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5 ways studying abroad changes you as a person (according to science)

By Nicole Wootton-Cane• Last updated: Nov 8, 2023
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Ah, the old “study abroad changed me” cliché. We’ve all teased a friend who has come back from studying abroad and simply won’t shut up about it - or perhaps we’ve been the one who can’t stop telling people that we’re just “different...I can’t explain it” after studying in another country. 

Students often come back from international study proudly boasting that they are more independent, mature, and open-minded — and employers seem to agree. In fact, one study found that over 80% of employers said they actively sought graduates who had studied abroad, and in another survey, internationally mobile students were found to be half as likely to experience long-term unemployment than those who had not studied abroad. 

Maybe students can’t explain it - but science can. Simply put, studying abroad changes you; in fact, there’s a lot of academic and scientific research into the ways in which students who study abroad return with different qualities to those who don’t. 

From better intercultural sensitivity to a stronger academic focus, here are five scientifically proven ways that studying abroad actually changes you as a person.

1. Better intercultural awareness and sensitivity

Perhaps it seems obvious, but studying abroad has been proven to improve your intercultural awareness. This 2006 study found that even short-term study abroad programmes resulted in students being better able to accept and adapt to cultural differences. 

It also found that students on study abroad programmes lessened their tendency to see other cultures as better than their own, suggesting that studying internationally can help you understand your own culture better, as well as others’.

In an increasingly globalised world, understanding other cultures is becoming more and more important to employers. Studying abroad can give you the opportunity to develop these skills, as well as gain a valuable degree from a globally recognised university!

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2. Awareness and understanding of your own culture and cultural identity

It’s obvious that studying abroad makes you more aware of other cultures and customs, but there is also evidence to suggest that it makes you more aware of your own culture, too. 

A 2004 study from Purdue University found that students’ most significant encounter of study abroad was with their own cultural identity - that is to say, students became more aware of the ways their own culture was perceived in different countries. The study suggests that students’ national identity is not strengthened or weakened by study abroad, but rather that they come to have a greater understanding of it and its complexities. 

This is important because it shows that you have an awareness of the world around you outside of where you’re from. In the workplace you will often need to consider things from alternative angles and think critically about your ideas. Studying abroad gives you the ability to do this by making you more aware of your own cultural background and how this contrasts with others’.

3. Higher life satisfaction 

This study from the University of Texas at Austin measured how people change after going abroad by comparing a group of students who stayed at home with a group who studied overseas for a semester. 

The study found that 12 weeks into their study abroad experience, those who went away reported higher satisfaction with life, better self competence, greater personal change, and marginally higher personal growth than those who remained at home.

Whilst studying abroad is amazing, it’s unlikely that just living overseas changed students’ life satisfaction this dramatically. Instead, chances are studying abroad gave them a different perspective on life and new experiences that resulted in higher life satisfaction. 

4. Self-discovery

Focusing on international postgraduate students who travelled to England to study, this research shows that moving away from their home country gave students the opportunity to explore themselves away from cultural and familial expectations and norms. 

Students in this study also discussed becoming more independent, life-changing developments in their philosophies and behaviours, and a growth in ‘intercultural competence’ - essentially skills that help you communicate effectively with people from different cultures. 

The study also found that living and studying abroad allowed students to improve their cross-cultural communication skills - a valuable asset in the workplace, where you may be working with different teams from all over the world.

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5. Better academic focus

This study found students claimed that they learned to make decisions and became more open-minded as a direct result of study abroad. 

The study linked this higher level of independent decision making to greater academic focusing and more appreciation of the value of education, which resulted in students being more academically engaged after studying abroad. 

Essentially, this suggests that studying abroad makes you a better student. The research indicates that after studying abroad you are likely to value your education more and make better decisions surrounding it - including course selection and potentially even deciding your major.

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Nicole is a specialised study abroad content writer. With extensive experience in study abroad consultancy, She has been...Read More

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