In recent years, more and more students have opted to study abroad during their degree. There are currently 40,000 UK students studying abroad, and most universities in the UK now offer their students a chance to spend a summer, a semester, or even a full year in another country. Many students describe their experience abroad as “the best time of their lives”, saying it changed them as a person and introduced them to lifelong friends. It could even lead to a more successful career. The benefits are clear, but some still hesitate to take the plunge. Going abroad can be a challenge, and isn’t something to rush into – students are naturally worried about finances, leaving their families, and maybe living alone for the first time.  Before going, it’s important to consider whether it’s the right decision for you – thinking about the pros and cons of studying abroad.

Rally, who spent a semester in Malaga on Erasmus, described the pros of their experience:

It helped me a lot with my Spanish because all of my subjects were in Spanish. Also, the friendships you make are just amazing. It's been 7 years and I still keep in touch with some of our group. You learn a lot about other cultures just because there are so many international students and you get to travel a lot. I personally didn't, but other students went to Portugal and Morocco on trips and said it was amazing.

But it wasn’t all easy, and Rally pointed out that there were some downsides to the experience too (or challenges at least).

If you're young and don't have a lot of money it can be hard to manage with the stipend that you get. And you need a lot of self-discipline to actually study and not party all the time. But I wouldn't trade this for the world.

The points Rally makes tend to come up a lot in discussions of studying abroad. In this article, I’ll discuss each of these pros and cons in more detail to help you make an informed choice.

Pros and cons of studying abroad

PRO: You can improve your language skills

the benefits of studying abroad for students
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Living in another country gives you an excellent opportunity to practice the local language. Language students normally have a mandatory year abroad as a part of their degree, and it’s not hard to see why – when you’re speaking the language all day, you’ll make incredible progress. Taking classes in the local language might be a challenge, but it’ll be worthwhile if you’re willing to put in the effort.

Some students worry about going to countries where they don’t speak the language fluently, but it helps to see this as an opportunity to learn. Later in life, you’re unlikely to get another opportunity to live abroad and learn the language. Make the most of it while you can!

PRO: You make lasting friends

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While abroad, you’re likely to meet hundreds of people from all over the world. The shared experience of being alone in a new country will help you bond, and many people make lifelong friendships during their time abroad. When you make international friends, you can also teach each other about your cultures, countries, and languages.

Fear of loneliness is another reason why some students hesitate to go abroad, but remember, you won’t be the only one in your position. Approach people, join clubs, and strike up conversations with your classmates. If you put in the effort, you’re very likely to make friends.

CON: It can be financially difficult

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This is probably the main reason why people decide against studying abroad. Since the UK left the Erasmus scheme, less funding has been available to students going abroad. Due to legal reasons or language barriers, you’ll often be unable to work in other countries. Therefore, it’s important to consider how you’ll finance your trip.

The new Turing scheme offers grants to students abroad. Unlike Erasmus, it’s not limited to European countries. Your university may offer additional support, especially if your time abroad is mandatory for your degree. It’s also a good idea to get a part time job before leaving, or work full time over the summer.

There are also ways to save money while abroad. Try to reduce money spent on partying or drinking, and cook your own food as often as possible. It’s ok to live off pot noodles and pasta for a while – it’s not the healthiest but if there’s ever a time to do it, it’s while you’re a student. Take buses instead of trains – especially for long-haul trips, these often work out considerably cheaper. Buy clothes and textbooks secondhand where possible, and buy food in bulk to save money in the long term. When travelling, consider staying in hostels – these are also a great way to meet people.

PRO: You have the opportunity to travel

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Lots of students take the opportunity to travel to surrounding countries during their year abroad. What you’ll see depends on where you go: you could experience breathtaking natural scenery, ancient cities, sunny beaches, and so much more. Travelling is also a great way to cement friendships and make memories you’ll never forget.

Not everyone will have the time or money to travel during their year abroad, but you’ll also have an amazing experience staying in your host city. Spending a lot of time in a place allows you to really get to know it. By the time you come home, you’ll have a far better understanding of what life is like in another part of the world.

CON: It requires self-discipline

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When you’re in an exciting new country, it can be tempting to spend a lot of time partying and exploring. Although you should definitely have fun and see the sights, it’s important not to neglect your studies!

Studying abroad can also be taxing in other ways. It’s common to feel homesick or lonely, and you’ll need to be prepared to deal with these feelings if they come up. Facing challenges will help you grow as a person – if you feel tempted to give up and go home, try to force yourself to stay. By the end of your time abroad, you’ll probably be glad you did.

What are my options?

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If you’re experiencing financial difficulties or other concerns, it’s possible to spend less than a full year abroad. Many universities offer semesters abroad, which can be a great way to experience another culture without the commitment of an entire year. There are also a variety of summer courses available, often involving language study or working on a business project. Although you might need to find these yourself, universities can often provide you with a grant to help cover some expenses. So if you can’t spend a full year abroad, don’t worry – there are still ways you can spend time in another country.

Make sure you check with your university’s student support team to see which destinations are available to you. Depending on your course, your options could vary. Popular destinations include Spain, France, and the US, although you might want to go somewhere different – many universities offer study abroad destinations on every continent. Don’t feel forced to choose somewhere close to home, or the place where all your friends are going. Studying abroad will teach you to be more independent, so you might as well start now. If you can’t decide, have a look at the best cities in Europe to study abroad in.

I’m sure this article has convinced you that the pros of studying abroad far outweigh the cons. If you can’t quite commit to spending a full year abroad, you might prefer to only go for a few months. Either way, you’ll still have an amazing opportunity to learn a new language, make new friends, and experience a different culture.

Check out this TedX talk for more on how studying abroad can be transformational to your uni experience – and actually your life!