This post was written by an external contributor. Suphanida Thakral takes us through the pros and cons of what it’s really like to spend a year studying abroad…
The benefits of studying abroad (or indeed ‘living abroad’ for a short period of time) have been repeated so many times that there is no point exploring it again here. If you’ve clicked on this article, chances are that you’ve been convinced on the benefits of doing a ‘year abroad’ and are dead set on doing one.
More often than not a year abroad will be built into your course – for instance, language-based courses naturally make it compulsory for students to immerse themselves in an environment where the language is widely spoken.
But on other occasions a year abroad will be something you have to apply for. You’ll probably be faced with the decision as to whether you take one that replaces one year at your home institution, or add an additional year to your course.
We’ve spoken to four people who’ve each taken a different type of year abroad to find out the pros and cons of each, and hopefully help you make a decision.
Where a year abroad replaces a year at home
You get to finish university in three years and take the conventional route to a degree. More often than not, a year abroad will count towards your degree, so it is more of a challenge and imperative that it’s taken seriously. Once complete, you can ‘sell’ it to employers in a positive light and prove to them that a year abroad is more than just a holiday.
If you’ve taken a gap year or started university a little later than your peers, and want to finish your course at the same time as your friends but still study abroad, then this option may be for you. Coming back to familiar faces will also be something to look forward to:
Any said: “The benefits of doing this was that I was able to attend my lectures in final year with my fellow classmates who I knew from first year. That was very helpful because it enabled me to get working straight away without worrying about the social side of getting used to university again.”
You might be in a different mode when you come back from a year abroad because you’ve become used to a different system. This may make it both harder to adapt to the year abroad, where your grades still count, and then get back into the daily grind of your home institution.
University of Warwick student Idrees agrees that there can be some negatives: “The drawback was on my career development. Because most PolSci majors in Canada will do a Masters in the future and the standard undergraduate career is four years, my peers have years to go before they have to think about their futures seriously.
“Something I now really appreciate about University of Warwick is how much of a CV pressure cooker it is – everybody is always onto something. I feel like missing out on that in the crucial second year led to me falling off the wagon in that respect. I still did a lot but I would have done much more if I had stayed.”
Where a year abroad adds an extra year to your course
Doing a year abroad where it adds an additional year to your degree will usually mean that it doesn’t count towards your final grade, although this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. It gives you the chance to truly enjoy every bit of your year abroad without worrying about results.
If you’re not bothered about adding an additional year and want to prolong graduation, maybe so you have more time to think about your career path and what you want from life, then perhaps this option would work for you.
Ruth commented: “For me, it allowed me to study things that I couldn’t have done in my degree normally. For example I studied History and Human Geography, which are totally different from what I normally do (Maths/stats). I also wasn’t in any rush to graduate and didn’t know what I wanted to do, so an additional year of being a student and getting to travel was great.”
While doing a year abroad gives you the chance to meet so many new people from different walks of life, most people said that the single biggest drawback of doing a year abroad that extends your course is that you don’t graduate at the same time as your peers back home.
Obviously this depends on what you choose to prioritise. There will more than likely be a handful of people on your course doing an extra year abroad, so you can always get in touch with them to form a new circle when you’re back to complete your final year.
Farrah agreed: “The main and only drawback has been seeing some of my friends graduate before me, but this is easily offset by having an additional year to yourself where you can build your confidence and grow due to being in a new environment where you have to be quite independent.”
So there you have it; the pros and cons to both types of year abroad. While it is an exhilarating experience, it is undoubtedly tough mentally and needs serious consideration before committing.