Study abroad – and how it can be the trip that changed your life. Or not

Last updated on November 6th, 2016 at 01:28 pm

Study abroad has become a popular thing to do in the 21st century, whether you are going on an exchange for a semester, a year or even longer. It’s an unrivalled opportunity to learn another language, immerse in a new culture and meet some amazing people that you otherwise will never know.

Study Abroad, advantages and disadvantages
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Having decided to move back to Hong Kong at the end of my studies, being back in my home town permanently has provoked me to think more about my time studying abroad. With 12 years of studying abroad under my belt, I have plenty of time to experience, as well as meet many people who are in the same boat, and here I want to talk about its advantages and disadvantages, as well as how it can change a person; or not.

Why I studied abroad

Me at the age of 13 (I think...) with my friends on a boarding school outings!
Me at the age of 13 (I think…) with my friends on a boarding school outings!

First, I would like to elaborate why I ended up going off to the UK to study abroad at the tender age of 11. Back then, the civil servants of Hong Kong get a grant to send their children to the UK for schooling. My parents had always planned on sending me and my sister to UK. And after our classmate going over a year before us and promising that there is little homework, we decided that it’s now or later isn’t that different, so off we went.

Advantages of Studying Abroad:

In fear of sounding like a college brochure, I am going to go ahead and join in with the praises of what studying abroad can bring:

Learn another language, culture and prospective

My university's international night!
My university’s international night!

If you are going to a country where the language isn’t your native tongue – then you get a chance of learning a new language! And no matter how far or near you go, the culture and prospective of a community differs – and understanding how different the viewpoints of another part of the world can be very rewarding and intriguing.

Become more independent

learning to cook was definitely something that was rather urgent!
learning to cook was definitely something that was rather urgent!

Being in a foreign place can teach you to be more independent too. Being away from your usual support system means you need to rely on yourself to get things set up and for moral support. You are outside of your comfort zone and this helps you to become more self-sufficient.

See another corner of the world

Me sitting by the peaceful canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands| Laugh Travel Eat
I have visited France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland and Spain during my 4 years in University in London.

You will get to see a different part of the world with a legitimate reason. Many people I know have used this opportunity to the max and hit as many places on their bucket list as possible. Or at least they travelled around a little bit.

Disadvantages of study abroad

Contrary to popular views, I think the disadvantages of studying abroad are more telling of a person than what you will gain on the trip. Because however great the opportunity to study abroad is, it isn’t for everyone.

Disconnected from your family and friends

Alone, on a beach.... on a field trip
Alone, on a beach…. on a field trip

There was a girl in my boarding school who had to quit midway because she missed home too much. And there are no shames in that – not all of us are prepared to leaving our family and friends for months or even years on end. Despite the convenience of technology such as Skype and facetime nowadays, it’s still not quite the same.

The ‘Best time of my life’ / ‘I am unique/better than others’ syndrome

I mean, you can just imagine me posting this with the caption of : throwback to 201X when I was in Vatican, thanks for being such a great city!
I mean, you can just imagine me posting this with the caption of : throwback to 201X when I was in Vatican, thanks for being such a great city!

Both of the syndromes are common for many study abroad students, as evidenced by Facebook posts they will post. Those who suffer from the ‘best time of my life’ syndrome would often post about their time abroad, with statues on what they did last year this time or how they missed the X of place Y. Most of the time, it isn’t so much the travel they miss, but the sense of freedom and excitement that comes with studying abroad. The thing is – the world is just as amazing on whichever side they are on, and they can travel to equally stunning locations without the need of putting an ‘I did what when I study abroad’ label on it.

The second syndrome ‘I am Unique or better’ is quite common as well. But I hate to break it to you: there are thousands, if not millions of people who study abroad. People who have travelled around the world, speak an extra language or five. Yes – we are all unique, but we are not better or worse than anyone because we have travelled and studied abroad.

Photos over experience

Carnival fool, Villach, Austria | Laugh Travel Eat
a question to ponder

For some, the only thing they will gain from the trip is the fact that they have seen more of the world and some photographs. I have met many that are set in their way of thinking, and they don’t pick up new ideas or cultures. But again, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Unless you start an argument on it.

My experience studying abroad

graduating with le twin sis
graduating with le twin sis

The most important thing, in my opinion, when you study abroad is that you do so with an open mind and be humble about your experience – which goes for travelling as well. A trip can be a life changing event, but it doesn’t have to be. Having been somewhere else and seen things doesn’t mean that you can better than someone else.

My 12 years in the UK had been eye opening and shaped the person that I am today – if you want to read more about my story and my experience, I have written it all down in the Trip that Changed my Life. It’s a book with a collection of 50 plus travellers’ story of how travel changed their life, with all the profit going to charity. Do have a look at the Indiegogo page and support our campaign and read all about our experience!

Study Abroad, advantages and disadvantages
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Written by Nam Cheah

Hi, my name is Nam. I am 24 and spent half my life in Hong Kong and the other half in UK. I believe there's endless experience and beauty in the world and this is me chronicling how to experience the best at the best price.

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