study abroad

The Many Benefits of Study Abroad

World to the Wise Podcast

Study abroad is not a new concept, but it's possible that it has never been more important than now. In an age of polarization, stereotypes, and circle-the-wagons mentality, there would be very few college students I would NOT advise to spend at least a semester studying abroad. In this week's podcast episode, we speak with two exchange students to get perspective from both sides of the Atlantic: first, an American student currently studying in Paris. Hannah Kersey tells us what she loves about studying and living in the City of Lights, as well as all the other perks of living in Europe, such as weekend travel.

Then we speak with French law student Lena Touchard, who spent an entire school year studying at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. She now studies law at the University of Leicester in the UK. I think you'll enjoy her reflections on her time in the States, as well as on the things she has learned about herself as a result of her study abroad experience.

If you're a student -- or know a student -- who might be interested in finding out the countless benefits of study abroad, just leave your email address below and we'll send you a list of resources to get you started.

Why Every Student Should Globalize Himself


My wife and I recently watched an interesting historical fiction movie called "The Physician," in which a young English lad in the Dark Ages hears of a Persian healer who is training other healers in anatomy and medicine. The young Englishman begins his odyssey to the fabled city of Isfahan in hopes of studying under this guru. He finds that the Islamic culture of the East is far more advanced in science and knowledge than his own Europe. He returns home having gained skills far greater than what he had been learning with the superstitious traveling medicine man he had been apprenticing under. In this age of globalization,  the reasons for studying abroad are only continuing to multiply. Most Americans, when they hear the term "study abroad", think of the university years, but you don't necessarily need to wait till then. Thousands of high school students participate in exchange programs every year, and it often helps determine the course of the rest of their lives.

I'll be going into this in more detail in future posts (and talks), but for now a summary of some of the greatest benefits of leaving your shores to learn:

  • It expands your world view. (Why not start with the obvious?) Most high school and college students have lived in the same place for all or most of their lives before graduating, therefore being exposed to one way of life, one sub-culture, one way of buying groceries, one this and one that. As soon as your feet hit the ground of your host country, your life will change. You will be introduced to other perspectives that will fascinate you and challenge your comfort zone at the same time.
  • It grows you up. Graduating from high school and beginning university is in itself a maturing experience. But if you remain in the same culture afterwards, your maturing process will be much slower than if you take the significant step of planting yourself for a time in a foreign culture -- preferably one where your mother tongue is not the official language. You will find yourself having to make decisions and choices more independently, and the challenge of living and communicating in a foreign culture will develop muscles you had no idea you had.
  • It expands your capacity for learning. Not only will you be learning from the courses you take, likely taught in a different style than you're used to and forcing you to adapt, but every day will be a learning experience as you take in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and customs of your host culture. You will quickly learn, if you haven't already, that life itself is a classroom, and you will be more likely to remain a life-long learner as a result.
  • It looks really good on a resumé. Let's be honest. In today's competitive job market, international experience on a CV can often be the difference between you and other qualified candidates for the position. What does that experience signify to an employer? It says you have taken the time to invest in yourself, to stretch yourself, to make yourself more adaptable to new environments, and that you're adventuresome.

And once you've experienced one such adventure, you will find yourself hungry for more....

Stepping Outside, Pt. 3 - How International Experience Will Improve Your Job Prospects


It's undeniable. We are in a global age where business, education, technology, and entertainment happen on a global scale. Most employers agree on a certain number of advantages that spending time abroad will add to your resumé. According to, here are six reasons why international experience -- whether study abroad, internships, or extended stays -- will improve your chances in today's ever-evolving global job market:

  • During the job search process, you can stress how the skills you’ve gained will benefit the organization and add value to your role.
  • Thanks to globalization, many companies look for international experience as they expand overseas operations, enter new markets, or develop international partnerships.
  • With a strong understanding of cultural and business norms, you will be more effective in developing global solutions to universal problems.
  • If you develop and lead a project while overseas, you will demonstrate that you are able to bridge cultural differences to deliver desired results.
  • Studying abroad will strengthen your leadership, problem-solving, and communication skills, all of which are important in the workplace.
  • Students who study abroad are viewed as independent, self-reliant, adaptable, open-minded, patient and tolerant.

If your experience abroad has included learning or perfecting a foreign language, that will add a whole new dimension to your intercultural competence. It is difficult to overstate the value of learning to communicate in a language other than your mother tongue. (See my ebook on the subject here.)

Are you past college age but still desiring to spend some substantial time overseas? There are more opportunities than you might think! Stay tuned!

Stepping Outside, Part 2 - How Spending Time Abroad Makes You a Better Problem Solver

Paris metro
Paris metro

In my last post, I said these two words alone can change your life: stepping outside. Whether it's across the street to a neighbor from a different culture or across the ocean, separating oneself from one's home subculture is a vital step in the maturing process. Whether studying abroad, volunteering with a charity or mission organization, or taking your work with you, living in a foreign culture will expand your horizons like very little else. It will also make you a better problem solver.

When Becky and I conduct the World to the Wise cultural tours, we don't hire a tour bus driver, but take public transportation whenever and wherever possible. We teach our participants how to navigate the different subway and occasionally bus systems, and by the end of our stay in a given city they are generally able to find their own way around the city. Just the process of figuring out how to use the transportation system in a foreign country is a significant step in problem solving. It's like each person has his or her own Amazing Race.

Let's be honest, though -- we are there for just a few days and are there as tourists. The real rubber meets the road when you are placed in a foreign culture for an extended period of time. A radical change of environment forces you to adapt. You quickly learn that each day is no longer business as usual, and as a result your senses are sharpened. In the words of my erudite oldest son, who spent a semester studying Arabic in Morocco and part of a summer in Uganda, you experience the "beauty and richness of discomfort". When you shop for groceries you learn a whole new system. When you are responsible for paying for goods and services, you learn how business is done. You sometimes have to work hard to communicate with your neighbors. Even in a country where your own language is spoken, you become aware of sometimes subtle, sometimes radical differences in outlook and lifestyle.

The result? Sure, a little culture shock in the short term. But in the long term? You become more capable of looking at situations from multiple angles, of viewing life from others' perspective -- and after all, isn't that the very definition of maturity?

How has spending time abroad made you a better problem solver?

If you would like to connect with David on this topic or invite him to speak on it, contact him here.

Two Words that Will Change Your Life

stepping outside
stepping outside

Every year, I take our graduating senior class to lunch to check in with them, take their pulse, and give them a few encouraging words in this very pivotal year in their lives. One thing you will always hear me tell them, year after year, is contained in two words: STEP OUTSIDE.

This won't always mean the same thing for each individual student, nor should it.

As these seniors are grappling with the many decisions that can be overwhelming, I like to pile on and add one more to the mix: where and when will you step outside? This can of course include going across the street or across town -- if it takes you to a culture different than your own. This is a great place to start. But more than anything, I am talking about studying or spending time abroad -- preferably in a country where English is not the primary language.

The benefits and reasons for this are too many for one blog post, so let's begin with the obvious:

It will expand your world view.

No matter where you live, chances are you've been raised in a particular subculture. Every culture has them; it is a fact of life, just as your nationality is a fact. We absorb values from this subculture, and most of the time it is an unconscious process. Much of culture is unspoken; it is rather acted out on a daily basis -- so much so that we begin very early to make assumptions about life and about the rest of the world. It takes stepping outside our home subculture to discover that some of those assumptions were inaccurate at best -- sometimes wildly so.

Almost all ancient civilizations had coming of age rituals for both boys and girls. These were mandatory rites of passage in order for the child to be considered an adult. While most of those traditions have long since faded from modern culture, we would do well to include a phase in the life of a young man or woman that involves separation from the subculture for a time. In ancient times it was most often a test of survival in the wilderness; today it makes sense for it to be a period of time spent in a foreign culture.

Nothing prepares you for life like being forced to adapt to new surroundings, new ways of doing things, not to mention a new language. We English speakers -- whether in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or other -- are incredibly spoiled by the fact that the world is busy learning our language. But relying on that fact deprives us of the opportunity to develop inner muscles that will never develop otherwise.

I asked my oldest son, who spent a semester studying Arabic in Morocco, what he had gained in the process. He replied with way more than I can include here, but here is one thing that struck me in particular:

 "It was so important for me [as a white American] to learn what it's like not to be in the majority culture. I was forced to feel the differences, and I'm richer and stronger for it."

In future posts we'll explore more reasons why stepping outside will change your life. How has stepping outside changed yours?