Studying Abroad: A Waste of Time?

by Judge Josh on July 6, 2010

Ah, study abroad — that time-honored tradition of venturing to a faraway land to immerse oneself in its culture, history and tradition. Or, to hole up and get drunk with other Americans in between sleeping with mysterious, sexy foreigners without anyone back home knowing the better.

In my experience, it can go either way. Which is really the short answer to Audra’s question today, and that’s:

Ok… so here it goes. Is study abroad a waste of time?

Another student who just gets right to the point. I love it. My quick answer is: of course not, not necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly waste an entire year away learning nothing if you choose, but you can do that here in America, too.

Side benefit of study abroad? Levitation. (Only in Portugal, though).

I *want* so badly to have a reason to study abroad. I know I can take a generalized course or two if decide to go… but what I want to know is, does it do anything that makes me stand out from the rest when it’s all said and done? If I study abroad will I have anything on the other people in the job market other than great memories of going away for a period of time?

Not really, no. A notable exception is if you’re applying for a job where foreign language skills are key, and if you’ve studied abroad somewhere and spoken that language along with the natives for a year, then sure, that’ll definitely give you a leg up on someone who hasn’t done that.

The simple fact that you’ve gone abroad, though, isn’t enough ALONE to gain you special favor with employers, though. But again — if you accumulated some unique experience while abroad that is salient to the job you’re looking to get, then sure, now we’re talking.

That said, don’t discount those great memories. If it’s financially feasible and you have the time to do it, I totally recommend it. If you’re like a vast majority of Americans, you may not get a chance to live abroad at any other time in your life.

Trust me, life blows by fast. In the blink of an eye you may be married with three kids, credit cards maxed out and wistfully pining for the days where you COULD have spent your afternoons drinking sangria and reading poetry on the steps of an 800-year-old building alongside a handsome olive-skinned fellow named Alejandro.


Take this recommendation with a grain of salt, because I didn’t study abroad myself, although I wish I had’ve. But of all the people I’ve known who DID study abroad, none of them has said, “You know, it sucked and I wish I hadn’t done it.” Everyone I know seems pretty happy they did it. Again, for what it’s worth.

One would think, if you can do it… go for it! But for me… I am a single mom (yes, I have the luxury of letting my 5 year old stay with my parents if I should decide to go)

Whoa. That changes things.

and money would be a *little* on the tight side if I did it (since the cost is about double what I pay for one term) … so I want to know — IS IT WORTH IT?

OK, I’m switching from “college/scholarships advice guy” mode to “father of a 5-year-old myself” mode when I say: ABSOLUTELY NOT. Do not, under any circumstances, voluntarily leave your 5-year-old child behind while you go to another country for a year.

The only exception to this rule that I can think of would be if you’re being doggedly chased by international-spy assassins and need to stash your child somewhere out of the way and safe from your relentless pursuers.

Failing that — stay home with your kid. Even if your folks are great caretakers, it’s no substitute for Mom.

What are your honest to goodness study abroad thoughts? Thanks in advance, and yes… I know I love to use ellipses way too much :)

OK, for everyone else, I think study abroad is much like study domestic –what you get out of it is completely up to you and how much work you put in.

You can really try to blend in and live like a local and learn as much as you can about the culture in which you’re immersed, and in that case it’s great. If you don’t do any of that, you’ll probably learn a lot less (although I think living in a foreign country, in and of itself, is a learning experience of some value, even if you do nothing useful educationally while you’re there).

The area of study abroad where I’d advise the most caution is cost. School-sponsored study abroad programs are usually priced much higher than you’d pay to simply go to the country on your own and study similar things. This is mainly because a lot of things are handled for you: the courses, lodging, the entire study-abroad program itself, etc. And that’s fine if you’re willing to pay a fat premium for all that, but if you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, then you can go off and study abroad yourself for a LOT cheaper than you could in an organized program.

That’s my advice for the day. What about you — any advice for Audra? General comments about study abroad? Let us know below.

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn July 6, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I would not go even if I had a 12 year old!!!!!!!! I could not leave my child with my parents for a year. I would not do it, your shild would miss you way too much…

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Annie July 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

As a 38-yr old mom going to college for the first time (who would also LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to study abroad) I could not even imagine leaving any of my 5 kids behind regardless of who would take of them. Your college years last 4, maybe 5 years? The relationship with your child will last forever and you spending one year abroad is not worth the hurt you would cause. Yes, he/she might tell you that they would be okay – but they would only say that to make you happy, as 5-yr olds tend to do.

You cannot be replaced in your child’s heart nor would you want to be. Finish your education, get a good job, dream about traveling TOGETHER and take some fantastic overseas vacations TOGETHER. Much better solution for your itchy feet and precious kid.

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Anonymous July 6, 2010 at 3:01 pm

No way!! I’ve done it. Back in 2005, I started a graduate school program at the University of London. When I learned that I was pregnant, I stopped halfway and moved back to the States. In 2009, I brought my toddler back to London with me and finished the course. There are a few reasons that I would discourage you.
1) It’s much less expensive to visit the country on your own after you graduate. You’ll find cheaper lodgings, you won’t need the credit and you’ll be free to do as you please.
2) As much as study abroad opens your horizons, it can also be a headache. I had no idea how much administration styles differ between countries. For a paper that I turned in 30 minutes late, I wasn’t graded for. My degree was delayed a year so that the paper could be marked with the following year’s class.
3) Or take your kid with you. That part, I will never ever regret. My two year old went to a British nursery (conveniently tucked on campus), learned to take tea, visited some of the world’s most amazing museums, got to experience a brand new culture, and meet other kids her age from all over the world.

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Mrs. B. July 6, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Your 5 year old is more of a priority than any wonderful study-abroad opportunity. Think of the message you will send your little one if you go. It would be very selfish of you to do this, and I hope you don’t.

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Chris Hearne July 6, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Studying abroad is not always a huge chunk of change. Going to a developing country can seriously cut down on the costs of living. In a place like China or India, you might not end up spending significantly more a year abroad than a year in the US (especially if you live in an area with a high cost of living).

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Brandi July 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm

I agree with what the others have said. Without trying to be too harsh, studying abroad is something that you should have considered before you got pregnant. I get fed up sometimes when I see parents who have a child or children and they keep on pursuing their dreams as if the kid(s) are not there. That 5 year old is not your parents responsibility. Maybe once your child is older as Anonymous said, take her with you.

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Jaclyn July 6, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I have always wanted to study abroad. Of course it is a normal thing to want to do. But I could not afford it and it is a luxury, so I didn’t do it. You are supposed to be going to college to get an education for a future careers, especially if you are a mom. And I hate to be so blunt about it, but “YOU ARE A TERRIBLE MOTHER!” Anyone who would willingly leave their young, 5 year old child for a year should not have a child. That is a year of development and attachment that you will never get back. You want to blow off your kid to go study abroad? Nice. Way to be selfish. Guess we know who is raising your kid the rest of the time. Your parents. My sister has done the same thing. You should have kissed the dream of studying abroad goodby when you had your child. If it was for a couple weeks, sure. But for a year? You are ridiculous.

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Ambrosia October 31, 2010 at 1:28 pm

One, in no way, shape, form, or fashion, has the right to point fingers and judge a person’s style of parenting. For anything, this experience maybe extremely beneficial for their future together as mother and child. It may not, we don’t know. But speaking as a child who had a mother who, not only was gone for long periods of time to ensure a better life for us, but was also often ridiculed for a style that was not of the norm, it is not fair to deem a woman an unfit mother under any circumstances. She was single and tried her best, and both me and my younger brother turned out fine.

I think most people seem to forget what wonderful technology we have. There are ways to keep in contact with one’s family and still feel as if they are right in the room. Skype and Yahoo! offer wonderful video phone services in where all you have to do is plug up a mic and camera to a computer and you are as good as there. Best part: It’s free. No, it does not replace actually being in the same room with the child, but it’s not the neglect that most people are claiming.

Name calling, for the record, is ridiculous.

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J July 6, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Depending on the country you go to and your own school’s arrangements, it may not cost more to go – a lot of study abroad programs also have merit and need based scholarships, and other organizations like the State Department, Rotary, etc, offer third party scholarships for study abroad in certain countries.

Depending on which study abroad program you choose, you can also gain some really invaluable skills and experiences which WILL get you an edge in the job market – for example, self-designed, primary research about the culture you are in is a common part of many study abroad programs, and there are many excellent schools abroad that provide a great education that can rival schools here in the US (of course, this requires a lot of research). You can also get an internship while abroad, which would also provide unique skills and experiences (examples: BU offers a whole bunch of internship-based study abroad experiences).

Lastly, regarding your daughter – if studying abroad can be academically and emotionally beneficial to you and you are sure, you shouldn’t worry about your kid. One of my parents left home for years while I was in grade school to get a PhD, and it was the best decision for all of us. Sure, it was tough, but it sounds like you have the opportunity to ensure your daughter is well taken care of and you can still communicate with her probably (this part is key) – and as a well-enriched, well-educated mother, you can provide her with lessons and perspectives that are uniquely valuable, including following your goals and being intellectually curious throughout life. If a year seems a bit long, lots of programs are only for 1 semester. I wonder if other people commenting here realize that situations like these are becoming more and more common in today’s globalizing world, and it is NOT always bad. I dont think it’s okay for them to give you advice because they are reacting to this and clinging on to a nostalgic fantasy of how the world works.

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MsG July 6, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Study abroad is an amazing experience and not a waste of time at all. But with a 5 year old childish, it becomes less of a matter of how you will be utilizing your time and more about why are you willing to leave your child for a year? Jesus.

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Diane July 6, 2010 at 3:33 pm

As a student and a mom of three, I would never, ever, leave my kids for more than a few days. A year is an extremely long time to a five year old. When you return, your child will have changed more than you could possibly imagine. You’ll miss a big part of your child’s life that you can never get back again. Even if your year abroad turned out to be wonderful and romantic (and hopefully educational), you would likely regret it for the rest of your life.

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Syed Ghayyour Ahmed September 22, 2010 at 2:22 am

Study abroad program is one of the exciting parts of being a student. It offers a new approach in learning a large number of effects in a foreign country.

I am counselling the students who want to study Abroad and I found this blog very informative.
this is a nice blog for the students and those people who are searching for the study Abroad program.

http://www.futureguider.com/Study_Abroad/Study%20Abroad.htm

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Lace July 6, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Well, I “studied abroad” in Uganda my spring semester my freshman year and am “studying abroad” next spring in Jamaiaca, too, and probably next fall.
At my university, it’s cheaper this way. With no consequences, I sign up for distance education courses–which are cheaper–and get the financial aid that would normally be spent on my housing, more expensive tuition, and meals refunded to me. And I live on that money. I came back from Uganda with $1500 more than I would have spent on campus, including paying for my $1200 airfare. Now that’s a hell of an incentive to “Study abroad.”

But I would NEVER partake in a traditional study abroad program, you know, the ones that cost like $5+k for some stupid 6-week trip in Europe. Screw that. I take classes by mail and just book it to some country that sounds interesting, and get to know peopl ein order to find a cheap apartment to live in for a while.

That said, I don’t have any bills in the States, I don’t have a car, and I don’t have kids. I don’t have to break any contracts or anything by going overseas. In your position, honestly, I wouldn’t do it.

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Kelsey July 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm

As Judge Josh said, study abroad is as good an experience as what you put in to it. If you do something with your international experience that sets you apart from others (and you’re able to communicate it in a resume and job interview), the opportunity can go a really long way.

Have you considered a shorter term program or internship opportunity that you could bring your child along on? Oftentimes, children provide a wonderful chance/excuse/reason to immerse yourself in the local culture…they may be enrolled in a local daycare or school and this will provide you an automatic in to the local community! An experience like that certainly stands out from traditional study abroad, and I bet it would be an unforgettable memory for you and your child to share!

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Momo July 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I spent a summer semester abroad in Beijing, which was quick, much cheaper than other countries, and earned me 9 credits. She should look into such arrangements. I think that 6 weeks away from her kid would be perfectly okay.

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Bernice July 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm

First off, wow, some of the comments here. I don’t think you’re a bad parent to consider leaving your child with your parents for a year and I do I think you should scrap the idea out of hand. I do think you may not be taking the emotional effect of such a year for both you and your little one into consideration. A year is very long time. So on that front I say take her with you. At five her ability to acquire language is remarkably flexible, so she will be bilingual when she gets home, and she’ll absorb culture at an amazing rate so if you can swing it go for it. As to whether or not studying abroad would be beneficial in the job market that’s more complicated. It would very much so depend on your major and your field. If you are an English major and studying to become an ESL teacher (English as a second language) then a year abroad is a great idea, you would want to choose your country of study in a way that would benefit you in the classroom so look at Korea, Indonesia, Mexico or Haiti — Several students I know are in those countries being paid to teach and live there for a year. However if you are looking for a more traditional tour Europe year abroad or your major has nothing to do with language or culture then you’re basically paying for a really great vacation and it won’t be much use in your work. Anyway good luck!

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Bernice July 6, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Sorry typo — this line should read

* I don’t think you’re a bad parent to consider leaving your child with your parents for a year and I do NOT you should scrap the idea out of hand. *

Sorry about that!

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Tamara July 6, 2010 at 3:50 pm

don’t leave your kid. When she/he is older, take them with you. Or you could consider a service program for like 2 weeks… but even then. Not fair to your parents or the kid. don’t be selfish.

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Jennalee July 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I agree 100% with what Annie said, even though I do not have children. Audra should definitely finish her education in the US, but I would encourage her to travel outside of the US with her children on vacation once she’s finished her education and has a good job.

I have a mild/high-functioning form of Autism called Asperger’s Syndrome, and I studied at a community college for 2 1/2 years. I started out having to take 6 remedial courses at the community college, and also went part-time during my first year. I have taken 27 credits worth of college level courses but did not pass all of them. I failed elementary statistics, but passed all my other courses, so I have 24 transferrable credits. I am taking modern college mathematics right now and that course is still in progress. I am now turning 22 this August and going to be a sophomore in the fall of 2010, starting at William Paterson University majoring in elementary education (K-5) and a minor in special education with a second major in English. According to NJ state law, all education majors are required a second major, but I decided to stick with it because in the long run I will have more choices of jobs. Once I finish my undergraduate studies, I plan on getting a master’s degree in education with ESL endorsement.

If there are any study-abroad partner schools that would serve me a great purpose for either of my majors or for any upper level general education requirements, I would definitely consider an opportunity to study abroad. I also believe studying abroad will help me with preparation for ESL.

I am currently a peer tutor at my community college for reading and English mostly, and I’ve tutored several people who didn’t speak English as their first language, they have all done very well in school and passed their reading and English classes with my help.

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Ashton July 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I did a 2 1/2 month study abroad program while I was attending college. It was the greatest experience of my life. I learned about the world, about living on my own, and it helped to realize what I want out of life. Surely, it didnt make everything clear for me, but it really helped me out. I didnt have any kids at the time of my study abroad program so I cant give you any advice on that one. I honestly believe travelling is something everyone must do sometime in their life but leaving a child behind for a whole year isnt worth it. If i were in that situation, I might either look for a shorter program or wait until my child is older. Things will always be there later in life. :)

As for the “does study abroad put you a leg up in the workforce competition” comment, I have to disagree 100% with the answer to that question. When I was debating if i was going to study abroad or not, one thing that I did was talk to business owners, CEO’s, etc. They ALL said the same thing: having travelling experience will give you a 100% leg up, no matter if you speak a foreign language or not. The thing you learn while travelling abroad is how to engage with different types of people and to be able to understand and relate to their cultures, etc. People with this kind of experience and knowledge definately have a leg up in the workforce.

All in all, in this particular situation, I think I would wait or find a shorter program. It is also very difficult in many countries to just go to that country and study there without a study abroad program. It may be less expensive but that is only IF you can find somewhere that allows it. I hope this helped. And for anyone else looking at going on a study abroad-DO IT! Dont let a chance like that pass you up. It is completely worth it!

Good luck!

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Brittany July 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I completely agree with Bernice and was going to advise similarly!

If it’s financially and logistically feasible… take her with you! And if you can’t do that through the study abroad program, just continue your work and schooling, until you can save up enough to go by yourselves. Then you can dictate where you stay, how you spend your time there, and you wouldn’t have to worry about classes! =)

Living, or even visiting abroad, will give both of you the experience of a lifetime. You will both have the unique opportunity of immersing yourselves in a different language and culture, and you will share memories and build a bond that can never be taken away.

Best of luck!

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Guest July 6, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Why does it need to be a year? I studied abroad for 3 weeks, and also looked into some 4 week and even 1 week programs. These are of course during winter, summer and spring breaks. They are much cheaper, you can get 3 credits, and you won’t be away from home as long. I had a great time, got everything I wanted out of study abroad, for 1/3 the cost! Consider them! :)

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Joyce July 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I agree with the others who say having a child changes things. I recommend staying at home to get the degree. When your child is older, or even out on their own, you can go back to college and study abroad. I did it after my children were adults. I also gained more from my adult maturity. I saw the nuances of the society. Many of the other students were partying from Thursday night until Sunday night. Our group was known as the dirty Americans, as compared to another group that was there with their instructors.

Do not give up on the idea if you are really interested. It is well worth it. Just wait for a better time.

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Volvo Fox July 6, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Dear Mom,

You want to go–so do it. This is a once-in-a-life time opportunity, as is your daughter–but if she is in a loving home, she is young enough that it will be okay. You need sacrifice for growth and living and growing in another country is a tremendous opportunity for your spirit. Is there any way your daughter could go with you? Would you feel safe with an option like this? There are other options for travel as well. If you are concerned about finances you could go over by yourself using http://www.couchsurfing.com. Share your message with these kind folk and maybe you could even travel with your daughter. I lived/traveled through Italy mainly and western europe for five months on $5,000 (this includes airfare). I stayed in hostels twice and stayed with families through couchsurfing the rest of the time. You could travel this way for a couple of months or even one–and with your daughter, if you wanted. If you are looking for a year of being with yourself, this is completely understandable too–and I support you in your decision. Your daughter is yours forever and this opportunity can be shared with our daughter and her daughter and her daughter forever. Whatever your decision is, make the most of it by noticing the small and beautiful in everything. Buon Fortuno!

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pam g July 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm

In some cultures it is common for grandparents to raise the grandkids.

Although, in our culture, it is tradition that the parents raise their own kids.

Maybe Audra is from one of those grandparent-raised cultures? Anyway, I would advise against study abroad. 1) it isn’t really that big a deal unless you’re going to learn another language that will help you in your job, 2) usually, the courses that you “study” are insignificant and won’t count towards your degree from a US college.

I agree with the people here who have advised Audra to wait and go as a family. It will be cheaper and more fun and the child would benefit from the experience as well.

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Anonymous July 6, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Why not go for one term instead of a whole year, and have a fundraising party at your house to get a plane ticket for your 5-year old to visit after the term is over and have an adventure with your kid?

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Audra Smith - Original Poster July 6, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Ok – first of all… thank you for the replies! For clarification, and I’ll ignore the “I AM A TERRIBLE MOTHER” comment at this point – It was not a year long course. This is a 5 week course that I was looking at due to a scholarship I was about to turn down. My PARENTS are the ones who have asked me to reconsider and seek advice to make sure I don’t miss out on a) a great opportunity and b) something that might make my resume stand out even more. I did not immediately JUMP at the opportunity because leaving my child for ANY length of time is a major consideration. I am a single parent, I raise my child in MY home, not my parents and they have NEVER, that’s right, NEVER even had to babysit so I can date or party or whatever. My child was the result of a violent crime and I have struggled every step of the way, but I’ve never regretted nor resented having her. When I said money would be tight, it wouldn’t be for affording the tuition, that was in a scholarship I received. It was considering all the bills that still need to be paid while I was gone and not working. My main question was whether or not it really weighed more on a resume. Yes, I would LOVE to travel, but I’ve traveled to poor countries and travel destinations alike… even taken my child to a developing country for a month myself…. I wanted to know if “course-related study abroad” made a difference. Judge Josh – your answer addressed that plain and simple and it was much appreciated. To those who gave replies that actually concerned the question… that was appreciated as well. For the rest, do not ASSUME that when someone asks a question it means their mind is already made up…

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Kristina July 6, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I’m studying abroad right now in Italy and meeting a lot of university students that were lucky enough to live in other foreign countries when they were young. I think if your funds can handle it, you should take your 5 year old with you. What an amazing thing it will be when your 5 year old grows up and can say “I lived in [insert country] for a year…” Better yet if it’s a country with a foreign language–5 is a great age to start learning!

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Kendra July 6, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I would recommend if you REALLy want to study abroad, do it for a short while. Maybe during the summer. The most important thing (for me, if I was in Audra’s situation) would be to get my college degree to help provide for my child, but I’d want to go study abroad too. Thus, I’d recommend doing the summer abroad option. I haven’t researched it much yet, due to it not being my time to look at study abroad options, but I’d ask around to see if there are credits your college/university would accept using a different study abroad program if your institute costs too much. THere are a lot of options, and good luck!!

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culture addict July 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I think you are not a bad mother for wanting to have a life-changing experience… Unlike people who advocate for 1 month study-abroad programs, I think you should go for at least a semester or not go at all on study-abroad programs… if you plan to go for a month, go on vacation! I have spent my last two years living in different countries, but then again, I’m an International Relations and Languages student and I don’t have kids… I have lived in France, Argentina, Italy and Perú. From my experience living and studying in other countries I can tell you it is not as expensive as studying in the U.S. if you do don’t go on a traditional program. If you do all the planning yourself it will be cheaper, and there are many study-abroad scholarships that you could apply for. If you can go with your child, which I’m sure you could (in the fact of taking a child, not considering your financial capacity), it will be an enriching experience for you both. But if you can’t take her and you have a real opportunity to study-abroad and you feel it’ll be something you’ll regret later when you’re no longer young and energetic, go for a semester, they usually last 5 months, not six. It will be an enriching experience, especially if you go with the mentality of immersing yourself in the culture.

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Allie July 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Stay home with your kid, Audra. When you graduate, you can always try to get a job overseas in your country of choice and bring your kid with you. But ditching your kid for a year is just generally a bad plan and not the greatest idea in potential parenting methods.

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nate July 6, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Have to say, if your child was older, then sure. Younger…. eh maybe not. While an semester might not be that hard to come by, you should really think years down the road if family/relationship wise if this will come back to bite you in the ass. these early years for a child pretty much determines who they are for the rest of life.

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Kelly July 6, 2010 at 7:21 pm

I studied abroad and it was THE MOST amazing experience of my life. That being said, I’m ALL for the opportunity. HOWEVER, having a child changes things. My advice? Why not go for a semester? Why do you have to go an entire year? You can still get the experience without leaving your child beind for 12 months.

In the job market, unless you’re going for something where international experience is a key element, employers aren’t going to care about your travels. I studied in 10 countries. They say it’s impressive and “cool” but it doesn’t get me the job.

I still think it’s a worthwhile experience everyone should be a part of.

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Jenn July 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I just recently got back from a study abroad for a year. I am married and have a 13 yr old step daughter whom I left behind. Long story, they were supposed to come with, but at the last minute things changed. Although I loved my year abroad and was able to travel and see some sights, I missed my family back home, I came home for the holidays and ended up coming home early and finishing my courses online. That being said, I dont regret going, and I have lots of great memories and lots of friendships that will last a long time, not to mention the contacts made abroad.
You have to do what is best for you, can you do a semester abroad instead of a whole year? If I had done that it would have been perfect. You have to take care of yourself, its a fine balance. I dont have regrets, but it was definitly the hardest year my family has gone through.

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Jenna July 6, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Honestly, while going abroad is definitely what you make of it, I think it’s always a valuable experience career-wise. It’s better for some careers, true, but it all depends on how you sell it. Studying and living in another country teaches you how to communicate with others across cultural lines and helps broaden your perspective immensely. Also, just the fact that someone chooses to go abroad says that you are a person who is not afraid to take risks and try new things. It’s not for everyone, and it takes a lot of guts to go to another country, especially if you don’t know anyone there or speak the language. And I think that’s something that would impress a future employer. Finally, there’s the personal gains of studying abroad… growing as a person, maturing, coming to appreciate your own culture and the culture of the country you’re staying in, expanding your horizons through cultural experiences, job opportunities, and traveling while there, and forming relationships with people in that country. So, honestly, I’d say traveling abroad is an invaluable experience all the way around.

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Anna July 6, 2010 at 10:48 pm

I studied abroad for 3 weeks and loved it. I want to go again and I think I will if I get a chance. Currently, I have an internship and I’m noticing that many other students I’ve talked to with internships at nationally recognized companies have studied abroad. I do think it sets your resume apart and you certainly learn a lot from it. My study abroad program was not cheap but scholarships paid for most of it and I wasn’t sure if I’d get to go again so I took the chance.

At first, I would have said no to your question about studying abroad because I thought it was a year. I don’t have any kids but if I did, I think a year would be a long time to leave them. However, 5 weeks isn’t so bad and if it’s paid for with a scholarship, it would certainly be worth considering.

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Natalie July 6, 2010 at 11:06 pm

First off, I honestly don’t believe anyone here should be calling you a terrible mother when they don’t even know you. I’m assuming you’re still pretty young and it’s a totally natural thing to want to have a chance to act your age without a kid, but of course they are right when they say it could do some damage to the child.

I’d suggest either finding out if you can take your 5 year-old with you OR doing a SUMMER study abroad instead. I think your child might be old enough to handle you being gone for a month or two, but definitely not a year! I’m an Army brat so I know what it’s like for younger children having their parents go off to a foreign country for so long, they accept it but they don’t like it and their relationship with their parent is sometimes damaged because SO MUCH can happen in a child’s life within a year! All the holidays and special occasion, and especially their birthday being missed… That’s something every kid hates. I know most colleges have a summer and winter program though that lasts one to three months. I’d think a five year old could handle that, but it really depends on the kind of relationship you have with your child and for kids, summer usually passes by so quickly and then their right back in school. So that is another option I hope you consider over leaving for a whole year.

Best of luck!
Natalie

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Opportunity knocking July 7, 2010 at 12:59 am

Study abroad is usually a once in a life time opportunity so if you want to do it, and can afford to, than DO IT. If you decide against it, chances are you’ll regret it later.

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Online Education July 7, 2010 at 4:36 am

I think study abroad is not waste of time, cause abroad you can study well, The main reason behind that you have to achieve the goal which you set for the education.

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Bridget July 7, 2010 at 9:27 am

I don’t think the poster said she would be gone for a year so not sure where that is coming from but I say DO IT if it is feasible. I am leaving this winter for Spain for my final semester through a program through my school and the semester there is only going to be 3 months long. I will pay my school the regular tuition and will have to cover costs of staying with a host family on my own. I will be 35 and since I happen to be in a living situation where I am not tied to a lease or mortgage I feel this is my last chance to spend a few months being immersed in another country’s culture. To the poster…you never know what kind of job you will be applying for in the future so I think it will ALWAYS look good that you have been exposed to other cultures. No, I am not a parent but I was a child and my dad was in the Navy and went on six month cruises…..wasn’t a big deal ever. There is Skype so it’s not like you can’t see and talk to your kid over the computer.

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Grey_GirlPTK July 7, 2010 at 10:26 am

First off not all study aboard opportunities are for a year. Example: At Seattle Univeristy they offer year long, quarter long, tours that last a certain number of months, and two week study aboard opportunities. I guess it depends on the school, so clarify that first.

I am doing a study aboard next summer for the quarter since I can’t afford to be away for a year. Granted going for a year probably gets you more band for your buck–longer time to immerse yourself in the culture. But as stated this may be the only time I ever get to travel aboard.

Study aboard, from everyone I’ve talked to, always a plus. Ok maybe not in the job market–for that do an internship aboard (study aboard with a paycheck/trainning in feild). Many schools offer internships aboard and it gives you work expereince and travel, and sometimes they are paid internships so they offset the cost of going.

Either way it is what you learn about yourself and being an American that most get out of the experience. Then the life expereince of going aboard, even for a few weeks. So if you can’t swing it while in school at least try and go after for a few weeks. If you go after you could make it a family vacation–take your child, and parents–probably qualify for group rates on some things that way; and do it cheaper (couple f weeks).

I don’t have a kid, but am a full timenurse to my disabled parent. So for me finding capable help to replace me while I’m gone that doesn’t cost twice what I get paid is the problem. But no matter the cost I have decided to go, since I have already put so many dreams/life on hold for nearly two decades. I’m going through menapause, so won’t be having kids, and as I get older there are fewer chances of getting a date let alone married. So what else do I want to regret not doing?

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SW July 7, 2010 at 10:29 am

Well, it’s feasible. The child should not be an snare that you will come to regret. If your child is much smaller! If you go away for one year, the child is going to be very sad at first, then he/she will start to forget about you. When my family immigrated to America my mom had to stay behind to take care of things first, but she came in sooner than expected because my five year old sister misses her.
But I’ve heard plenty of instances of the parents going to the city/abroad to advance themselves, and leaving the children to the grandparents’ care. If study abroad can really improve your future prospects, then just go. Just make sure you return promptly and communicate with the kid. Maybe first train s/he so s/he is used to your absence? Five year old is a cute age and they grow fast. But just one year is tolerable… No reason to ruin your life and then blame it on the kids later. I dunno.
If it’s just for sight-seeing, then go when you can afford a two person trip.

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Diane July 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Judge Josh’s comment that “Do not, under any circumstances, voluntarily leave your 5-year-old child behind while you go to another country for a year” would be the one that made everyone think that this was a year long trip. Five weeks isn’t so bad, and it would be a toss-up for me – I would miss my kids like crazy, but if I had a scholarship to cover the costs and great childcare available (as you seem to with your parents) I might consider it. It could be a great opportunity that you may not get again. (though this doesn’t reverse my position on anyone considering leaving their kid for a year, I would consider 5 weeks to be a totally different situation than 52)

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Elaine July 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm

I think you should go for it, when do you get a chance to study abroad and experience new things,yeah your going to miss our child but you will have a great story to tell her and maybe influence her to study abroad one day soon.Good Luck On your Choice

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Justin July 7, 2010 at 11:37 pm

As others have said, do not leave your child for this. But I’d just like to reiterate judge Josh’s point at the end. When I did my study abroad I spent most of my time *******studying*******. Given the money that I lost by not working that year (I was only abroad a semester but had a hard time finding a job for three months) and the extra tuition I paid, I could have spent a whole summer in Europe with nothing to do but be in Europe (something you may very well be able to do with your kid). Advice for anyone: if you’re capable of taking care of yourself and living on a budget, go abroad on your own; I wish I had had the luxury to have spent a whole day in the Vatican museums and to have spent the wee hours of the night sitting in St. Peter’s square rather than rushing my way through Einhard, Aeschylus, St. Thomas, etc.

As a side note, if you really want to get immersed in a culture on the cheap may I suggest the Camino de Santiago. Your 5 year old might be able to do it with you if you wait 7 years or so.

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Lea S. July 8, 2010 at 10:56 am

As far as leaving for a year when you have a five-year-old: of course not!! I’m shocked you would even consider such a thing. At the most, if you feel like you really want some sort of study abroad experience go for a short-term January or summer program–one that’s only 2-4 weeks long. I think that is the maximum length of time you should spend away from your child.

As far as studying abroad in general goes: of course it is worthwhile! Being someone who adores travel, studying in Ireland for a semester was the best choice I could have possibly made. I got to see so many places I had always dreamed of seeing, and made some of the closest friends I have. I got to have adventures. I got to be more self-reliant and learn in a different way than before.

There are some myths about the cost of studying abroad. A semester abroad is about the same price as a semester at home (at least it was at my private university). It’s the extras–travel, flights, food, souvenirs–that add up, plus a small additional price for the study abroad agency to coordinate the experience. The latter is absolutely worth it, by the way, as it saves you the stress of getting into the university and finding flights/living arrangements/etc. No way would I recommend doing all of that yourself, although it is possible–why put up with that kind of stress?

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Bruce Wallave July 8, 2010 at 11:05 am

I understand that she wants to study abroad, but it is not worth leaving a five year old at home. I don’t have any kids, but I do know that sometimes those crucial sacrfices will help the child in the long run. Skip the study abroad and use the extra to take a trip when you have time to learn about the other cultures.

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Mirlene Chery July 8, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I think it’s a fifty fifty. My first suggestion is to find out is there any way possible you could take your child. Either having a parent or great babysitter to come along with you. If that is not an opption than it’s all based on the age of your child. If your child is under six. Than you should not do it. your child be allowed to get acquanted with mmommy and be at an age he or she can understand that mommy is going away for a year and when mommy comes back we will be able to live a much happier life. If your child is older than all that is neccesary is to have everything put in it’s right place. Than you can have a stressless trip.

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Sara July 8, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Save up money, build a great relationship with son/daughter, then take your him/her with you across the pond when he/she is older, so you two can experience it together :)

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Cassidy July 9, 2010 at 8:15 am

Since you have already read most of these posts- but as someone who Judge Josh has answered before- i know you will keep coming back until you make your decision.

Go for it. Regardless of if it is a year or a month or a semester. There is always a way for your child to be okay, you don’t have to sacrifice everything. My mom was a single parent and I regret for her all of the things that she had to sacrifice that she didn’t have to.

For others out there reading- check out direct enrollment in a university overseas (if the country doesn’t have a huge visa/administration problem (like Russia)). You would be able to take your child overseas with you (a lot of things might be cheaper overseas than in the US)- or consider an au pair to go with you- they are students like you who are looking for a part time/full time job that also helps them learn the language overseas. Direct enrollments are often cheaper than study abroad companies.

Leaving your child doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent (ideally they should go with you), but even if they don’t- it is an opportunity that (if affordable) you shouldn’t pass up. While I don’t have a child, I wold never have missed the opportunity and plan on going back.

However, if you don’t want to leave your child. Wait until you graduate and apply for programs like Fulbright or teaching English Abroad- they often offer help for people with dependents. It will be helpful for both of you.

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Ross July 9, 2010 at 11:57 pm

I can’t believe how many people jump to call you a bad parent. What’s right for one child/parent will NOT always be the best choice for another. You should know your child well enough to know if she could handle your absence. Also, it could be a great time for your child to form a better bond with her grandparents. However, I agree with the others who say that the best option would be to take her with you.

As for studying abroad itself, I spent a year in Japan and three months in China, and I would say it is absolutely worth it. A lot of people who have never done it (apparently including Judge Josh) think that the only career benefit is if your job needs language or cultural skills. This is not true, and these “practical” abilities are not even the primary benefit you will receive. The simple skill of being able to live an ordinary life in a totally alien environment will put you in the “ready to handle anything” category.

Thus, the “you get what you put into it” mantra is also not really true. If you are an ordinary student, you will get infinitely more out of a semester abroad than you would at home, and if you really apply yourself, your achievements there will easily outpace your entire education at home. Yes there are people who “waste” their time abroad. Living in Japan, I met far too many Western students who spent all their time in their dorm rooms watching anime and dressing up in costume. And wherever you go you will find people who just want to party or meet some girls or guys. But really the only way you could “waste” your time there is if you are doing so little that you are only taking up a place that someone more deserving could have filled. I don’t think weeks is long enough though. You’re in vacation mode at the beginning, and you don’t want to leave right when culture shock (not the wonder at a new place, but a form of depression that sets in as you find your place as an outsider in society) is at its worst. It can take several months just to reach that point and break through it, but that’s when the real fun and growth begins.

For me the only down side I have experienced was when I came home and found that I was no longer in a world where opportunity and adventure awaited me every time I stepped out my front door. Also, a lot of family and friends can’t understand the things I experienced, leading to a slight alienation at times (which goes away after you have been home for a while and have more “normal stuff to talk about). This is known as “reverse culture shock.” The exception to this, however, was my 5 year old nephew, who was fascinated by it, and it sparked his interest in geography and language.

Again, I want to strongly suggest you go. And go for longer than 5 weeks. Go for a whole year, if you can. But really look into a way to take your 5 year old with you. She is not too young, and she will benefit even more than you will. She is at the ideal age to begin studying a foreign language, and she will always be a truly multicultural person. But since you have loving family whom you trust willing to take care of her while you’re gone, still go even if you can’t bring her.

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Theresa July 10, 2010 at 2:46 am

Something to ask is if the Study Abroad program will help, or supports the idea of taking family with you. I am a study abroad student, I just got back last month from studying in Madrid, Spain for a year. I went to Spain with the Cal State International program which really supports taking your family with you on the experience, I saw about three women who had their husbands come with them to Spain and two of them had a small child. Its possible!

I feel the time I spent abroad has been much more than the simply the getting language and culture out of it, I have put myself in one of the most uncomfortable situations that is being away from all family and friend. I have learned how to be much more flexible with the way I think and interpret things and now have friends from all around the world. It has been a door that has opened all kinds of opportunities and awaken all kinds of dreams and desires. I hope you make the best decision for you and your family.

Good Luck,
T

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C. Susan Miner July 10, 2010 at 4:16 am

I’ve worked in a few different industries in different roles, and the fact that I had studied abroad definitely boosted my chances of landing the job every time. So I recommend study abroad. I would just make sure to consciously interact with the locals. My Swedish husband studied in Spain for a year, and his biggest regret is he didn’t interact much with locals; he spent his time with other foreign students (speaking English), so his Spanish never improved. One good way to connect with locals is by using Tripping (http://www.tripping.com). It’s a free global network of travelers, and members host each other; sometimes that means the host meets the traveler for a cup of coffee, other times it means the traveler stays in the host’s home. It depends on what you’re looking for, but no matter what option you choose, you’ll definitely get to experience more of the real culture.

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Anijo July 12, 2010 at 1:41 am

When I was in college as a single mother of a young boy, I spent one semester living on campus in the dorms in order to concentrate on my studies and finish a semester early by taking the extremely insane class load of 21 semester hours, while simultaneously working to earn a living. Then, on weekends, I would drive the 20 miles back to my parent’s house to see my son. It was the toughest semester of my life, but the work, classes, and studies were the least of my problems. I earned straight A’s in all 21 hours and a commendation for being an exemplary employee from my boss, but none of that matters. I missed so many important events in my son’s life. Emotionally, it was very hard for me, and as a adult today, my son does not seem as emotionally connected to me as other family members. I think it was hard on him, too. This was only 4 1/2 months and we still saw each other every weekend. So, before you think about being away for an entire year, think seriously about how it will affect you both, emotionally. My mother was a fantastic influence on my son (Dad still worked too hard to spend much time at home), so I don’t doubt his physical, spiritual, and emotional care during this time, but I still think we both missed out on something.
I didn’t catch which country “abroad” you planned to visit. Is it possible to gain some of the experiences another way? My daughter has listened to Spanish CD’s in her sleep, and has absorbed enough of the language that when she was coming out of the anesthetic after having her tonsils out that the nursing staff needed to get someone who spoke Spanish, as she answered every question the nurse asked by responding in Spanish. She and I visited a bilingual church service (the pastor preached in Spanish, then his wife immediately translated in English) and absorbed some of the language and culture this way. Getting to know residents in the “little Mexico” part of town, gave us opportunities to learn to cook certain ethnic foods. One month visits to Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru over the course of a few years has nearly filled out her cultural experiences and has probably come close to the experiences that would equal to living abroad for an extended period of time. But with the absences being shorter, I believe this worked much better for her than a year abroad would have.
The bottom line is, no one can tell you what to do. It has to be a personal decision. Only YOU know your emotional needs and the needs of your child.

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Mikyla July 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Great memories are NOT a waste of time. If that’s what you want, why shouldn’t you have it? The question is really, will you regret it if you don’t?

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Nick July 16, 2010 at 8:29 pm

It depends on how valuable this is to you. I’m a history major, studying Asian history. If I get to spend a year in Japan or China, doing research, brushing up on language skills, and getting experience with the cultures that isn’t mediated by, well, media, that’s crucial to my prospects after grad school and a necessary part of my education. If you’re in a similar position, where hanging out in another part of the world isn’t just a luxury but actually very valuable to doing well in the rest of your life, I wouldn’t let the kid thing get in the way. The idea that a year away would traumatize any child is pretty ridiculous. You can be a good mom and still do valuable things, especially if they’re working toward future goals. Only you can do the cost-benefit analysis here.

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Jane July 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

Hey, just ignore everyone who is calling you a bad mother. I thought I would give you a different take on this one, and hopefully it will help. I was in the same position, except I was the 5 year old in question. My mom was working on a degree in international cultural relations, and going overseas was almost essential to her course of study. She debated back and fourth about what to do with me if she went, or if she wanted to leave me to go at all. In the end, she took me with her and we wound up spending 18 months in Germany (considerably longer than her 5-week trip was supposed to be). It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I would not trade it for the world.

To all of those who have commented “wait until she is older and take her with,” I have to ask: are you crazy? 5 is the perfect age to live overseas! Her language skills in English are solidifying, so her English will not suffer from learning a foreign language; and she is still young enough that she could become a “native speaker” of the local language as well. In addition, around the age of 5 in Europe and many other foreign countries, they expect their children to start taking on responsibility. 5 year olds in Germany can take the city bus by themselves, are expected to do rudimentary homework, and often ride bikes with their friends around the neighborhood. As an adult, those experiences made me better able to handle anything that came my way.

When I returned to the states, I was on a trip with my girl-scout troop, and we got lost on our way to a camping function. All the girls in the van panicked and cried because they were afraid of being lost; I didn’t understand what the big deal was. The experience made me less fearful and more outgoing as a child. In my teenage years, my school closed, and all the students had to transfer to other schools in the area. The only students who didn’t panic were those of us who had lived overseas or had parents who had to move a lot.

I would highly recommend, to anyone who is capable of it, living with their children overseas no matter how old or young; it is always a valuable experience for everyone.

That being said, I think you should consider waiting for financial reasons and get a job over there. Using USA Jobs, you can apply to work for the military overseas as a civilian. If you do that, they will pay for you to move, give you a housing allowance to live off base, and you will have access to the commissary and px (for those times when you really NEED that taco). Then you can put your daughter in a local school, and you will be drawn into the local community. If you play your cards right, the government will even pay for your masters degree (which you can get online, or from a local university). It will look good on your resume, keep you and your daughter in the black, give you valuable experience overseas, and could yield a higher degree. Good luck, I wish you both the best.

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oluleye innocent gbenga August 29, 2010 at 5:34 pm

i understand that she wants to study abroad, but it is not worth leaving a five year old at home. But I do know that sometimes those crucial sacrfices will help the child in the long run. so it’s not bad at thesame time because she want to leav her with parent for a year i think is not too much.

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Sara October 19, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I can’t believe she is even CONSIDERING leaving her kid for a full year! That’s awful!

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Julia November 6, 2010 at 11:22 am

Studying abroad was one of the best experiences of my life, traveling in general has been. It doesn’t matter how other people view your studying abroad/going abroad because the experience will change you in the most positive ways possible. I think these shifts alone will set you apart from other people.

If you do not study abroad, go abroad at least.

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Lexi November 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm

WOW @ all these mean comments! Considering that it’s a 5-week course & that you’ve definitely got your shit together, I say go for it!
My dad lived away from my family for a year to go back to college when I was 8. He wasn’t in another country, but he still wasn’t home. How did that affect me? I missed him, but it was the best feeling to see him enjoying his work & to graduate with honours (never so proud as then!).
I say go for it. Your daughter will be endlessly inspired when she’s older & hopefully it’ll encourage her to study abroad & explore.

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jenny jang November 12, 2010 at 1:49 am

Hi, I am from Korea.Last yesr, I went to Canada by alone. at that time I was 10 years old. and I could’nt make that much friends in Canada because of the cultural differences for the 2 months! How I can go aborad to study in other countries!! I think we can learn more things about studies in our own country. So, I think studying aboard is not as good than we thought. IT IS JUST WASTING OF MONEY!!

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lala February 5, 2011 at 5:49 am

You know…I studied abroad and it sucked. I really wish I never did it.

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Patrizia February 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I just spent fall term in Italy & it was one of the most incredible experiences I have had so far. I am a mother of two daughters- ages 20 & 15. Even though they are older they had a really hard time without me. I can’t imagine leaving a 5 year for a whole year though. A term?….maybe in a few years. But that might not be the case either. I agree with some of the other posts…wait! It cost me $10,000 for a term. Luckily the majority of that was paid for with scholarships but still. For a whole year your looking at at least tripling that & that is not including feeding yourself. Take a vacation instead with your child!

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k March 16, 2011 at 11:14 am

selfish is an understatement…

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Hanpan March 25, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Y’know, I studied abroad for a semester and it sucked.

But I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

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Evan April 14, 2011 at 10:42 am

Study abroad is an amazing experience that broadens your horizons and allows you to reach new heights. I think its vital to any undergraduate majors in language, economics, or poly sci. I went to Berlin through my communities Rotary club. It was the best experience ever! I go back frequently. Everythings global now so I feel like now study abroad is more important than ever.
But Audra, I think you should stay with your child. Your past that point to be able to just go leave the country for a year. Just sayin.

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Me June 16, 2011 at 9:40 am

I’m not going to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do with their child. Other people’s choices and parenting styles for their children are none of my business. However, I personally would not leave a child for an entire year. If you want to study abroad, why not try a program that just last for a week or two weeks in the summer? That will still give you the experience, but your child will not be without you for too long. Also, make sure you really want this. Study abroad is too expensive for rash decisions, but if your entire heart is in it, it can be fun.

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Jessica August 13, 2011 at 4:36 am

Well Studying abroad is a really good experienced. I had a lot of fun when I was an exchange student. I was not only could get to know the culture but I have connection or other families in other countries whether they were my exchange friends or my host family. Especially when you want to learn about the language, it’s better to speak with the native and force your ability to learn a new language.
I don’t really know about parenting but I like kids. I think the one year of taking care of your kids will be more valuable. I think at the age of 5, they look really cute and they learn a lot of thing during that time. They also need to prepare for the school. they need their parents to guide them. not only 5 years old even older than that, they need your guidance. after all your kid just being five at that year you don’t want to miss a single minute of that until your kids grow up.Unless you could bring your kid together with you. that will be so much fun to spending a year with your kid in another country that you don’t know. It will give a lot of memories not only for you but for you kid also.

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Christina September 4, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Dear Audra, if you want to srudy abroad just DO IT!!!dont let others take decisions for your own life. I made the same decision as I am single mother myself and i had to go abroad and continue my studies. I think you are great mother and you child will understand that this is for the benefit of both. Of course it would be great if you could take your child with you. Think it over and i strongly beleive you are the only one that can take this decision. Do not let criticisms affect you, because u know better who u are and what is your dreams as a mother, as a woman, and human being.All the best!!!

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