The summer before my Junior year of college I studied abroad in Costa Rica and it was the best experience of my college career. One of my minors is Spanish so I chose Costa Rica to help me fulfill those requirements, but it ended up being the perfect choice for me for so many reasons.
Studying abroad is only an option while you're in school
You need to study abroad in college because you will never have this opportunity again. Sure in the future you can travel, but not for school credit and you will not be living there for an extended period of time. You also get to know locals your age, which is another experience that is often left out while traveling.
Plus, the older you get the more roots you put down. You'll want to start a family, buy a house (maybe), have a 9-5 career, whatever. These obligations are not going to allow you to travel for more than a few weeks at a time. While you're in school is your time to figure out who you are and have as many experiences as possible, and studying abroad is a must-have experience.
It is the experience of a lifetime
Especially if you are traveling to a place where English is not the first language, like I did. Personally, I believe studying abroad needs to be required to graduate because it really broadens your horizons. The reason why Costa Rica was a perfect choice for me is because I'm such a high-strung busy body. I always feel like I need to be doing something and I never take the time to relax. Costa Rica was the opposite. For example, while on a city bus the driver stops in the middle of a busy street, gets out, and orders a coffee from a cafe, gets back into the bus, and continues to drive. Everyone on the bus reacted as if this was totally normal and stayed so calm. After this trip I became much more patient and collected.
You also have to see the world. It is so much bigger than your tiny little version of the world that consists of your home, school, and job. You need to see how other people live and what they live for. This reduces ignorance, too. You can always tell who is a world traveler and who stays within their community. Be the world traveler.
You will learn the language...
If you are studying a language you absolutely have to study where they speak the language. There is no other way to become proficient. Before Costa Rica I did not have the confidence to speak in Spanish even though I could understand and write in it. You have to become immersed in the language and have it everywhere around you 24/7 to switch your brain from translating between the two languages and simply thinking in both. While I was abroad I had dreams in Spanish (and still do sometimes) so this really is important.
Traveling is super cheap
And you have people with you to figure out traveling abroad with you so it's not so scary. My most favorite memory of Costa Rica was when we decided to travel to a particular beach on our own and planned it ourselves. It was so much easier than I had built it up to be and I'm so glad I did it. You're paying to study abroad so see as much of the world as you can while you're there!
A few last things...
- Your college will help walk you through the whole entire Study Abroad process, and most likely has exchange programs that are the bomb (it's what I did) so ask for those.
- Research the country you are going to so you understand the social dos and don'ts. Each culture has their own customs and you need to make sure you are seen as polite while you are there (you are representing the U.S. after all)
- You can always study abroad. Don't make excuses that it doesn't fit into your schedule. You have electives you can use up, or you can add a few more credits to future semesters. Don't make excuses to miss out on this opportunity.
- Travel alone. Don't bring your boyfriend or best friend abroad with you. Meet new people and use this time to be confident in yourself and your independence.