Why I Studied Abroad

Lunds Domkyrka
The cathedral in Lund

About a year ago, I flew off to Sweden for a study abroad semester at Lund University. And a year later, I think that studying abroad was the best choice I’ve ever made, and it has ignited my passion for travelling and experiencing other cultures. But when I was researching study abroad programs in the fall of 2015, I also needed to convince my parents, who help pay for my education, that studying abroad is a good idea.

Two of their main concerns were academics and the cost. They wondered why I would “give up” a semester at UIUC, at the #5 ranked computer science department in America, to study abroad. They were worried that, by studying abroad, I would risk not being able to graduate in the standard four years. My parents also were worried about the cost, especially since Sweden has a very high cost of living.

I was Able to Transfer Technical Credits

So to address my parents’ concerns, I researched and listed the courses I wanted to take abroad, which was a part of the UIUC study abroad application anyways. The study abroad office also has a database of courses that were previously transferred back to UIUC as technical credit. I made heavy use of that database to guide my search. In the end, I constructed a schedule where all the credits from the technical courses I take abroad would transfer back to UIUC as technical credit, keeping me on track for graduation.

I Actually Saved Money

Also, I found out that I was able to save money from studying abroad. I pay out-of-state tuition at UIUC, and even though I have a scholarship, I estimate that my total costs of living for a semester at UIUC would be at least $25,000. According to the study abroad brochure from the study abroad office, the estimated total costs of living for a semester at Lund would be around $15,000. The biggest savings were in tuition costs and accommodation costs. The cost of tuition was trivial compared to tuition for a typical semester at UIUC, and quality accommodation in Lund comparatively cheap as well.

After addressing my parents’ concerns about studying abroad, I thought about my personal reasons for studying abroad. So here are three more reasons why I chose to study abroad.

I Wanted to Experience a Different Culture

To be honest, I only experienced minor culture shocks when I arrived in Sweden. However, I did notice several key differences between Swedish and American culture. One of them is that Swedes tend to be more reserved than Americans, at least when sober. The meme about the Swedish bus stop seemed mostly accurate from what I observed.

Waiting for the Bus, Like a Swede!

I also had the chance to experience a different education system. I noticed that lectures, labs, and office hours were all completely optional. Only the assignments and the final exam counted towards the final grade; and most surprisingly, I didn’t need to take the final exam for a course to receive a passing grade for three out of the four courses I took at Lund. Since the credits were transferred back as pass/no-credit, I took advantage of leisurely exam periods to travel.

I Wanted to See More of the World

Before I studied abroad, I hadn’t travelled outside of North America, with the exception of two trips to China to see my relatives. Once I got settled in, I was eager to start travelling. From late-February to mid-May, I flew out of Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport to a new destination every weekend or every other weekend to a new European destination; and along the way, I began to develop my amateur cellphone photography skills. I’ll write a post in the future curating some of my most favorite pictures I took while abroad.

Above the Clouds
Above the clouds shortly after takeoff from Bergen Flesland Airport.

I Wanted to Meet People from around the World

… And I did so! After four-and-a-half months abroad, I’ve met friends from all over the world while attending trivia nights, partying at the student nations, travelling around Europe, and more! In my opinion, this was the most compelling reason to study abroad. I still keep in touch with friends I’ve met abroad, even a year after my semester abroad. And when I think back on my study abroad experience, I feel a sense of nostalgia for adventure and discovery in foreign lands.

If you’re reading this and have the opportunity to study abroad, I highly recommend you to do so. In most cases, you’d be saving money by studying abroad, and you are able to earn academic credit that counts towards your degree. Check your school’s study abroad office for any scholarships if you need financial assistance.

Approach this opportunity with an open mind. There are going to be cultural differences between America (or whatever your home country is) and the country you’ll study in, or that there will be things in America that aren’t present in the foreign country. But you’ll learn to overcome and perhaps appreciate those differences. After all, the world would be boring if everyone followed the same customs. I admit that I missed my Chipotle while in Sweden, but I quickly learned that kebabs and falafel were just as good.

I was also bitten by the travel bug that semester. I often found that even an extended weekend was usually not enough to fully appreciate a city, and that there’s usually a reason to return and to explore further. In fact, I’m thinking of doing that right after I graduate in one-and-a-half years: touring the parts of Europe that I missed and reconnecting with friends I’ve made along the way.

So if you’re on the fence about studying abroad and you have the opportunity to do so…