Is going to study abroad worth it?

Personally, I think studying abroad is one of the most important experiences a person can have, it opens the mind, allows people to mature at an incredible rate, but it is not without its drawbacks.

Firstly, I would like to talk about my firsthand experience with studying abroad. When I was 17 I had the chance to participate in a yearlong exchange student program in Guatemala, Central America. Not many people have heard of Guatemala in this part of the world, and neither had my parents until I was given Guatemala as my destination. A quick check in the encyclopedia, and my parents read that 80% of Guatemala didn’t have electricity and that it had been rife with civil war for most of its history. My parents were understandably worried at the possibility of their first born going to such a place, while I was a headstrong teenager with dreams of getting away from my small town and having an adventure; I was extremely excited.

Six months later, I had graduated high school in Australia, said goodbye to my friends and family and was on my first ever plane ride to Central America. I spent one year in Guatemala, dealing with all kinds of things. It was extremely dangerous. I suffered at the hands of racism, had to be constantly careful of how I had to handle myself and what I carried with me. I was, without over exaggerating, the only blond haired, green eyed foreigner that I saw in the city for about 6 months. Guatemala has a lot of tourism, but one thing all the guidebooks tell you is to avoid Guatemala City, its capital, at all costs, but I loved almost every minute of it. I had a good time, I learned a lot, I learned a new language and how to handle myself in a variety of different situations. It literally changed my life. Upon returning to Australia, I changed my course of study at university. I wanted to experience more of the world, and I chose a degree that would help me do that.

I spent my twenties, traveling the world; exploring, learning about different cultures, living in different countries, immersing myself in as many different experiences as I could find. If I had never gone to Guatemala, I would never have experienced the joy of spending time in and learning about other cultures. It has been a true honor and privilege to be part of so many lives and communities around the world, and I have made many life long friendships along the way. I certainly wouldn’t be married with children living in Japan, if I hadn’t taken that opportunity so many years ago.

But despite all the positives that came out of that experience, there have also been some negatives too. I lost many of my friends that I grew up with. Upon returning from my exchange, I found that I had matured immensely but my friends having spent the year as first year university students drinking and partying, hadn’t matured much at all. The things that we once had in common, I no longer had much interest in. There were better more important things in the world that I had discovered; the person I connected with the most at this time was a girl at my school who had also gone on exchange. We were friendly growing up, but didn’t have much in common, until then, but we became close friends because of this shared experience.

Another negative, which I only realized after about 7 years of traveling the world and returning to Australia, was that while I was traveling the world, accumulating real life experience, my peers were in Australia getting business experience working in one company, one field, and were advancing their careers far more than I had. I hadn’t stayed in one place long enough to work for the same company. This didn’t look good on my resume, and has hurt my career progression.

To resolve this, I stayed in Australia for 6 years after returning at 28, worked my way up to manager of a large hostel and completed two masters’ degrees while working at that job. This finally gave my resume a bit more credibility and I was hired by the largest express shipping company in the world, where my experience and work ethic paid off. I became a manager in under 2 years.

I left that job after 4 years, to move to Japan, to support my wife’s wish to have a family in Japan. So I have moved again. Have I made the right decision? Only time will tell.



drawback (noun) – the negative point of a situation, disadvantage, downside
rife (adj.) – prevalent; describing a frequent or common occurrence
immensely (adv.) – a strong feeling, greatly, extremely
at all costs (idiom) – to do whatever is necessary at whatever cost