‘Study Abroad Snippets’ is a carefully curated selection of thoughts and words of wisdom gained from years of experience working in international education and traveling far and wide. These pieces can be useful for students, parents, and education abroad colleagues.
Talking to your family about Study Abroad
Winter break is a perfect time to discuss your desire to study abroad with family and friends. However, we know finding the right time to start this conversation is hard. Effectively answering some of those inevitable questions is even harder. In the giving spirit of the season, we’ve provided some suggestions for responding to two of those obvious questions:
Question #1: Why do you want to study abroad?
- Many parents see study abroad as little more than a vacation – My advice: Don’t even use the word ‘vacation’. Even if you want to say “it’s not a vacation”.
- Be practical – There are mountains of research showcasing how study abroad gives students academic, personal, and professional advantages over students who don’t study abroad.
- I’ll emphasize that again: be practical – Yes, you will likely gain self-confidence and awareness, make new friends and connections, discover new perspectives on yourself and the world, become more culturally aware, learn bits of a new language, and have an absolutely unforgettable time. However, these things are hard to measure and may not be as convincing. Try to root your responses in practical, tangible points and sprinkle these gems throughout your responses.
- Focus on your goals – Specifically, how will study abroad help you reach your goals?
- “I want to graduate on time/faster!” – Fact: study abroad will only delay your graduation if you choose to take courses you don’t need. Taking 12 credit hours on a summer study abroad program, for example, could put you on track to graduate faster. All credit earned on GT programs goes toward your GT degree. GT students who study abroad have a 98% graduation rate, compared with overall 85% at GT.
- “I want to learn a new language!” – There is no learning substitute for being in-country and interacting with native speakers on a daily basis. Language skills are a prime example of how study abroad makes your education come alive and can lead to opportunities you never thought you’d have.
- “I want a good job!” – Let’s face it: the world is only getting smaller. The workforce is getting more competitive, diverse, and global by the day. Companies want adaptable, confident employees who can problem-solve, communicate across different cultures & styles, and work independently. There are oodles of data to support the idea that study abroad instills “soft skills” like these in students.
- “I really want a good job!” or “I really want to go to grad school!” – Who would you hire if you were a CEO? Who would you admit to your graduate program if you were a university admissions professional? Person A, who got a computer science degree from GT, or Person B, who got a computer science degree from GT and studied computer science in Tokyo? That’s what I thought.
- “I’m not sure if you understand. I want the best job and getting the best job is hard!” – The national average for undergraduates who study abroad is less than 2%! It’s not surprising then that resumés boasting a study abroad experience stand out in the crowd. Study abroad opens doors, plain and simple.
Question #2: Isn’t study abroad expensive?
- Focus on value, not cost – After all, can you put a price tag on enhancing your GT degree, improving your soft skills, gaining global perspective, and putting yourself in a better position to land the job you want? Value may not be as measurable as cost, but it’s a familiar enough concept.
- Be honest and let them know you’re aware of your potential financial challenges – This shows you’re taking this process seriously and have done your research. Identifying your financial obstacles will also help you develop solutions to overcome them. Have financial figures at the ready.
- “Sticker shock” is real – If you show them program fees, make sure they know the fee is replacing your on-campus studying costs and is not in addition to those costs. All costs associated with studying in Atlanta are outlined for each program on the OIE website, which also allows you to compare the costs of up to 5 programs at once.
- “There are hundreds of scholarships out there.” – This is absolutely true. While you shouldn’t assume you’re going to receive a scholarship, we do have a scholarship advisor to help you identify scholarships that may work for you.
- “I can help out by raising my own money” – Get your hustle on. Baby-sit, tutor, mow yards, wash cars, sell cookies; whatever it takes. Also, people are more likely to help you out if they see you putting forth effort of your own. Community-based funding is an option too. Successful campaigns aren’t easy, but they are possible. We’ve seen it.
- “Do you know how expensive it is to live in Atlanta?” – The cost of living in Atlanta is high, relative to much of the world. Go ahead, look it up. You can actually save money by studying abroad.
- “Most programs charge in-state tuition and my financial aid package will follow me.” – Zell Miller, HOPE: these babies travel. Also, for you out-of-staters, study abroad at GT is essentially a free scholarship.
- “Which is why, instead of matching hand-knit socks and sweaters – which I do love and wear the sets you’ve given me all the time – I’d really appreciate a new suitcase or an electrical adapter that works in South America. Or some of your frequent flyer miles.” – Keep it practical, remember? Luggage, electrical outlet adapters, and airline miles are a couple of solid examples – there will be items you’ll need to travel. This also shows that you’re willing to sacrifice material objects in pursuit of your goals.
- “I have a financial plan!” – Plans are the best. As long as your plan is grounded in reality, nothing shows you’re taking this more seriously. Have a part-time job? Let them know you’re saving $100 a month to put toward your program, so you’ll have $600 by the time you depart to put toward your daily living expenses. Not only is this a mature response, but they’re likely to hear “I’ll have $600 I’ve worked hard for to put toward my program and this is $600 that won’t come out of your pocket”, and that is sweet, sweet music to the ears of parents everywhere.
Of course, all these require some action on your behalf. Articulating the value and importance of study abroad to your loved ones is only part of the process. You’ll still need to be proactive and apply for scholarships early, meet with your study abroad and academic advisors, identify your goals, research programs, etc… Lastly, don’t forget that helping you make your study abroad experience a reality is our job. Having trouble talking to your parents or just want to learn more about study abroad? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.