There are a lot of amazing opportunities to travel abroad, and as a former exchange student, I tell everyone I know to take the leap and study in another country! So many people are going abroad for the wrong reasons, though. Visiting other cultures is not a fashion trend, a pass to be disruptive, or a bragging right. Consider the following points to see if you are to studying abroad for the wrong reasons.
1. To party and get wasted so much, you can’t even remember your semester
The drinking age in the rest of the world is 18 almost everywhere, so drinking legally (and cheaply) will be a new freedom many students have not experienced yet. That does not make it okay to drink excessive amounts of alcohol every night, especially in a foreign country. Not smart for college-aged you that could be put in danger, or future you that won’t remember most of their semester abroad.
2. To make absolutely no effort to learn the local language
News flash: most the world does not speak English. (Not even everyone in the U.S. speaks English.) Except for a few countries, an exchange student will probably be in a place with a completely different linguistic culture. No, regardless of what anyone says, not everyone will speak English. Don’t fulfill the American stereotype that we do not want to learn other languages. Even if it is a short study abroad for a few weeks, learning the basics will only enrich the experience of exploring abroad.
3. To eat American fast food restaurants for every meal
Most places around the world have some version of McDonald’s, Subway, even some with Starbucks or Taco Bell. Does that mean they’re fair game as foreign cuisine because it’s called "Le Big Mac" instead? No! While it can be fun to see different menu items of popular American food chains in other places, they’re usually much more expensive and lower-quality food than the local stuff. Why go abroad anyway if not to gain 15 pounds from delicious local food?
4. To have a light course load and leisurely semester
While many programs and universities abroad may offer really niche, fun courses like “Italian Cooking” or “Japanese Gardening”, it is a mistake to study abroad and expect a semester off. Most universities have much more rigorous grading than American universities, so even basic courses or leisure subjects could involve much more of a time commitment than their American counterparts. Also, think of the implications to graduating on time could really be messed up from a semester that could potentially not count towards a major.
5. To document the entire trip on Snapchat
Don’t be the person who can only relate their every waking moment to their semester abroad. (i.e. me). We get it, you’re so cultured now. Everyone does this, posting the #TBT pictures and rambling about the "je ne sais quoi" of the quaint little town they visited, but let's all agree to keep it to a one month post-trip maximum.
7. To be the next "Eat Pray Love" and meet your lover in Bali
Romance can happen abroad, but more likely are the lonely nights in a foreign host family’s bed or tiny single bed in the university dorm watching the movie instead of living it. We all want to be like Julia Roberts and fall for a beautiful Brazilian man on a resort, but that shouldn’t be the sole motivator for a semester abroad.
8. To pose with people of color for your online aesthetic
It doesn’t matter if the picture matches your Instagram color scheme or the video is already edited for your vlog channel, posing with underprivileged communities as a fashion statement is wrong and disgusting! Visiting poor neighborhoods like a safari trip in armored busses (cough, Rio favelas, cough) is grossly dehumanizing people and the places in which they live. Those little brown children in your profile picture? They are not the latest handbag or beauty accessory- they are actual people.
9. To bring your expertise in absolutely nothing to underprivileged communities in developing nations
Humanitarian work seems like a noble cause, and it combines an incredible experience abroad with the satisfaction of helping others in a new type of trip abroad called voluntourism. Unfortunately, most people sent on these trips are grossly under-qualified and have no skills to bring to developing nations. A teenager without a degree, with no discernible skills to better a community except a “love for God” and being “great at talking to kids” is just perpetuating the idea that Western people are white saviors and their very presence will improve the quality of life of a community, despite having no skills in education, health, urban planning, politics, or other areas the community might actually need.