As an international student going to college in the U.S. , you may already think of yourself as studying abroad in a foreign country. You are experiencing a new culture and interacting with people from all walks of life.
However, participating in study abroad trips while studying at a U.S. college enriches your undergraduate experience. Many universities are also encouraging students to expand their learning by heading abroad.
At the University of Michigan, for example, grants and scholarships for study abroad programs are available for students to finance their trips. I also learned about five additional benefits of attending study abroad programs through my study abroad experience.
1. The chance to conduct primary research abroad: During my undergraduate business studies, I became interested in exploring the impact of foreign direct investment on the automotive industry in Russia and in understanding consumer behavior of purchasing foreign branded cars.
I couldn’t think of anything that was more exciting than traveling to Moscow and doing research on-site. Through the trip with my business strategy course, I interviewed consumers, visited car dealerships and spoke with the CEO of Ford Russia. The firsthand information I collected gave me unique perspective about the Russian market for cars, which is hardly available from public research materials.
2. Build a global alumni network supports your on-site fieldwork: In another trip to Peru with my strategy course, I conducted research on the feasibility of expanding the Lima metro. Before arriving in Lima, I researched on the school’s alumni database and Linked In before reaching out to alumni who are working on related projects.
With the help of alumni working in the contracted company for constructing the metro, my team was able to gather insider information to enhance our analysis.
My professor also introduced former Michigan MBA students from Peru during our visit to the ESAN Graduate School of Business, allowing us to broaden our connections with alumni. Alumni contacts helped me during other study abroad projects as well. Fostering relationships with alumni goes a long way to providing you with career advice and even helping you find a job, in the U.S. or abroad.
3. Enhance your cultural exchange by immersing yourself in different cultures: My previous trips to Russia and Peru with my strategy course encouraged me to travel to Bulgaria to study intercultural negotiation strategies. While in Bulgaria, my peers did mock negotiation cases with the other university students, who came from different countries in Europe.
The opportunity to observe how students from America and Europe interact was incredible. It goes above and beyond just interacting with your U.S. classmates from relatively more similar cultural backgrounds.
4. You can share knowledge of your home culture: During my trip to Kyoto, Japan, I helped translate Chinese characters on road signs and printed materials even though I do not speak Japanese. As an Asian myself, I also shared my perspective about the cultural dynamics between Chinese and Japanese people.
I grew up watching Japanese cartoons and often took short trips to Japan from Hong Kong. While my Michigan peers noticed the “cuteness” in Japanese graphics and culture at large, I told them how other Asian cultures, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, have also incorporated the Japanese “cuteness” into their visual cultures. It is always nice to contribute your unique cultural insights to the class.
5. You can make new friends around the world: Through my trips to Russia, Bulgaria, Germany, Slovakia, Peru and Japan, I made new friendships with university students from many different countries. We are staying in touch on social media and will likely meet again when we travel to each other’s home country.
Back on campus, you share with your classmates memories and learning from the study abroad experience. In essence, going abroad with your U.S. classmates fosters your understanding of your peers.