To Study or Not to Study?
In hearing about my choice to attend an international school for four years, the first reaction of many is admiration or intrigue. This is typically followed by a bombardment of questions about what, where, why, and how. After all, this is not the usual path for students, especially Americans. In the United States, we are lucky to have some of the best universities in the world meaning the option of heading international is not even presented to most high school students.
While one option is not better than another, completing one’s degree in another country can have advantages. Most obviously, one can experience a new culture and learn another language. Likewise, for some studies, place can be crucial in the overall study experience. This is true in Florence for students studying subjects such as art, architecture, history, or food. With the deep history and traditions of these subjects in this area, students are able to learn both in and outside of the classroom, making them more appreciative of their field and well-rounded job candidates after graduation.
Another attraction to the international university experience is the cost, which may come as a shock! With the universities in the United States being so renowned, they do not come cheap. In fact, the US is the country with the most expensive universities in the world. One can attend many schools in Europe for a fraction of the cost of their US counterparts.
Difficulties of Going International
While living as an international student comes with some glamour and attraction, many expected and unexpected difficulties also accompany this choice.
First of all, most international schools have classes in the language of the nation to which they belong. To attend an Italian university, you must know Italian, to attend a German university (which, back to the point of cost, is completely free, even for international students!), one must know German, etc. Nevertheless, some English-speaking schools in these countries exist, although they tend to be be less prevalent.
Beyond language there are countless logistical issues that arise, as is expected with any international move. Things like health care, housing, flights, time off, visas, etc. are all hurdles which can be difficult to manage while also trying to balance school, exams, and college life. Even simple things, such as getting sick and needing to go to the doctor, become more complicated when you are in a country, culture, and language that is unfamiliar.
Is it Worth It?
With extra difficulties and complications that come with moving abroad, is the experience worth the trouble? In my own experience, I would say yes. The opportunity to spend an extended period of time in a new place is not one that comes often, but which will change your identity. The “college stage” of life is one of the best to take on this challenge, as one has more freedom and ability to explore, learn, adapt, and adventure. As one gets older, life often prohibits this. Nevertheless, taking time abroad will open your eyes and broaden your perspective to a world you may have never otherwise known.
In saying that, I would like to be sensitive to the fact that studying internationally is not an option for everyone. Even with the advantages previously mentioned, it is still a privilege. Many cannot venture down this path because of health reasons, finances, family, choice of major, etc. Each person’s choice is their own, and none is invalid. My only hope is that those who have this as an option would consider it seriously, and possibly take a different path than that which is laid out as the norm.
Study Abroad or International Student?
With Italy being one of the top locations in the world for semester study-abroad American students, I often get asked if I’m “studying abroad.” While in one sense, I am studying abroad, I hope to make the distinction between a study-abroad student and an international student. In my experience, the disparity between the two is vast.
While a study abroad is a great opportunity for many students, it comes with a different mindset than a person here long-term. I witness this firsthand in my school, which is majority study-abroad and a small part long-term. Study abroad students usually (although not always) make no effort to speak the language or join the community, desire only to travel and therefore don’t get to know the city they live in, and use study abroad to take advantage of the younger drinking/clubbing age in European nations.
While every person wants their own experience, the important difference in being study-abroad versus an international student comes down to state of mind. Is the mindset one of consumeristic maximization: getting the most fun out of a place in a fifteen week span? Or is it a commitment to the place itself, a desire to know the language, culture, and become a part of the community out of respect for the country and the people?
Many international students, especially those who are long-term, consider making a life and seeking permanent residency in their country of study. This is both the beauty and the danger of being an international student. No matter how much you love and appreciate your home country, culture, and community, becoming a part of another changes your perspective and identity. You may never come back the same or you may never come back at all.
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