I’m going to go ahead and make a biased, totally un-researched assumption right off the bat: every person who has studied abroad would describe the experience as “life-changing.” I can make that assumption with unwarranted confidence because that’s the only way most people, including myself, can capture everything in an accurate phrase without boring the person who asked. “Life-changing” is the only way we can describe riding a time machine to Rome or standing where a queen once stood or being overwhelmed with the immense diversity that’s crammed into such a small area of the world. “Life-changing” is also the only way we can talk about living where no one knows you and finding your truest self by hanging out with strangers (who eventually become your best friends).
Unfortunately, describing a study abroad experience as “life-changing” is also one of the most cliché ways to go about it—and it’s not the only cliché about studying abroad that needs to be examined a little closer. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, or maybe just avoiding homework, here are some common misconceptions to be aware of:
- Studying abroad is just for rich kids.
Studying abroad is definitely more expensive than staying put, but I trust that most people can make it work. Let me break it down by using the University of Montana as an example: UM is partnered with over 50 international schools in about 25 different countries, which means that you can pay your tuition to UM while studying at a school abroad. So, if you choose a partner program, you’ll probably only have to budget extra for travel and living expenses, which can also be supplemented by a wide variety of scholarship opportunities if you play your cards right.
Plus, once you get there, traveling around the area is surprisingly affordable – plane tickets can be around 50€/round trip if you’re savvy and hostel reservations are even cheaper than that.
- Studying in Europe = 6 months of non-stop partying
It’s true that almost every European country you visit is going to say they’re the best at making and drinking some sort of alcohol (I was in Germany, so, naturally, they loved their beer). That being said, however, there’s actually a lot to do over there besides partying – while I was abroad, I spent most of my time exploring different countries, going to all sorts of events in the community, hanging out with friends, and even volunteering at a local refugee shelter. And partying, of course.
Plus, there’s a cool old church around just about every corner if you ever get really bored.
- You’ll make tons of local friends.
Locals tend to hang out with themselves, so meeting and befriending them can be a little challenging. The good news is that you immediately get tossed in with a huge group of international students who are also looking to make friends for the next six months or so. It’s like a freshman year in the dorms all over again!
- You’ll be fluent in that one language by the end of it.
Clearly this depends on a lot of factors, including your prior knowledge of the language and the region that you study in. Top three phrases I
recommend prioritizing, no matter the language or level: “Excuse me,” “Please,” and “Can I pet your dog?”
- You don’t actually study when you’re studying abroad.
I studied considerably less, but I still had to keep up with it. To generalize, the European education system differs from the American one majorly through class structure and expectations. Most people I’ve talked to agree that classes have less consistent evaluations (i.e., homework), meaning your final grade basically depends on your final exam. However, that also means you’ll have more free-time during the semester to do some experiential learning, like actually living your life in Europe, instead.
As an obvious disclaimer, not everyone will have the same experience that I did. Some people will party with their local friends for all six months, speaking the language fluently, blowing life savings on crêpes and seafood, and not showing up to class until the last week – and they’ll probably have a freaking awesome time doing it.
As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad changes lives – but you’ll never know how it can change yours until just get on the plane and go.