHOOL EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT HERE VS. WHAT IT WOULD BE AT HOME?


“The school experience is quite different compared to Finland in my experience. I study engineering abroad and have found that the teaching model is more traditional than in Finland but also a bit more practice focused. In my program abroad you rarely have the chance to choose courses, and the same courses last the whole autumn or spring semester. In Finland however, you have multiple periods and can have the freedom to choose your courses and the teaching uses more new technology and is a bit more modern.


Even though Finland has a very unique student culture and some might prefer that, I have also found that for example in the UK there are a lot of student societies that bring students who like the same hobby or sport together and they are a lot of fun.”


WHAT OBSTACLES HAVE YOU FACED, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM? 


“The biggest obstacles have been probably just figuring out the application process for UK and then just organising bank accounts, [government financial support], and accommodation.


I have managed these obstacles quite well. Applying through UCAS to UK universities turned out to be quite simple and the university offered accommodation for first year students. Also there was a lot of help available from the university to ask anything you needed and also [the Finnish government] helped when needed.”


HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR ABROAD EXPERIENCE WILL AFFECT YOUR FUTURE (CAREER PROSPECTS, ETC.)?


“My abroad experience has given me important skills to collaborate with people from all different backgrounds and cultures and understanding of how an other country’s systems work. Studying in English is also useful since most of the academia is in English.


In addition, employers have been very interested and valuing the fact that I studied abroad. That’s why I believe it will positively affect my future. Also by studying abroad I hope to have more opportunities for working abroad in the future.


Thank you to Polina, Melis, Hawraz, and Sara for all your wonderful answers!


 

Article originally posted here.

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