Ready to See the World? 6 Benefits of Exchange Programs
College can be rough.
All-night cram sessions before tests. Student loans. Pressure from parents and teachers to have it all together.
Wouldn’t it be nice to escape it all for a little while?
Well, you could run away and join the circus.
Or you could choose the more sensible option of studying abroad.
There are many different types of exchange programs that let people visit, study, work or volunteer in another country.
If you’re a college student, your school probably has some kind of foreign exchange program. These schemes present you with amazing opportunities to explore the world while staying on track to graduate.
Types of College Exchange Programs
University Exchange Program
If your university is affiliated with a college abroad, you can take classes at the partner school.
This is a great way to experience both the culture and education system of another country.
Third-party Exchange Program
This option is a little more flexible in terms of what you do and where you go.
You can still take regular university classes through third-party programs. But since you don’t have to be associated with a specific school, you can apply your skill set to a wide variety of situations. Try an internship, work study program or volunteer project. And still get college credit!
Here are some of the top third-party study abroad providers to check out:
How Long Should You Stay?
Academic Semester or Year
Leaving home for an entire academic semester or year will give you a well-rounded experience abroad.
You’ll have plenty of time to dive deep into the lifestyle and learn what it’s like to live in that country. You can’t thoroughly experience a culture in only a few weeks.
With short-term programs, you can take a break from your normal life but still keep studying at your home university until graduation.
Maybe you want to take a spring break language course or summer internship in another country. When I was a senior in college, my school helped me set up a work-study at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand during my winter vacation. That one short month abroad had a significant impact on my life.
For more information about what cultural exchange programs are right for you, consult with your school’s study abroad department.
Calling All Students! 6 Benefits of Exchange Programs
1. Studying Abroad Lets You See the World
The world is huge.
It’s so big that if you wanted to spend one day on every island in Indonesia, it would take you over 40 years. And that’s just Indonesia!
In such a massive world, there are so many opportunities to see new and exciting things!
- Architecture. Architecture is the visual representation of a culture. Think about the architectural differences between the French Palace in Versailles and the Forbidden City in Beijing. Both structures served the same purpose, but the artistry of each place represents a completely unique and distinct cultural heritage.
- Geography. The world has countless interesting geographic features. Each one is unique in size, shape and orientation. Getting up close and looking at them with your own eyes can be a life-changing experience.
- Climate. It’s such a banal yet wonderful thing to experience a different climate than the one you’re used to. My Malaysian friend traveled to England in February when she saw a few tiny snowflakes falling from the sky. She jumped up, ran outside and shouted into the streets of Manchester, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen snow!”
- Wildlife. Yes, we can all go to a zoo, but zoo animals aren’t behaving in a natural way. It’s a distinctly different feeling to see wild monkeys swinging on trees by the side of the road or elephants bathing themselves in their local watering hole. Seeing wildlife in their native habitat will make you look at your own life a lot differently.
- People. One of the most interesting things about humanity is how various cultures have developed over time. Each culture has its own styles of dress, modes of nonverbal communication and unique ways of living daily life. Perhaps most importantly, each culture is filled with amazing people who could soon become your new friends.
When you keep seeing things you aren’t used to seeing, you start to discover a whole new set of interests you didn’t even know existed. This soul searching helps you find perspectives which inform the decisions that will impact the rest of your life.
2. Exchange Programs Broaden Personal Perspectives
If you’ve only lived in your home country, you might not realize how many experiences the rest of the world has to offer. There’s an infinite number of experiences out there. Go find them!
Here are just a few ways your perspectives can be changed when you travel.
- Religions and Belief Systems. Cultures form around groups of people with common ideas and beliefs. Religion and spirituality are often the most predominant and obvious systems of belief that form the basis of cultural identities. Even a lack of religion in a culture offers insight about its predominant beliefs.
- Food. Every culture in the world has a distinct and important food-based identity. Everyone has to eat, and everyone loves to eat good food. When you start exploring the world, you not only get to taste these new cultural delicacies, you also get to learn why a specific diet is an important part of the culture.
- Cultural Traditions. Culture is solidified over years and years of passed down traditions. These traditions are direct representations of cultures. When you learn about these cultural traditions, you see a direct timeline of how the culture has changed, morphed and adapted to meet the needs of the present day.
Perhaps the most important aspect of going abroad is that you form friendships with people who are a part of these distinct societies. Developing relationships with new people broadens your perspectives even more.
3. Being in a New Culture Refines Language Skills
If you study abroad in a country where people speak a foreign language, you’re in a perfect position to strengthen your language skills.
Every day, you’ll be blessed with a golden opportunity to talk with native speakers. You’ll go to restaurants, read signs, take public transportation and speak with numerous locals.
The more of the local language you speak, the more potential you have to build friendships with residents. When you foster a friendship, you’ll do more than just improve your language skills. You’ll also start building a life in a new culture!
Even if you study language skills back home, you can’t understand the cultural implications of that language until you immerse yourself in a native-speaking environment.
That said, until you’re ready to go abroad, you absolutely should study the language at home. This way you’ll be able to hit the ground running when you arrive at your destination.
4. Studying Abroad Makes You More Employable
Since business in general is becoming more globalized, having a worldwide perspective is immensely valuable.
First of all, employers notice applicants with foreign language skills. That’s not all they notice, though.
Experience living in a foreign country signifies that you’re willing to take risks and are open to embracing diversity. It shows that you accept challenges, can adapt to tough situations and are able to survive in different environments.
Potential employers regard these worldly employees as more compassionate, culturally sensitive and prone to taking on leadership roles.
Apart from looking more hirable, you’ll be laying the foundation for job opportunities all over the world. Knowing that you are capable of living in a foreign country, you can expand your search for the perfect job outside your safe bubble in your native country.
It’s no surprise that employers love hiring people who have studied abroad.
5. Exchange Programs Teach You to Be Independent
As a college student, you’ve probably already realized that being independent feels amazing. Scary, yes, but amazing nonetheless.
When you move abroad for an exchange program, you kick your independence up a notch.
You’re forced to become self-sufficient. Everything is unfamiliar, and your loved ones are on the other side of the world. You even have to relearn how to do basic things like buy toothpaste!
Being on your own is one thing. But being on your own while living abroad quickly teaches you to sink or swim.
During my first two weeks studying in China, everything was so different that I didn’t even know how to find food. I didn’t eat for a full 72 hours because I was afraid, confused and unable to find anyone to help me.
But by the end of my year in Beijing, I was able to backpack alone around the entirety of China with unshakable confidence.
Being thrown into an unfamiliar situation and learning how to adequately manage that experience is a defining moment on an individual’s personal development journey.
6. This Could Be Your Only Chance to Live Abroad
After college, people often start careers, find partners, have kids and settle down. While there’s nothing wrong with this path, you could quickly find yourself with lots of commitments. You won’t be able to just get up and go.
But in college, your main responsibility is to learn. As a student, your only job is to become smarter, wiser and more marketable than everyone else. Once again, remember that living abroad will give you a leg-up on the competition.
That’s why it’s your duty as a good student to learn about another culture!
Don’t miss out on the opportunities exchange programs offer you while you have the time.
When you study abroad, you become an even more awesome version of yourself.
College isn’t starting to sound so rough anymore, is it?
You’ve probably even forgotten that idea to join the circus.
Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow him at Perspective Earth to learn more about his work.