Studying abroad is an investment in your future
Having said all of this, what makes studying abroad not only a way to get and save money; what does studying abroad really do for your career? For starters, international experiences like studying abroad set you apart academically and professionally. On your resume, study abroad credentials attest to a candidate’s boldness and ability to adapt. It says that you’re a leader; someone who is not afraid to leave their comfort zone and pursue the unknown.
Remember, the vast majority of students do not study abroad during their college years. They enter the workforce without real-world experience, let alone international experience. Studying abroad can help you to gain both, as you learn to interact in a foreign environment, and in a foreign language.
So what about after you graduate? If you’re the academic type, desirous to earn a terminal degree in your field of study; you need foreign language proficiency. At the University of Washington, for example, Doctoral candidates in nearly any field – not just foreign languages – must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English in order to be awarded a degree.
(This paragraph is pretty much for Americans) If you’re interested in government work, you can get automatic hiring preference marks if you can demonstrate foreign language proficiency in a “Critical need” language. These are in-demand, high-paying careers in which your Japanese degree (for example) and experience studying abroad, can be your foot in the door. The CIA, FBI, and especially the US Department of State, actively recruit people with foreign language ability, and even pay for them to attain it.
How it’s worked for me
In this section, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and how studying Japanese has changed my life and academic career drastically.
As I said earlier, there was a time when I was working as a janitor while attending classes, first at my local community college, and then at the University of Washington. I did not come from a privileged background, so I had to work in order to pay my bills and eat. As my dad passed away when I was 18, and my mother is disabled and subsisting on state aid, I could not hope to cut back on expenses by living with my parents while I went to school.
I started taking classes in Japanese after my interest in Japan and Japanese culture was rekindled (thanks to Attack on Titan), because I would have to study a little bit of a foreign language to get a degree anyway, and I liked Japan. This quickly became more than a passing interest, and I ended up declaring my major as Japanese when I entered the University of Washington. I figured that studying abroad was not a possibility for me, but maybe if I was lucky enough to get one of those all-inclusive scholarships (Like the CLS), then I could do it since they’d pay for everything; food, lodging, and the flight to and from Japan.
That was when I talked to an advisor and learned that there’s tons of money available for study abroad activities. I decided not to put all of my eggs in one basket, so I applied for other study abroad programs too, including a university exchange program with Keio University in Japan. Naturally, I would exhaust every possible resource for funding to try to make that exchange program something I could actually do – if I was even approved. I applied for the Gilman Scholarship, the Freeman Asia scholarship, the FLAS scholarship, the AATJ scholarship, and one through my university called the Plan2 Go scholarship.
I had begrudgingly accepted the possibility that I might have to take a loan out as well. Up to that point in my college career, I was able to avoid student debt through various aid programs and by working while I went to school. I didn’t think I was studying in a “money” major, so I had to keep my expenses low or I’d have student loan debt following me forever. Having avoided debt during my first two years of study, I figured that a small loan for a life-changing experience could be worth it.
But I didn’t have to borrow a loan. I was accepted to the CLS program, the Keio University exchange program, and 3 of the above-mentioned scholarships (but rejected from the FLAS, and Freeman Asia scholarships). Between these sources of funding, and the state and federal grant monies I was already receiving as a low-income student, I was able to get enough support to fund my study in Japan. Since coming to Japan, my Japanese language ability has improved dramatically, and I’ve obviously had multiple life-changing experiences. Also, I’ve already been able to advance my career in ways I never could have back in America. To read about how coming to Japan has opened up new career opportunities for me personally (like becoming a writer for SMU), and to hear from a successful freelancing expat who turned his love of videogames and comic books into a lucrative career, check out!