Studying abroad may seem daunting at first, but it can be a life-changing experience. Going to college marks a new chapter in your life. Now is the perfect time to apply your newly developed knowledge cross-culturally within your field of study and experience even more personal growth. As scary as it may seem to leave your home and country and study in a new place for a while, the experience comes with many benefits. Admit it, the thought is pretty exciting. Studying in a foreign country is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you shouldn’t miss out on. In this article we’ll walk you through eight exciting benefits of studying abroad. More specifically, it’s focused on how those interested in becoming a physical therapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT) will gain valuable experience that will translate into skills as well as providing opportunity to serve!
See the WorldAs cliche as it sounds, studying abroad allows you to broaden your horizons and see more of the world safely and with a group just as passionate as you are. You get to witness new sights, customs, foods, environments, and ways of life that you would never be able to fully immerse in, not even in an international course. There is only so much you can learn from the books and videos. While you might have visited other countries for leisure, you probably felt like you didn’t have enough time to fully absorb the differences in culture and truly explore, immersing yourself into the surroundings and local customs. If you’re studying in the country, you have lots more chances to do exactly that. And even while you are in class or during class activities, it’s still a different experience altogether since you get to see what life’s like for the locals.
Learn a New LanguageIf you’re trying to build your foreign language skills, there’s no better way to do this than by exposing yourself to people who speak it as their native language. While there’s always the option to find online resources or take classes, it’s still more effective to study a new language while abroad. During that time you’ll be completely immersed in the language. So you get to learn from every interaction and gain first hand understanding of even the smallest details. Many times, you only learn textbook information in the classroom, for example, the english language is pretty complicated, Americans have a spoken language that does not always follow the rules. But by seeing and hearing the language every day, you get to pick up colloquialisms, slang, and other common phrases that people often use. As a PT or an OT professional, it is imperative that you are able to communicate, not only to articulate instruction, but to also understand what that patient is trying to share with you during your work together. Aside from understanding the language’s native culture, this helps you learn the right tone, inflection, choice of words, and other important things. Many times, these are hard to teach since they come naturally to a native speaker. Thus, exposing yourself to the language for an extended time allows you to adopt these mannerisms into your language skills.
Increase Cross-Cultural CompetenceIf you have ever moved homes or transferred schools, you probably felt a culture shock from the sudden change in environment. This is completely normal, and it will be even stronger apparent the moment you step foot in a foreign country to study. Your experience will not be the same as when traveling since you now get to experience life as a local instead of just a tourist. You will immerse yourself in a new culture—and this is one of the most significant advantages of studying abroad. As an international student, you get to meet and interact with different people, try local delicacies, visit new sights, make new friends that often last a lifetime as you engage in your profession. Overall, you become more aware of the local culture and way of life. Through this enriching experience, you ultimately increase your cross-cultural competence. This refers to your ability to comprehend and engage with people from different cultures. Generally, this skill is valuable for anyone, regardless of their career plans. But it’s especially important for aspiring healthcare professionals since cultural barriers can affect how your patient responds to communication and how well you can treat your patients.
Experience New Education StylesDifferent countries and institutions have their own education styles. So by studying abroad, you can experience expanded learning opportunities. This helps you develop adaptability within your learning ability and eventually this will be translated into problem solving with your patients by helping you see different ways to approach a need. Just as your professors have done with you during your educational experience. For example, if you’re used to a more authoritative teaching style with long lectures and presentations, you can try looking for a more hands-on program like Thailand’s Pre-PT College Prep Program in Thailand. When learning for these healthcare fields, it’s important to find opportunities for this hands-on experience since this allows you to apply your theoretical knowledge and test your skills. Even if you aren’t in graduate school yet, you can begin planning to attend relevant programs with Therapy Abroad, whose programs provide a safe overseas education experience designed to expand your ability to provide the best care possible. By doing this, you get exposed to real-life settings earlier on, which will be beneficial as a candidate for a PT or OT master’s degree program. It’s often hard to gain this type of knowledge and skill in a classroom, so a student travel program will be the perfect way to gear you up for your future studies and career.
Expand Your Skill SetUnsurprisingly, enrolling in a study abroad program allows you to expand your skill set. While previous points have already touched on benefits such as speaking a new language and developing stronger cultural competence, there’s so much you can gain from the experience. For fields like Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy, you will be more prepared for your career. When it comes to healthcare, immersion and hands-on experience are the best ways to develop beyond basic skills by allowing you to experience unique cases that may not have been available in the classroom or clinical settings. By studying abroad, you gain a wide new range of hard and soft skills that can make you more competent in your field, therefore making you the best candidate for graduate programs and competitive employment opportunities. What do we mean by hard and soft skills?
- Hard Skills. These skills are developed directly related to your field of study such as safe exercise techniques or ways to lift a patient from a chair. With the international learning experience you can deepen your knowledge and apply your skills with patients with additional barriers to your care such as cultural and language. This will allow you to improve your verbal and written communication skills, and develop physical stamina—all which are helpful for a future PT or OT career.
- Soft Skills. These skills are developed over time with experience. You can also expect to pick up soft skills that will ensure you are a successful practitioner which is important in the healthcare arena. Some common soft skills you’ll learn from your international experience include adaptability, self-confidence, problem-solving, independence, leadership, and a sense of responsibility.
Elevate Your CredentialsOne of the major educational benefits of studying abroad is its impact on future opportunities, whether future studies or jobs. By highlighting your experience as an international student on your resume or CV, you immediately elevate your credentials and gain an edge. If you are a bachelor’s student and planning to go to graduate school for a PT or OT program, you can increase your chances of getting accepted. Schools recognize the value in studying abroad as it shows initiative and drive for excellence. With this experience you gain more international connections, fresh perspectives and a broader toolbox of techniques, and cultural awareness. These can all boost your application and show your commitment to your chosen field. The same idea applies for the job market. Based on a survey conducted by Hostelworld on 1,006 hiring decision-makers in the US:
- 23.3% said they would choose candidates with study abroad experience, if given the choice between two hires.
- 41% have considered offering higher salaries to job applicants with an international education background.