Studying or Volunteering Abroad: Which is Better?

By Kelsey Miller on February 26, 2014

via Google Images 


At some point in your college career, someone is going to ask if you’re going to study abroad.  While studying abroad may be a highlight of your college years, many don’t have the opportunity to dedicate a full semester or summer to do so. Recently, volunteering abroad has been growing in popularity. You essentially get the best of both worlds: travel and volunteer experience. However, the tough question is, which is better – study abroad or volunteer abroad?

Studying abroad definitely has it perks, getting college credit while living in an entirely new country. You’ll often hear students saying “How much they miss it” or “How they cannot wait to go back,” but is it really worth the price you have to pay? Leaving your friends and family to pack up and move to another country for 5 months? As well as having to make completely new friends while abroad? It is definitely a personal decision, one that no one can really make for you. Most programs include tuition, room, board, laundry, and other essential things. But, what if you want to take a weekend trip to a neighboring country? Definitely coming out of your pocket. Unless you have a secret trust fund or have just won the lottery, extra spending money to galavant around the world is not going to appear from nowhere.

While studying abroad gives you an entirely new outlook on the world because you are able to eat, sleep and live like someone from another country, you’re there to study. Many say that the knowledge and experiences that they have gained are worth every penny. But I would definitely guess that going out to the cute little restaurant down the street or the night club in the main part of town looks a lot better than reading five chapters in your textbook. Not to mention, if you choose to live in a country that doesn’t speak your native language, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get by.

On the other hand is volunteering abroad. Some students choose to take a year off to volunteer abroad before heading to college; this is extremely popular in other countries, but not in the United States. You only have so long to live ‘irresponsibly’ before you’re stuck in the ‘real world.’ Often students think they need to get their degrees, then get a job as soon as possible. But what’s the fun in that?

Volunteering abroad can be pricy, depending on where you go and for how long. However, most organizations will include room, board, and possibly some classes depending on where you are. There are many different things you can do abroad, such as teaching English, child care, wildlife conservation, helping with construction, and helping in the medical field. You get hands-on experiences, while being in a completely new environment and culture. You get to see firsthand how appreciative those who are receiving help truly are and know that you left a mark on their lives.

However, as stated before, volunteering abroad can be pricy depending on how long you’re there. The longer you’re there, the more it costs. The same goes for volunteering as it does studying, you have to have  money to do the ‘fun’ things you want to do. Traveling to nearby countries, as well as around the country you’re in is apart of the experience, but if you don’t have the extra money it can be difficult. It’s definitely hard to live the carefree lifestyle, when you know you’re back to reality in a few short weeks. Another drawback of volunteering abroad is that you’re technically not getting any college credit for being there.

In the end, the reoccurring advice that we continue to hear is that you must go abroad in your college years. It is really up to you to weigh the pros and cons to both sides and decide what’s best for you. Both studying and volunteering have their ups and their downs, and you have to decide how you want to experience life abroad.

I am a junior at the University of Iowa. I am double majoring in Journalism and Political Science.

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