The quality of the education while studying abroad is not as good…This is the strongest argument I have heard against studying abroad and after a few weeks at Yonsei, I know that it is somewhat valid. At my school in America almost 60% of students choose to study abroad, 30 times the national average and I believe it is a great opportunity, however there are few things to consider that I don’t think shouldn’t just be pushed aside as silly concerns:
Education Value for Price: Most study abroad programs still charge tuition as if you are studying at your “home institution” which if you attend an American private school, is an outrageous rip off to study anywhere else in world. I am still paying HWS (through scholarships, grants, and loans) US$22,590 however a semester at Yonsei Underwood (the most expensive undergraduate program in Korea) cost 7,918,000 KRW or about US$7,250. To access the cheaper tuition it would seem that one would need transfer out of there home institution and then transfer back in. Of course that would be too risky and the support provided by our study abroad is really valuable. If financial aid is not a concern and spending a longer time abroad of interest, simply attending university abroad might be a good idea, although it requires understanding more about the nation you are going to.
Before running with pitchforks to demand the lower tuition rates for all American schools, its needed to remember that we do get what we pay for. This became apparent during course registration. Schedules were not released until well into the summer holiday, and once it was I was forced to re-scramble my plans since some of the courses I was planning to take were not available during the Fall Semester. On registration day itself, I was only able to get two of the classes I needed, and contacting the profossers for help was difficult. We were told to try again during the second add period and to just show up the first day and ask. At my school back home, simply explaining that a course is needed for my major would be enough to receive a seat without the worry. Also class sizes are bigger, about twice as large as at my college in the United States. Professors generally do not engage the students as much, choosing mostly to lecture however some discussion does take place. But its really hard to have everyone interact with the material. They do also offer office hours, however its not as encouraged as much as at university in America. Overall the quality of American liberal arts colleges is better than their study abroad programs. However being abroad and taking courses with international students is also a great learning experience as well, especially if you are wishing to study a certain region or any international issue.
Other Educational Related Costs: Those tuition dollars (and the fees) back home also buys us larger educational experience. HWS tuition would normally buy a cost free Orientation Weekend including meals, however here it only was worth a half day program with additional fees for the group dinner and tours that took places on some of the following days. With nothing else to do for a week and wanting to get to know everyone else, you pretty much feel forced to spend the money.
Participating in student clubs also comes with its added costs. Yonsei (and many non US schools) do not pay for there students to attend debate tournaments and many other clubs charge membership fees to cover costs. This makes participating in activities costly. The tournament in Hong Kong cost almost US$200 per person to attend and flights are looking to cost almost US$400 more with the tournament an hour by fast train south of Seoul in Daejeon about 330,000 KRW not including train tickets. Attending the world championship easily costs thousands of US dollars. In the US the university takes care of these costs making it easier for students to attend, especially those of lower incomes, but of course its reflected in tuition prices. It is a bit cheaper for HWS to travel to tournaments since Toronto and New York City are within driving distance while Korea is isolated and only hosting one tournament this semester. For the purposes of study abroad, remember to budget in (and look for an experience grant) participation in a club since they all have operating costs, however are also great places to meet others and engage culturally.
Weakening of Relationships at Home: The majority of us whom study abroad are likely to live the rest of our lives in the United States, so our relationships at home are still important, even if this point seems silly. It is highly likely that connections you make while studying abroad will help you, since for vacation or maybe work, going outside the U.S. could be fun and the global experience will help in job hunting. I do believe that there is some risk to relationships with the people you are leaving behind. They are likely to feel disconnected to you and could end up feeling attached to other people or lonely. Many people do report having to find new friends or partners after coming back from abroad, feeling that they can no longer relate to there old friends. And the inability to quickly visit if an emergency happens could leave family members or partners feeling that you are unable to take care of them when needed, even while they attempt to logically understand it could be hard for them regain trust in feeling protected. If your relationships are real, or solid, I’ve been told, they can survive four months of being apart. The problem is that I and most college students are just building there friendships, relationships and connections, they are not solid and very well could collapse, relationships that if time is put into them, are likely to be more useful than the ones built while abroad. People are also less likely to date an exchange student (if that worries you) because of the difficulties of meeting after the semester is over and people at home in the months leading up to your departure could fear the fact that your going abroad soon, so you could actually lose a lot of time in finding a good match. Of course you want to find a find friends and relationships that are healthy enough for each party to be supportive of the other party’s goals and in which one party does not give up too much more than the other, but it might be true that people in longer relationships (older people) are likely to make additional sacrifices for each other. In the most extreme emergencies (usually only involving family members) you can usually get a leave of absence and quickly return home, some insurance policies help with this and you ask your university about there policy if this concerns you. I think its up to each person to decide and discuss how being away could impact there relationships at home.
Location Determines Price (Somewhat): I will leave Korea with more money in my bank account than I would have had if I stayed home, despite the fact that I will not be working while I am here. This however is not true for my friends studying in Western Europe and Japan since the cost of living in those places is higher. It comes down to the cost of living since the dormitories here are 1,414,000 KRW for the semester a little more of 1/3 the price of dorms at HWS. While the grocery store here in Korea is expensive, restaurants, and most other activities are cheaper than in the states. If finances are a concern during study abroad, choosing with location in mind can actually be helpful. Also remember since people ask more questions about finances during study abroad than being a home, most cost estimates published are total cost (including spending money and books for example), whereas normally the focus is on just tuition, room and board. Also some scholarship programs for study abroad focus on helping students to study in less traditional locations or places the government considers high need, But if academic plans are better suited in Europe for example, than a strong scholarship essay is possible.
Overall I think this opportunity is great for me, however it has shown me that some of the arguments against study abroad are valid and should be considered.