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7 Reasons Why I’m Not Studying Abroad in a Western Country

I feel the need to preface this by saying I have nothing against Western countries. I’m American and I am very aware of the privilege that gives me to travel, let alone to have preferences on where I want to go.

However, I said what I said. I don’t have a burning desire to study abroad in a western country, and I realize that it’s an unpopular opinion.

I am not saying you shouldn’t study abroad if you get the chance. If you have the opportunity to study abroad in a Western country: DUH, GO.

The point of the article is to just get you thinking critically, and to empower you to look into all of your options, even the ones you didn’t know existed.

1. It’s cliché (no offense).

Mary Kate and Ashley have 5 movies about them going to Italy or Paris… It seems like no one in Disney ever wanted to go to Ulanbataar (props to the Cheetah Girls for exploring India though).

Studies have shown that 47.2% of American college students study abroad in Europe and Australia. That means 1 of 2 chooses to study abroad in the U.K., Spain, France, Ireland, Germany, or Italy. That’s not a very diverse selection, considering the 196-ish countries on Earth.

Maybe I’m a ~hipster~, but those Western countries lost their study abroad appeal for me knowing that 15 other friends had studied abroad there already. People share their experiences in those countries often enough to make me feel like I’ve already been to all of them. Personally I just tend down roads less traveled.

Not bashing Western countries AT ALL—I love visiting them and they are absolutely wonderful in their right. But if I’m studying abroad, especially since I’ve managed to do it for free, I want to make those months truly once in a lifetime.

2. It’s too convenient.

In terms of proximity and accessibility, it will always be more “convenient” for me to fly to Paris compared to Buenos Aires. Excluding Australia, the US and Western Europe have a multitude of flights and flight deals each day between the continents, and in general I’m just more able to pop over there the easiest. Many American companies even have locations in these western countries, so there’s a high chance for an opportunity to work in these western countries after graduation.

When I study abroad, I want it to be in a place that I may not ever get to experience this way ever again.When I study abroad, I want it to be in a place that I may not ever get to experience as deeply otherwise. Click To Tweet

It’s a common argument that it’s ideal to study in Western Europe because of its close-knit countries that are easy to hop between, and that is true.

But there are other continents with other amazing countries within driving distance and cheap flights between them. From Dubai, my friends and I have traveled to Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, the Republic of Georgia, and more.

I don’t want convenience to be a limitation, I want it to be a dare.

3. I don’t want a culture shock, I want a culture tsunami.

London, Oslo, Sydney… The real shock was when I looked at my credit card statement!

Not to take away from the amazing histories and cultures in every one of these countries, but the cultures from Ireland to Australia were not drastically different enough to truly shock me. There are no doubt differences in cultural nuances like tipping, social etiquette, slang, etc., but they aren’t uncomfortable enough to make me grow and change.

I want to struggle. I want a language barrier, I want to seek out locals and learn from them, I want to spend time finding similarities between my culture and theirs.

The first hand learning of a foreign culture is a huge part of the appeal for me.

4. We’ll always have Paris.

As I’ve said, in my case, being from the United States makes it 10x more convenient to take a last-minute trip to Paris or Lisbon than to Malaysia, South Africa, or Peru.

On a different note, I want to delve into non-Western countries because we may not always have access to them.

In short—it’s very easy to think in the future the U.S. will always be allies with countries like France, Scotland, Ireland, and England. Access is not so guaranteed with countries such as Egypt, China, Mexico, the Philippines, etc… Especially with the United States’ current with our current administration. Uck.

5. I need to get out of my comfort zone.

Admittedly, the reason I feel like I must get out of Western countries is because I don’t intuitively want to get out of Western countries.

The media has shoved the idea onto us that if we stay in this region of the world, we will be safe.

Of course that isn’t true. I can tell you you’re absolutely more likely to be mugged in Paris than in Dubai.

However, it’s been drilled into my—and I think a mass majority of western student’s—minds that if we stray from certain (cough, cough, white) countries, we’re instantly putting ourselves at risk.

I feel it is my obligation to see this bias within myself and actively challenge it.

I feel it is my obligation to see this bias within myself and actively challenge it. Click To Tweet

6. To become a resource.

As I’ve said, virtually every other person who has studied abroad has done so in a Western country. They’ve also probably blogged, vlogged, and shared their stories about it.

If I choose a less popular location I’m helping to pave the way for my fellow  classmates and underclassmen to do the same.

Aside from the thrill of adventure, I do want my experience to inspire and educate others as well.

7. There are special incentives.

The study abroad scholarship I won, the Boren Scholarship, awards up to 20,000USD to undergraduate student who has a desire to learn an in-demand foreign language like Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese.

The catch? You can’t study abroad in a western country.

Even the US government sees a value in encouraging students to explore non-Western cultures.

Everything I’ve said comes from the perspective of a person who has grown up traveling internationally.

I think thats a very important point—I absolutely acknowledge my privilege as a person with a Western passport, previous experience abroad, and enough support and empowerment to jump headfirst into new waters with more excitement than fear. Because we all don’t come from the same background, this advice won’t apply to everyone.

If this is your first time abroad of course we likely have different ideas of what makes us comfortable and what we want.

Maybe it’s your dream to study abroad in Amsterdam or London—if that’s the case, GO! The last thing I want this article to do is travel-shame, or guilt you into not going somewhere you’re truly passionate about experiencing.

However, if you are comfortable traveling, you don’t feel especially drawn to any one country, or you are particularly adventurous and curious, I encourage you to seek out the opportunities in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, French Polynesia, etc…

I wrote this because I want to provide a new perspective. A devil’s advocate, whatever you like to call it. Every day we should be challenging our notions of the world and challenging ourselves.

At the end of the day no matter whatever region of the world you end up studying in I hope you actively challenge yourself to grow and change while there!

I’m sure there will be a variety of comments on this topic. Leave your comments below, and let’s have a dialogue!

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20 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why I’m Not Studying Abroad in a Western Country

  1. Crystal

    I agree with all seven of your points, that’s the reason why in the 1990s I decided to study abroad in Senegal West Africa, and Costa Rica. I have been out of the country 11 times, and only two of those countries have been considered 1st world, they are Bermuda and Canada. I simply don’t have a desire to explore Western culture, I mean I feel like I live it all the time. I am African American and already feel like European culture and religion are the dominant features I’m exposed to in the US on a daily basis. Therefore my first trip out of the US was directly to Africa. There’s so much more out there in the world and I want to understand cultures, religions, the sacred and the profane values of people who I have nothing in common with. I like to imagine how different of a person I could have been if I was born into their country. My next trip will actually be to Angkar Wat in Cambodia, which I hope that I actually spelled correctly.

    1. Gabby

      Crystal you are my spirit animal, soul sister, and twin flame! I love your mentality and spirit of adventure, and glad we’re on the same page! I hope you keep me updated on your Cambodia trip!

  2. Mia

    Beautifully expressed, Gabby! I love the way you thoughtfully went through and explained your reasoning for your opinion. Everyone has a different perspective on studying abroad and traveling, so it’s important to share something different that’s not in-line with everyone else. There are others who would love to explore the places outside of Western Civilization and you have a strong voice for what it means to be a global citizen.

    1. Gabby

      What a kind response Mia, thank you! I know this post could rub some people the wrong way, but I truly mean it with the best intentions. Theres a world to see out there!

  3. Delilah

    Good points! It’s true that European countries are popular study abroad destinations. I’m just happy people are studying abroad! Studying abroad is such a great opportunity and those who can do it should.

  4. Sarah

    I wish it had even occurred to me to study abroad when I was a student – sadly it never did. All your reasons are absolutely brilliant and I would certainly encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and take the experience of a lifetime. I imagine re-watching those Mary Kate and Ashley movies now would be such a cringe-fest!

  5. Erica

    LOVE this! It totally describes how I feel about travelling in general. My parents always ask why I’d rather visit South America or Asia over “safer” places like Europe. I was never able to really put it into words but this article did a great job of that.

  6. Sabrina

    Being from Europe (Germany, to be more precise) and having studied in Vancouver, Canada for a year I can totally agree with the point you made about our cultures being relatively close.
    Surely there were differences, but I wouldn’t even call it a culture shock.
    I myself enjoyed my studies in Canada a lot, as I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to spend such a long time abroad. I also had plenty of leisure time to get to know and enjoy the country. Yet, I truly appreciate a trip where I can simply and solely focus on the travelling itself.
    I think I personally wouldn’t be so courageous to study abroad in an utterly foreign culture and admire those who just dive into this adventure 🙂

  7. Jessica

    Living in Europe now, I can say I would totally choose somewhere elsewhere. But I have to say not everybody have to step out of their comfort zone in this, it still has to be a great experience for yourself. Europe could be a good alternative and Europe is BIG. There are less touristic cities that are so much fun, I imagine studying there would be a great experience. But Paris and London and every blown up places naahhhhhh

  8. Crystal

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always loved the “discomfort” of being in non-western countries as an Aussie. I tried Europe and even though I went to places where English wasn’t spoken it was still just to easy… I love delving in and getting a local experience!

  9. Menorca

    It’s all about perspectives and personal circumstances. As someone born and brought up in India, the Western countries were fascinating for me and that is where I aimed to study abroad. Living,studying and working in Germany,Switzerland ,receiving scholarships and fellowships and having the ability to travel to multiple countries for the culture Tsunami as you say, has been a truly enriching experience. I think it’s very important to spend time with different people and in different countries/continents when possible ofcourse,because you really notice a change in perspective. And you start having unbiased opinions aa well as the ability to evaluate situations in a neutral way. Congrats on your achievements so far and good luck!

    1. Gabby

      Yes, it is, you’re completely right. That is why I’ve prefaced this by saying this is from/for a Western, specifically American, perspective. Glad about your successes and adventures though, travel on!

  10. Yasmin

    Interesting read! I completely agree with you on most points, especially the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. It is so pivotal. Great post!

    Yasmin x

  11. Nicole

    “When I study abroad, I want it to be in a place that I may not ever get to experience this way ever again“

    Can relate to that. I wasn’t allowed to do a semester/year abroad bc I was an athlete. Luckily in my last year my academic advisor emailed me an opportunity to a 3 week travel study program in Hong Kong and Singapore, where I’d get to do a business presentation and network with professionals of different corporate, govt and non profit companies between the 2 places. The trip occurred at the end of the semester and after my season. At the time I never been to Asia and the opportunity was too sweet to pass up bc it didn’t cost that much.

    Really enjoyed myself, and wish I could stick around on that side of the world longer to check out other nearby countries.

    Fast forward 2 years later to now, I work in Taiwan.

  12. Cliodhna Ryan

    I find this interesting because to me Dubai is the place where “Europeans who want to live outside of Europe but feel like they are still in Europe” move to. It’s a very common place for Irish teachers to move to and when I see their Insta pics of brunches, nights out and even Gaelic football, it doesn’t scream “culture shock” to me. I’d be interested to know how you got a “local” type experience in Dubai, or was that more from the other travel you got to do in that region? Was your University mostly Arab students or from all over the world?

    I also think it’s hard to determine the level of culture shock you will experience living somewhere just by visiting. For example, I visited Tanzania 4 times before moving here and thought I was well prepared, but when I moved here I really felt the subtle differences that differed from Irish culture. Sometimes moving to a country with more foreigners can be easier than moving to countries with less immigration like some European and African countries.

    Interesting post though and great advice!

    1. Gabby

      First of all can I say I love your name, I just watched a YouTube video last night on Irish names and a woman named Cliodhna said Americans absolutely butcher her name relentlessly it was so funny!

      And yes, I agree Dubai is a bit more Westernized than surrounding Arab countries because it’s an iconic tourist destinations. It has IHOP and Red Lobster and Forever21, in the western area. But from my experience, it was very divided. Marina and JBR were tourist AREAS. The areas designated are catered to tourists, of course.If you stay at the Irish Village and surround yourself with only Irish people, of course it’s not going to be a culture shock. But I didn’t find it at all difficult to find traditional Arab culture right outside those comfort zones. Drinking karak tea, camping in the desert, exploring the bedouin culture and getting out of the city, or just going to local’s friends houses and events. If you look, you will find it.

      My university was 80% Arab students (and probably 15% local Emeratis) and 20% from the rest of the world, and I loved it.

      I don’t really get your point of visiting v. living. My point was that if you’re European, going to another European country is not that big of leap as a non-Western countries, and I want people to consider the not so obvious options!

  13. Marisa

    This is a great topic for discussion! So many people think that you HAVE to study abroad in Europe and don’t realize that there are other options. Although some schools will only allow certain areas to study abroad, you’re definitely right that students need to look BEYOND their comfort zones!

    1. Gabby

      I’m glad you agree Marisa! I definitely don’t want to discourage studying abroad at all——any travel is good travel! But you’re exactly right, I want students to look beyond their comfort zone and take a good look at all of their options before they decide on a country/city!

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