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Why Semesters Abroad Are Worth It | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

Why Semesters Abroad Are Worth It

Image courtesy of Lusi at http://www.sxc.hu/.

Yesterday, Jeremy Morrill wrote in USA Today that it wasn’t worth it to spend a semester in college abroad. Today, I’ll discuss why he’s wrong.

He writes as a college junior. I write as a mother and business owner who spent a semester in England 24 years ago and address each point he made.


My academics were different from stateside. I studied at Harlaxton College, the British campus of the University of Evansville. Faculty was a mix of British professors and visiting American ones. Studying Shakespeare with tours of Stratford and performances of the plays was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So was studying art history and touring museums. My other courses were biology, philosophy, and sociology. I carried a 4.0/4.0, had work study in the admissions office, and still travelled.


Probably the best time academically to go on a semester abroad is your sophomore year for general ed electives. Freshman year, you’re adjusting to college life.  Several schools have plans to help you make a semester abroad work with your major.


When I studied abroad, our college had 1 computer. We communicated by mail and telephone. Two hundred students had access to two pay phones.  I have 0 sympathy for complaints that Skype is inadequate.

I travelled in a safer time, when I could venture alone and immerse myself. I had to talk to locals to survive.


In my sociology class, Americans were the minority; most were international. I learned our culture impacts our perception.

My adopt a family helped me live real British family life. Touring a country is different from living there.

Advantages not addressed:

Resourcefulness – I survived my travel from hell story – every student has one. Mine was a 25 hour adventure getting from Donegal, Ireland to Harlaxton, England by hitching, bus, ferry, train, and taxi. My room-mate spent a night in a snowstorm in a German phone booth. Two girls slept in a pay toilet. When you survive an adventure on the other side of the planet by luck, wits, and the grace of God, you gain confidence.

Two decades later, I don’t remember much of what I studied in classes. I have new family and friends. My experiences studying abroad are among those I will always treasure.

Local is the new global and global is the new local. The more international experience you have, the better you will be able to thrive.

I pray my own children will have the opportunities to see more of the world than I have.

6 Responses to “Why Semesters Abroad Are Worth It”

  1. Alex Priest February 16, 2011 at 6:38 am #

    I think the only point I might make in response to your post is to this:

    “I travelled in a safer time, when I could venture alone and immerse myself. I had to talk to locals to survive.”

    I don’t think that it has anything at all to do with safety–I felt plenty safe traveling around Europe alone while I was abroad, and I’m pretty sure most of my friends would agree. As long as your smart and don’t do anything stupid, you’re plenty safe and able to venture alone if you like.

    The biggest difference today is that immersing yourself (talking to locals, etc.) while abroad is, I think, more of an option. You can completely immerse yourself in the culture and the people for a couple weeks, and then if you need a quick culture break, it’s generally pretty easy to find a couple Americans to grab a beer with, especially while in an abroad program with lots of your friends roaming the continent along with you (you’d be shocked how many people I knew that I ran into while visiting London, with no idea that they were there in the first place!).

  2. Alica Bachledova February 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    I think you make really great points but I do think it’s important to remember that his point was not that going abroad isn’t worth it – but that it MAY not be worth it to SOME people. The article he wrote was meant to point out some points not normally mentioned – it may not be fair to say he is “wrong” since he wasn’t actually making any definite statement on the validity of going abroad.

  3. Mary Biever February 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Good points, Alex. I would not recommend hitchhiking alone on lonely country roads as I did 24 years ago;)
    And I agree with you, Alica. It might not be worth it to some people, but I’m writing from a longer term perspective in how your travel not only enriches your own life but changes your own family. I share much of what I learned with my children. The more we interact with other cultures, the greater understanding we will have, and the more opportunities we will discover.

  4. Katherine Sawma February 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Amazing points. I love when adults can remember their wonderful study abroad opportunity while I graduated college 3 years ago and cannot remember anything significant about a few of my domestic semesters. I honestly cannot think of a major that is not enhanced by adding an international component. As a law student, I studied abroad two times and would not trade those opportunities and memories for anything.

    I am applying for STA Travel to do exactly what you have done in this article: promote study abroad programs. Youth need not take time off to accomplish their travel and academic aspirations. They can do both through study abroad. Help me promote this cause! Here is my application, consider clicking “become a fan”!

    Tweeting your article now!

    Katherine Sawma

  5. Jacob Yount February 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    I actually like the other guy’s post on reasons to consider against going abroad. Not because he was spot-on on all of his points, but simply because it was a different take and different way of looking at things.

    When I was in the university, I worked part-full time also and needed money to pay bills and keep up my lifestyle, so didn’t consider going abroad. But the day after my graduation ceremony, I got on a plane, flew to China and haven’t lived in my home country, USA, since. That was back in 2001.

    So overall, I agree; going abroad for a short amount of time or an extended stay is invaluable and like I always says, it “opens up all your capillaries”. It would be my wish that all people could leave their home countries and have a stay abroad. It allows one to be more knowledgable of the world around, it changes your worldview, it’s maturing, personal growth, etc. etc….

    I’m glad I finished the 4 (and 1/2) years at the University, because I’ve spent plenty of time abroad afterwards.

    Thumbs up on both posts!… and a great conversation starter, Mary!

  6. Mary Biever February 17, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Jacob, as always, you make excellent points. My primary interest is encouraging people, especially youth, to venture abroad when they can. Some can before college, and obviously, some afterwards. I was fortunate to win a scholarship that paid for my flight, and my federal financial aid applied. Otherwise, I would not have gone. I think it is much easier to travel abroad now than it was decades ago. The more we meet and encounter other cultures, the better we understand them!

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