7 Reasons Why You Should NOT Study Abroad in a Western Country

by Gabby Beckford
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Let me preface this by saying I have nothing against Western countries—I'm a U.S. citizen 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've never had a burning desire to study abroad in a western country, in fact, quite the opposite. I am not saying you shouldn't study abroad if you get the chance.

The purpose of the article is to just get you thinking critically and to empower you to look into all of your options, and maybe share with you some you may not have known existed.

1. Studying in Paris is… how you say… cliché.

In a world of Mary-Kate and Ashley, and Lizzie McGuire movies going on school trips and finding love in Paris or Rome, be an Eliza Thornberry. (Sorry for all of you Gen Z's who may be just too young to get the references.)

Studies have shown that 70% of American college students who study abroad do so in Europe and Australia. That means 2 out of 3 students choose to study abroad in the U.K., Spain, France, Ireland, Australia, Germany, or Italy. That's not a very diverse selection, considering the 197 recognized countries on Earth.

They may call you a hipster, but Western countries just lose their study abroad luster when you consider that 15 of your friends have studied abroad there already. You'll see so many friends share their experiences in that region that I just don't feel any sense of urgency to go there.

And is I've managed to study internationally for free, I want to use the opportunity to go somewhere I may not have an opportunity to go to at any other point in my life.

2. It's right next door—what's the rush?

In terms of proximity and accessibility, it will always be more “convenient” for me to fly from the East Coast of the U.S. to Paris compared to Buenos Aires. Excluding Australia, the U.S. and Western Europe have a multitude of flight deals every day between the continents, and in general, it's easier to pop over there.

American companies often have locations in these Western countries, so there are even opportunities to work in a Western country after graduation. If 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

A common bonus for studying in Western Europe is that its close-knit countries are easy and affordable to travel between, and this is very true. But it's not only true for this region!

Just as you can go from London to Barcelona, Rome, or Paris with relative ease, it's the same from Dubai, to places like Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, the Republic of Georgia, and more.

Don't let the convenience of a well-worn path be a limitation—make it a dare to make your own!

Instagram Study Abroad Middle East Non-Western
Dubai isn't as close as Ibiza, but the parties are just as fun trust me!

3. You shouldn't want a culture shock, you should want a culture tsunami.

London, Oslo, Sydney… The only real shock you'll get is when you check your credit card statement!

Of course, every country whether Western or not has its own beautiful nuanced traditions, customs, languages, and culture. But the truth is, the culture shock going from the U.S. to Iceland or the Netherlands is minimal.

Will they take practice and adjustment? Sure. Will, they confront you with huge shifts in gender expectations, landscape, classism, religion, climate, language, or ways of life like studying in a non-Western country would? The answer is no.

Take advantage of your study abroad opportunity and force yourself outside of your comfort zone. Go to a school where you're one of the few native English speakers. Tend chickens for your breakfast every morning. Study a religion completely different from your own. Stay with a host family that you may learn from but also teach. You won't regret it.

4. Honestly, these countries may not always bee available to us.

Americans, I encourage you to delve into a non-Western country when you study abroad because we may not always have access to them.

The world is changing. Politics are more volatile than ever, and with impulsive world leaders like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsanaro, Boris Johnson, and Kim Jung Un, allyships and enemies may be shifting.

In short—it's easy to think the U.S. will always be allied with countries like France, Scotland, Ireland, and England, while leisure travel is not as guaranteed with countries such as Egypt, China, Mexico or the Philippines, etc.

I mean it when I say go while you still can.

The 7 big reasons you, as an American college student, should NOT study abroad in a Western country. There are 197 countries in the world, choose a cooler one than England! #studyabroad #educationabroad #studyabroadbecause #scholarships #college #collegestudents
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5. Take the opportunity to disrupt your assumptions.

The #1 reason I implore you to get out of Western countries is that, if you're like me, you intuitively don't want to explore out of Western countries.

The media has brainwashed us with the idea that Western = English = Civilization = Safe = Good, and non-Western countries must be the opposite of those things. Click To Tweet

Of course, this is not true. I can tell you you're absolutely more likely to be mugged in Paris than in Dubai, experience violent racism in the U.S. than in Thailand, and experience an acid attack in England than in Sri Lanka.

However, it's likely been drilled into your—and I think a mass majority of western students' s—minds that if you stray from certain (cough, cough, white) countries, you're instantly putting yourself at risk.

I feel that as young global citizens and the future of our world, it's Gen Z's obligation to see this bias within ourselves and actively challenge it.

6. You can become a unique regional expert.

Again, virtually every single other one of your college friends who study abroad will do so in the same 5-10 countries. The content has been made.

However, if you choose a less popular country you can literally pave the way for more people to do the same!

Example: I was the 2nd person in my entire university to ever study abroad in the UAE, and the first STEM major to. It wasn't easy. I had to do my own research on which classes would transfer back to my home university, I spent countless hours between my study abroad program and financial aid office making sure my scholarships would transfer to the new university and cover all of my expenses.

Flash forward a year and I'm living in Dubai, receiving dozens of emails from friends and fellow students from my home university telling me I'm the first person they've met who has studied abroad in Dubai asking me questions about how they can do it too.

Now 2 years out of college, I still get messages saying I'm the only reason someone decided to study in Dubai and how grateful they are that I shared my experience.

Aside from the thrill of being the “first” to do something in your community, your study abroad could have a deeper purpose and actually inspire and educate others on non-Western cultures.

7. There are way more financial aid, education, and career incentives.

Studying abroad in a non-Western country allows you access to truly unique cultures and languages. This experience can be valuable in more ways than one.

For example, the Boren Awards (the scholarship I won!) awards up to $20,000 to undergraduate and graduate students with a desire to learn an in-demand foreign language such as Arabic, Russian, Cantonese, or Portuguese. The catch? You can't study abroad in a western country.

The U.S. government has long seen the value in encouraging students to explore non-Western cultures, and also has special government positions for translators, cultural experts, liaisons, ambassadors, intelligence agents, and more. You can find their current listing on USA Jobs.

Also, read how I won more than $40,000 to study abroad in Dubai, UAE.

Instagram Study Abroad Abu Dhabi UAE
You could see better architecture than the Eiffel tower!

*Disclaimer: Everything I've said comes from the perspective of a person who has grown up with international travel.

I absolutely acknowledge my privilege as a Western passport-holder, previous experience abroad, and enough family support to jump headfirst into new waters with more excitement than fear. And 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 comfort limits and expectations of our study abroad experience. Maybe it's simply 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, anyone, 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

I wrote this because I believe 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

Agree, disagree? Did you study abroad in a non-Western country?
Let's chat in the comments.

Why I did NOT want to study abroad in a Western country.
The 7 big reasons you, as an American college student, should NOT study abroad in a Western country. There are 197 countries in the world, choose a cooler one than England! #studyabroad #educationabroad #studyabroadbecause #scholarships #college #collegestudents
Gabby Beckford

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Liz January 3, 2021 - 12:41 AM

I totally agree with you! I did the same thing too. I studied abroad in 2019 for half a year and went full in of being far out of my comfort zone. I choose Morocco. I was in a culture tsunami and I don’t regret it at all. It taught me to embrace all of the preconceived notions I had and inspired me to move abroad again and go to Thailand as an English teacher. Now, I inspire to become a digital nomad and in the works of making this happen more and more day by day.

Crystal April 4, 2018 - 12:16 AM

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.

Gabby April 8, 2018 - 9:29 PM

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!

Mia March 31, 2018 - 10:04 AM

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.

Gabby April 3, 2018 - 10:12 AM

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!

Delilah March 17, 2018 - 3:33 AM

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.

Sarah March 16, 2018 - 10:24 PM

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!

Erica March 16, 2018 - 9:45 PM

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.

Sabrina March 16, 2018 - 9:38 PM

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 🙂

Jessica March 16, 2018 - 9:33 PM

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

Crystal March 14, 2018 - 9:38 PM

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!

Menorca March 13, 2018 - 3:48 PM

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!

Gabby March 13, 2018 - 4:16 PM

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!

Yasmin March 13, 2018 - 2:41 PM

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

Taylor March 13, 2018 - 11:21 AM

Being so out of my comfort zone is the reason my study abroad was so rewarding. Through all the struggle, I found who I really was in Moscow!

Gabby March 13, 2018 - 12:37 PM

Love it, and couldn’t agree more!

Nicole March 13, 2018 - 10:23 AM

“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.

Cliodhna Ryan March 13, 2018 - 8:05 AM

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!

Gabby March 13, 2018 - 12:36 PM

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!

Marisa March 12, 2018 - 11:50 PM

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!

Gabby March 12, 2018 - 11:53 PM

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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