Men, it’s time to take a step out of our comfort zones. It’s time to address our fears of unfamiliar environments. What am I referring to? Unfortunately, college men have a stigma toward studying abroad. Each year, only half as many men study abroad as women. For one reason or another, guys tend to be less willing to take a semester away. They place much less significance on the international experiences one can obtain from studying abroad. I’d like to challenge that attitude.
I have become more aware of cultural differences and world issues. I have gained new perspectives on international affairs. When I start looking for a job, I can market all these attributes.
Study abroad wasn’t always on my radar. In fact, I had put very little thought into studying abroad until my mother suggested it. As my junior year at Franklin & Marshall College quickly approached, I had no intention of applying to study abroad. My mom pointed out that I might never get an opportunity like this again. But even so it took some time for me to take her suggestion seriously.
Ultimately (and thankfully), I followed my mother’s advice. I applied to study at the University of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland through IFSA-Butler. I had my concerns, but once I became acclimated, I had the most amazing four months of my life. So why are guys so reluctant to take the plunge? Allow me to debunk a couple myths.
It will be too hard to make friends
It is understandable to be apprehensive about study abroad. The thought of having to make new friends can be quite daunting, especially in a foreign country. However, this is one of the biggest misconceptions guys have when deciding whether or not to go. In Ireland, I quickly learned that I had a natural ice-breaker: my nationality. In an environment where my accent was considered exotic, simply opening my mouth made for a great conversation starter. Generally, people were intrigued by my American accent and wanted to hear my story. They were very curious about American culture. It was therefore easier to speak about my experiences with others than I had thought it would be. And I was equally intrigued to hear about the cultures and lifestyles of those around me. That curiosity really helped me integrate. Being different was actually what most helped me to make friends in Ireland, and my concerns turned out to be unfounded.
I won’t be able to graduate on time
This is another fallacy I came across when talking to my male friends who decided not to study abroad. They believed that spending a semester away from their home institution would jeopardize their ability to graduate on time or interfere with their course of study. Many of my friends are pursuing business, engineering, or math degrees—all majors that have historically been dominated by men. These majors tend to have strict curriculums with limited opportunities for off-campus study. At first I believed this would be an obstacle for me too, as I am pursuing a degree in Economics.
I quickly learned that most international universities offer a wide range of courses similar, if not identical, to ones offered in the United States. I was also able to supplement my major with economics elective courses that enhanced my degree. Nowadays there are so many different program options that it’s easier than ever to study abroad with any major—even those with demanding curricula. All it takes is a little research to find the right one.
In an environment where my accent was considered exotic, simply opening my mouth made for a great conversation starter.
The Greatest Decision I Ever Made
I decided to do something that most of my peers are reluctant to do. I took a leap of faith. I went to another country alone. I discovered that many preconceived notions guys have about studying abroad are wrong. In hindsight, I believe that studying in Ireland was the greatest decision I have ever made.
Not only did I learn a lot about myself, but I also set myself apart from the average male college student. In the future I can use this experience to stand out to employers. Studying abroad and immersing myself in a foreign culture has enhanced my worldview. I have become more aware of cultural differences and world issues. I have gained new perspectives on international affairs. I have also become highly independent and open-minded. I’ve proven that I am willing to take risks and can identify how those risks have paid off. When I start looking for a job, I can market all these attributes. And I am confident that they will take me far.
So I ask this question to all the college men out there: “Why not study abroad?” It will be a more valuable experience than you think. I implore more college guys to increase our representation in study abroad… Because just as I heard not so long ago, you never know if you’ll get an opportunity like this again.
Connor Ryan attended the IFSA-Butler Ireland program at the University of Limerick in 2016. Connor is a student at Franklin and Marshall College.