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Meaningful experiences shape our views of the world and diversify the way we think. Whether studying at a community college or attending an out-of-state university, the college years are a time to explore, experience different things and meet new people.

The world we live in is changing and it is vital that today’s students are able to compete with future workforces of other powerful countries. Studying abroad is a great way for students to have those experiences and learn how other countries operate and grow. But traveling abroad is expensive. A recent Forbes article stated that the average cost per semester abroad is $31,270, about twice the cost of a private college in the U.S.

As student loan debt totals now exceed credit card debt totals, it’s not hard to see why international travel might seem like an unreasonable expense. However, the benefits of studying abroad can have a lifelong impact on personal and professional growth.

Find Organizations That Can Help

Third-party organizations can be a great resource for securing additional funds to bridge the gap between the cost of studying abroad and what each college or university offers in the form of financial aid, and many serve specific audiences. The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) is a resource that offers grants and scholarship money to student candidates. CIEE awards more than $3 million annually to study-abroad students who meet the eligibility requirements. Another financially responsible option is to choose a country that has a low cost of living.

StudyAbroad101.com ranked India, Ghana and China as the top three budget-friendly countries for students in 2013. Any student who is studying abroad should also take inventory of what’s in their wallet. For example, credit card companies will charge foreign exchange fees for every purchase made. After a semester, these charges can significantly add up. Another card that can be helpful to students is the International Student Identity Card, which offers international students perks, discounts and benefits in 130 countries. They even have a free app that allows users to search for deals.

Life Changes Can Be Worth the Price

The International Education of Students (IES) conducted a survey of more than 3,400 students who studied abroad and found that it was often “a defining moment in a young person’s life and continued to impact the participant’s life for years after the experience.”

Former chancellor of the University of Denver, Daniel Ritchie, believes that lives can be transformed by time spent studying abroad and make them better able to “engage with the world beyond America’s borders.” Immersion in a different culture helps to learn about foreign nations. Students can uncover the hidden gems of a city or country by spending a significant period exploring beyond the popular tourist attractions listed in a tour guide. In addition to studying, internships are also a great way to live the life of a local and gain experience in one’s desired field of study, not to mention a great addition to any resume.

Preparing for the Workforce

Working through communication barriers and cultural differences is also preparation for the workforce. According to a study by the American Institute for Foreign Study, 84% of alumni felt their time spent abroad allowed them to adapt better to diverse work environments. The Graduate Management Admission Council found that studying and living in a foreign country increases self-confidence, broadens your worldview and exposes you to other cultures. It is also another way to stand out amongst your peers when applying for a job and offer unique perspectives to prospective employers.

College is a time in one’s life that presents unique and exciting opportunities. By living, working and studying amongst people of different cultures, it offers the chance to experience the life of a local in another country. Cultural and authentic experiences are nearly impossible to recreate — from food, to architecture and the environment. By preparing in advance to study abroad and taking advantage of all that travel has to offer, you are set to have an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

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