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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

How Studying Abroad in High School Benefits You in College


When first deciding to study abroad, I was confronted with the typical question, "Why don't you wait and study abroad when you're in university?"  The reasons for waiting are strong; colleges encourage, and in some cases expect, students to study abroad and already have programs that work with a student's schedule; you're typically mature enough to go study abroad as a college students then you are as a high schooler; you can find plenty of grants and scholarships to study abroad in university. 

Going abroad as a high schooler does present its challenges, as many can attest. There's the fear studying abroad will affect your grades, especially during your junior year, and therefore hinder your chances of getting accepted into universities. There's also the trouble of translating credit for your international courses into your school's credit. Furthermore, you have to know if you are prepared to pick up and create a new life for yourself, whether it be for a semester or a year, in another foreign country. 

But despite all of these challenges, I still say that studying abroad in high school was one of the best choices I've ever made, and I regret not being able to go abroad for a full year. Why do I say this? Well, there are all the reasons everyone discusses, such as how it takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you another perspective of the world. Of course, there's the undeniable element that it looks great on a college application, something I took great note of as a rising senior. 

Studying abroad  teaches you necessary life skills.

While you will be living with a family, you may have to do more chores than you had to do back home. For me, while my mother would normally do the laundry, I had to learn how to work a washing and drying machine in Japanese. And while you're there, help around with the cooking and learn some new recipes you can take back with you to your home and college. When I was there, I wanted to make lots of American dishes for my host family to try and in the process honed my cooking abilities.

Studying abroad teaches you a foreign language.

This is an obvious benefit of being abroad, but in a world where speaking another language is a highly sought-after ability, you can market that trait in your application for a job and for university.

Studying abroad gives you a sense of what you want after high school.

Sometimes when you come back from your exchange, you realize that you still crave the adventure and culture more than what you got. You intend on going to college someday, but maybe you need a break from all that to see the world, enjoy life, and - forgive me for the cliché - find yourself. If that's the case, maybe a gap year is what you need. Many universities allow - and even encourage - students to spend a semester or a year abroad, sometimes offering university programs, and when you come back, you'll start college refreshed and a little more mature. 

(Applying for) Studying abroad helps you with the college application.

This has less to do with studying abroad, but it still serves as a side benefit. I can attest that completing the YFU application to study abroad helped me when it came time to start filling out the CommonApp. The application is reminiscent of the college applications I filled out so many times, save for the doctor forms and additional papers I had to fill out, and the essays took almost as much time an consideration as my college essays did. 

Studying abroad gives you a sense of what you want after college.

This statement here is applicable to both high school and university. You're still young with your entire life ahead of you, but quite often after coming back from an exchange trip, you may find that you want to continue traveling and living abroad for the rest of your life. In my case, after returning from Japan, I wanted to pursue extensive travel in the future, and so I began looking into careers involving international service. You're only exploring at this point, but taking a step out of your environment and discovering yourself will provide you with a sense of what you want to do or study.

Studying abroad proves how capable you are of being able to take care of yourself.

If you manage to last an entire year, even a semester, being able to live with another family, attend a foreign school whose courses are taught in another language, navigate a new city, make friends across cultures, and find genuine happiness while on your trip, then there's no way you won't be able to do the same in a college setting.

Studying abroad teaches you more about yourself.

This is probably the most important thing I want you to take out of your exchange. When you're isolated from your friends and family back home with the opportunity to do something with your life you've never done before, you'll find that you will make choices that you normally never would when you're back at home.  I experienced something similar to this. Before studying abroad, I was reserved and serious, rarely participating in any activities I regarded as frivolous and silly. But when I got to Japan, I didn't want to come off as standoffish and unapproachable to others, so I started doing things I never did before. I joked around, became more outgoing, and tried new things I never would have though twice about doing back at home, so I quite literally came back a new person. 

But now that I've given you reasons to study abroad, here are a few reasons that you shouldn't consider when studying abroad. Don't study abroad to use your experience as a padder for your application to appear more cultured. I encourage everyone to study abroad. I absolutely do. But I encourage people who want to gain an enriching experience out of this through exploration and immersion, not people who lack extracurriculars and need an extra something to boost their image. You'll gain something from exchange no matter where you go, but you need to go in with the right mindset to do so. Go because you want to see the world while you're young and learn more about yourself. You'll gain so much. I promise.