If you are an African student who has just graduated from high school or university, you have probably wondered whether you should pursue further studies abroad or remain in your own country. The decision you make on where to pursue further education will most likely shape the rest of your life. As such, you need to think carefully about the institution and place where you acquire your bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree.
The dilemma on whether to study abroad or stay in your own country is justified. Leaving your home and everything you know is a scary experience. But while studying abroad requires time, patience, and adaptability, its benefits far outweigh the challenges it poses.
When I began my study abroad journey in 2015, I was not quite sure about the benefits that the experience would have in my professional life. But seven years later, I can confidently say that studying abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Studying Abroad Exposes You to Global Network
One of the biggest advantages of studying abroad as an African student is the amount of networks you will be exposed to. First, there will be the students from the country you will be studying in. Because you will be attending the same classes with them, you will most likely end up making friends amongst them and learning about their lives and cultures.
Secondly, you will have a chance to meet and connect with fellow international students. Most universities have organizations that specifically host events for international students. During these events, you will have a chance to socialize and make friends with students from different parts of the world. In addition, attending an international university will give you access to the alumni network of your university. In some colleges, you will even have a chance to speak with and seek mentorship from them.
What is the value of having relationships with all these people? The answer is simple. When you begin your professional life, the biggest asset you will have on your side is the people you know. These people can not only point you in the right direction but also they can prove to be great mentors. As an example, while I was seeking employment opportunities after graduation from Amherst College in 2019, I had many fruitful encounters and conversations with members of my school’s alumni. Through these encounters, I not only managed to secure a role I enjoyed but I also learned valuable lessons about professional life. Today, the people I met in college and my fellow alumni are living all over the world, from Asia to Africa and Western Europe. Having this global network available to me has been a huge advantage at both personal and professional levels.
Studying Abroad Gives You Access to a Large Pool of Professional Opportunities
Studying abroad as an African student will expose you to a large pool of work opportunities. This is because in countries such as the United States, you are typically allowed to work after graduation through a special program called OPT (Optional Practical Training). This program gives you a chance to gain practical skills in your field of interest. Once you exhaust the number of months allowed through that program, your employer can file a work visa for you which will enable you to keep working in the country that you pursue your studies in.
The opportunity to work in another country is particularly important for African students who face limited opportunities in their home countries. In most African countries, unemployment rates are generally high even for highly educated people. As such, the opportunity to pursue professional opportunities in another country is a big advantage.
Besides having the chance to work in the foreign country you choose for your higher education, your qualifications could also make it easier for you to find opportunities in a third foreign country. If you attend a reputable university, you have a chance of securing employment in almost any part of the world. As an example, while I graduated with a degree from the United States, my qualifications were recognized in the United Arab Emirates where I spent a year working after my graduation.
Studying Abroad Expands Your Worldview
While studying abroad as an African student, you will inevitably meet and interact with people who do not share your beliefs and perspectives about the world. You are going to meet people who have different religious beliefs, people who speak different languages from the ones you speak, people who identify as members of different races and nationalities, and more. These encounters will push you to re-examine your own beliefs and also nudge you to think in more inclusive terms.
Studying abroad, you will learn that this world is infinitely diverse and that your own view of the world is merely one of many. You will learn how to cohabit and collaborate with people who do not share your beliefs about religion, gender, morality, etc.
Learning how to embrace and work with people who are different from you is a valuable skill when you begin your professional life. As an employee, you will not always have the chance to work with people who see the world in the same way that you do. Sometimes you have to work with people who do not share your beliefs, and if you haven’t had that experience before, things could be tough for you.
When I left my home country, Kenya, to study in the United States, I was not aware of the large variety of beliefs that I was going to encounter. In the USA, I met people who openly embraced gender in a way that I did not know was possible; I met people who held political views that were completely opposed to mine; and I met people who came from more than a dozen religious backgrounds. These experiences taught me the value of being open-minded and tolerant; they taught me that the world is not homogenous, and to succeed personally and professionally, you need to embrace difference.
Studying Abroad Gives You a Great Opportunity to Study Foreign Languages
As an African student, you rarely have the opportunity to study foreign languages in your home country, and when you do, it might cost you a lot of time and money. If you choose to study in a foreign country, you will have an excellent chance to learn not only the languages of the country you will be studying in but also other languages that are represented by the international students in your school.
For instance, in my university, students had great opportunities to learn French, German, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and several other languages. There were departments dedicated to the teaching of these languages, and during the summer breaks, students had a chance to travel to places where these languages are widely spoken for immersive experiences.
Mastering a few foreign languages is a great asset in the modern globalized world. If you are interested in working for organizations that work across the globe, for example the United Nations, having fluency in at least two widely-spoken languages is always an advantage.
Studying Abroad Teaches You to be Responsible and Adaptable
Moving from your country to another country for your studies forces you to be responsible and adaptable. Most often, you will have to file applications by yourself, seek a visa, arrange for the necessary vaccinations and book flights. In the new country, you may have to find directions on your own and find ways to cope with weather you are not used to. All these responsibilities make you a more fluid and adaptable individual who can fit in almost any part of the world. When you begin your professional life, these skills will come in very handy.
As an example, I had to figure out how to book flights by myself, how to arrange for transport from the airport to my college, how to cope with heavy snow – something I had never been exposed to before – and how to plan for my holidays. All these experiences have made it possible for me to easily fit into and thrive in unfamiliar environments.
Studying Abroad Exposes You to Different Models of Learning
In most African countries, you are most likely used to big classrooms with more than fifty students. The model of learning you are most probably used to is a teacher or a lecturer standing at the front and explaining the learning materials. But if you choose to study in a different country, you might be surprised at how differently learning is conducted. In some countries such as the United States, there is heavy emphasis on small classes and close interactions with professors. It is not unusual for many professors to set aside several hours per week to meet with students and explain in detail any material that they do not understand.
As a student, I was very surprised at how effective the small-classes model was in the USA. I not only got to learn efficiently but also found that the camaraderie created with the professors made them great mentors beyond academics. Being proficient with different models of learning is useful beyond college– at work, you may find yourself having to explain or teach something new to your colleagues or even clients, and having a variety of learning models in mind is bound to help you in a big way.
Start Your Journey Abroad
Despite its initial challenges, studying abroad is a formative experience that can shape the rest of your life in a profound way. The skills and networks you will gain from your studies in another country will propel you ahead not just professionally but also personally.