10 Reasons to Go Abroad

My name is Alissa Ward, a fourth year business student at VIU. I’m double majoring in Management and International Business, and anyone who knows me, knows I’m a planner. I plan everything so far in advance to ensure every last detail is thought of. I even planned my 5th birthday party all by myself, and let me tell you, it was great. Before I decided to go on a field school, I allowed my planning nature to take over and I made a pros and cons list of going abroad. I think that was my way of visualizing my internal battle of taking a leap into the unknown or maintaining to live my life day-by-day, all planned out, just the way I like it. However, despite my lists, they were just that, lists. They couldn’t rationalize a decision this large, but somehow my pros lists was much longer and this is what pushed me to take this leap that I am incredibly grateful for along with the support from the VIU Education Abroad department. Now I’ve done some research and compiled other people’s lists for 10 Reasons to Go Abroad that will hopefully help you make this decision easier to commit to whether it be a field school, exchange, practicum placement, summer program, or international internship.


1. Experience Different Styles of Education

 Throughout VIU there are many different teaching styles, but that doesn’t mean that these are the only ways or the right ways. Going on a semester abroad may expose you to an entirely different way of teaching, structuring assignments, group projects, and you may even be immersed into a new aspect of your major or minor. For myself, I participated in the Wine Management Field School. With Field Schools, VIU Professors instruct the courses. For my particular field school, we had multiple pre-departure lessons, where the teaching style remained similar to that of any other class. Once we arrived in France, the teaching style shifted significantly, becoming much less formal as we were instructed in hotel lobbies, presented in dining rooms, and toured various wineries. Much of our learning was day-to-day in the wineries, where the teaching came from typically the winery owner as we stood taking notes and toured the facilities, much different than your traditional classroom with a desk and whiteboard. By truly immersing yourself in the education system, regardless of what program you are on, you’ll get a greater sense of the culture that you are within, which leads us into the second reason to study abroad.


2. Immerse Yourself in a New Culture

 Your academics won’t be the only learnings you return home with. Given vast improvements towards becoming a globalized world, the workplace is becoming global as well and learning how to communicate cross-culturally is an important skill to have. When you immerse yourself in a new culture through your education abroad, you will gain deeper insights into the food, customs, traditions, and social atmosphere that may surround you. For myself, learning the French culture included recognizing the different times meals were typically served and the length of time it takes to progress through a meal, that is significantly longer than that in North America. You may think the new culture is absolutely beautiful, or that you can’t find peanut butter anywhere and that you’re not appreciating all that the culture has to offer. You may find that it isn’t just one new culture you’re learning about of the country you’re studying in, but also learning the cultures of all of the other exchange students you are surrounded by. With my field school, there was a diverse group of students and I found myself learning about various cultures and their customs in addition French. Find a groove that works for you to involve yourself, as you won’t want to return home and say that all you ate was chicken strips and fries.


3. See the World

 When you’re not in classes or studying, you’ll have the opportunity to travel. Now you’re probably thinking “When will I have the time to do that? I hardly ever get to travel when I’m at Vancouver Island University”. Well, first, do you have a full or part-time job? All of that time you spend working at home, you won’t while you’re abroad, so there’s a good 20+ hours a week you can spend travelling while abroad. If you don’t work, how many days a week do you go to campus at VIU? For myself, it’s usually 4-5. The time you spend commuting to school, parking, being unproductive in a Building lounge or the library... all of that time adds up to be a significant chunk of your week, that could be allocated to other activities. In addition, many exchanges, depending on your courses, have you going to the partner school 2-3 days a week, meaning that if you do your assignments efficiently, you will have 4 days a week to travel! For my field school, we had most evenings off in addition to free days after longer travelling days. During these times I made sure to allocate enough time for me to finish my assignments, allowing me to still be able to wander the streets and find new places each day. So make some friends and start planning to see more of the country you’re studying in or even surrounding countries to make some unforgettable memories. In addition to just seeing the beauty that the country you’re exchanging in may offer, you’ll get insights into the different cultures of the people you’re surrounded by and get to share your culture with them. However, in addition to the travelling you may decide to do, your primary focus is the educational aspect of your exchange, but this may take various forms, leading us to the next reason to study abroad.


4. Develop Your Language Skills

 As a further way to immerse yourself in your exchange country and gain educational experience, furthering your language skills may be a bonus. Our partner universities offer courses in English, but you may be able to take some additional courses through the university that offer transfer credits. One way to fully immerse yourself in the language is to live with a host family, if this is of interest to you, reach out to the Education Abroad Department for help in finding what will suit you. From these connections that you make while learning the basics of a language, you will experience the culture more closely to a local than an exchange student, leading us into the next reason to study abroad. For myself, I had taken French courses throughout high school as well as introductory levels here at VIU, but found that visiting France really helped to solidify many of the concepts I was unsure of and has pushed me to continue learning more about the language in order to maintain such a valuable skill.


5. You’re not Visiting, You’re Living

 When you truly “live like a local,” you experience many places that you didn’t even know existed. This could include the best restaurants to eat at, cultural events to go to, or even places classified as hidden gems. When you acknowledge that you aren’t just visiting this country for anywhere from ten days to up to four months, but that you’re living in it, you may begin to realize all of the traditions that happen within the culture that you were not subject to as a visitor. By gaining a greater sense of another culture, this leads us into the next reason to study abroad.


 6. Career & Educational Opportunities

 International experience is a major asset to have when applying for jobs within your desired field and for graduate school applications. To be able to state to future employers or for graduate school applications that you gained a greater appreciation for another culture, this skill of being flexible and open, translates well in the global environment we now live in. As a further way to differentiate yourself on a resume, think about the relationships you can make with others that aren’t just your classmates. Introduce yourself to your professors while abroad, if you reach out to them during their office hours, you may be able to form a relationship that leads to a reference letter. Think about how good that would look to employers or on a graduate application, that you were on an exchange for four months and during that time, you dedicated yourself to your education so much, that you were able to gain a recommendation from your professor. As mentioned, education abroad provides many opportunities for individuals that help to differentiate you from the rest, as long as you can translate your experience. If you are struggling to relay in words the many benefits you gained while abroad or want to learn what they may be if you were to study abroad come to our workshop on November 7 from 12-1 in the Royal Arbutus Room (Building 300, Room 401). For myself with relation to furthered educational opportunities, one of our stops in Dijon, France had us visit the Burgundy School of Business, one of VIU’s partner universities. After touring their campus and being educated on their various programs, I decided this is where I would love to take my Master’s. Without this tour on this field school, I may have opted for a Master’s experience in Canada, but this was a great opportunity for me to learn about the opportunities for furthered post-secondary education and the skills I should begin developing now in order to apply to their competitive intake.


7. Find New Interests

 While studying abroad and meeting classmates, you may learn about different activities that this new culture partakes in that you didn’t know you enjoyed or even know about. In addition to your classmates, ask your professors (this may be a good way to start the relationship previously talked about). Studying abroad provides opportunities for you to be away from certain aspects of your life that you are familiar with and encourages you to try new activities that may become your new favourite hobby to participate in when returning home! For myself, this new interest was genuinely making the time to take in my surroundings. Having a school-life balance was essential over my 18 days in France. Given the condensed time frame of this field school, going through jet lag, attending content heavy academic sessions most days, finishing assignments, and also finding time to explore the five cities we went to was challenging. By making time to wander the city streets and take in the beautiful architecture, a new habit was formed of making the intentional decision to return home and wander through Nanaimo with a tourist perspective.


8. Make Lifelong Friends

 When studying abroad you may meet many locals as well as other exchange students, take advantage of this opportunity! Many of you, as exchange students, may feel displaced when you initially arrive in a foreign country and bond over this feeling. As the semester progresses, maybe you have classes together or end up being roommates, study buddies, or weekend travel buddies. You create friendships with these people and share all of your experiences abroad with them. These friendships that you make, if maintained, can be lifelong relationships. The best part of these friendships, is that when you go travelling in the future, you’ll always have a free couch to sleep on in the different countries that you made friends from. Be open to making new friends, they may push you in ways you didn’t know possible, leading us to another reason to study abroad.


9. Personal Development

 If you’re feeling stuck in your monotonous routine, maybe an exchange is just what you need, I know it was for me! When you’re away from your friends, your family, your routines, and everything that is apart of your daily life, you are forced to grow. You try new things, you maybe do new tasks that your roommate always did. The new friends you meet, the form of education that you are exposed to, will provide you with many aspects to compare between what it is like back home and in this new country and what you like and possibly dislike about each, allowing an opportunity to reflect and grow personally. Ultimately, you may learn new things about yourself when you are in this almost vulnerable state, but it is exhilarating! Personal development is a large part of education abroad, take this opportunity to learn more about yourself before you head off into the workforce in your desired field.


10. Enjoy Coming Home

 Reverse culture shock is a reality for many people when returning from their education abroad. We become so attached to all of the great memories in our exchanges, that we forget the potentially bad aspects of those countries, and end up highlighting the negatives in our own country. However, once the reverse culture shock has subsided, you may be more appreciative of returning home. You may be sure to appreciate what is surrounding you, that you took for granted while you were abroad (AKA the Pacific Ocean). After a long day of travelling home, I didn’t really want to be back home, but as soon as I got onto the BC Ferry and saw the sun setting over the mountains, I knew I had taken our scenic home for granted while I was away  For myself, it took me about a full week to get over the jet lag and each time I would be awake at an obscure hour I would think, well it’s this time in France and I would normally be doing this right now, giving me all kinds of feelings of wanting to return. After a few weeks of settling back in, I realized more than ever what I enjoyed about being home that before my field school I didn’t think twice about.


 Hopefully this list of 10 Reasons to Study Abroad has helped to highlight the many benefits of the experiences you may gain and return home with.