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The ups and downs of studying abroad

Studying abroad, which offers the opportunity for students to explore the world, can be one of the best times of your life. The sunrise and sunset are the only things you recognize, yet there is an unfamiliar feeling when experiencing them thousands of miles from home. You believe that this time away from home will give you a chance to learn and explore new things in an exhilarating way and meet new friends. But stepping out of your comfort zone can put you on shaky ground. Is it worth the benefits? Do some research.

According to the University of California at Merced, students that study abroad are twice as likely to find a job within 12 months of graduation, and students that have studied abroad have a 25 percent higher salary than college graduates that didn’t.

When abroad, you lose your normal support network. You are forced to become more independent, and in doing so, learn valuable lessons such as financial skills. For example, your trip abroad has to be paid for and it’s your responsibility to make sure it gets done.

Being away from home doesn’t mean your routine has to completely change. You still have to do typical chores, including laundry and grocery shopping.

Amherst native Kristen Scime, 21, a student at Bentley University in Massachusetts, studied in Spain for a semester.

“Because of this experience I am much more confident in myself when placed in situations where I am not completely comfortable,” she said.

U.S. News and World Report describes studying abroad as a chance to experience more freedom than the average college student, and to see a bit of the world at the same time.

Most colleges allow students to study abroad in their junior and senior years.

“Junior year and the fall was most popular,” said Scime of her experience.

If studying abroad is something you are interested in, make sure that you find out how college credits will transfer. For example, Dartmouth College runs its own study abroad program, which is the “purest” because everything is the same as if the student were staying at the college, according to Michele Hernandez, president and founder of HernandezCollegeConsulting.com.

Going to another country where the residents speak a different language can be scary. Many students scratch off the option of studying abroad for that reason, but they should keep in mind that language fluency isn’t vital.

Scime shares a story from her trip.

“I was nowhere near fluent and I wasn’t sure how much of an issue that would be for me,” she said. However, “if I didn’t understand their language, they understood mine.”

There are also study-abroad options such as England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, which commonly have English-speaking people if the language barrier is too much for you.

“Once you’re in Europe, traveling is relatively easy and cheap,” Scime said. When choosing a place to study abroad, students often think they are bound to one city, or even country. But, she said, “I went to Paris, Madrid, Dublin, Florence and Germany for Oktoberfest. Each city was completely different, I learned so much from each place I traveled. There are unlimited things to do and people to meet.”

Scime also recommends writing things down.

“I took a lot of pictures that I still look back on today but I regret not keeping a journal with the experiences and feelings I had at different times,” she said.

Sometimes studying abroad in college may be essential to your major.

“In order to be a Spanish major you have to study abroad for six weeks,” says Lydia Albrecht, a Spanish teacher at Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School.

So when the time rolls around, and you start looking up colleges you want to attend, take some time to check out the study abroad programs. You never know, something might catch your eye and change your life for the better.

“Before going abroad, I never considered myself the ideal candidate,” Scime said. “I was never 100 percent confident that I was making the right decision, but it is so clear to me now that it was.”

Albrecht added, “I realized how much I knew and how much I needed to know.”

Sonya Dube is a sophomore at Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School.