Study Abroad: Navigating Conversations About Your Decision

How to articulate your why to people who don’t understand

Eudora Okine

“Where Did You Decide to Go to College This Fall?!”

 

You cringe at the age-old high school senior question from yet another friend or family member. Not because it’s a weird question to ask. The May 1 deadline for college signing has passed and you definitely made a decision. And you’re excited about that decision. The only thing is, there seems to be very few people who are as excited as you are. In fact, your decision has been met with a lot more confused looks, questions, and sometimes outright disapproval from people around you. This is the challenge of studying abroad long before you actually ever go abroad.

But let’s cut them some slack. Most of what the world has ever held in regard when it comes to higher education revolves around the United States. If you’re a student living in the United States, you have about 5,300 choices of where to go to college, including many that are ranked high worldwide. If you’re a student living outside the United States, you’ve probably spent your entire childhood hearing “Boston or bust.” People have some very set perspectives on what a good college education looks like, and it rarely exists outside the United States or the United Kingdom.

For any high-achieving student, the pathways seem very clear but also exceptionally narrow as to what your possibilities for college should be. It shouldn’t be surprising then that your choice to spend the next four years of your life in Abu Dhabi or Shanghai shocks some people. Even spending your first year in Florence, London, or Madrid can seem like a stretch. All the same, it can be frustrating having to deal with questions—and perhaps even criticisms—about a decision you feel so confident about.

So here are some useful tips to help you navigate these often difficult conversations about your decision to study abroad:

 

1. Be Patient

Understand that we all have very different views of the world relative to our encounters with and experiences of it. People only know as much as they know. And that can sometimes mean they know very little about something or a whole lot about nothing (fake news is a real thing). Be aware that these hard conversations will come—perhaps several times. Be patient enough to pull out a map and point out the school’s location. Understand their questions, as farfetched and absurd as they may seem, and let them know you are listening to their concerns. Don’t flinch when they call it Abu Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi. Or at least try very hard not to.

2. Compile the Facts

People are going to have questions about your move to study abroad, and you’re going to want to have the answers. Or at least as many answers as you can possibly have. So do your research. Read books about your new home: history, culture, innovation. Learn about where the country has been and where it sees itself going. For every criticism of a place—even the United States—there are 1,000 great things that make it worth living there. Find out what those reasons are for you. Rewatch one of our admitted student or parent webinars or shoot us an email and get answers to questions you can’t handle on your own yet. We’re here to equip you with the tools to advocate for yourself and your decision to study abroad.

3. Build a List

I know it’s more work than you planned to do this summer, but having a list is a great tool for hard conversations. Most people are practical and can understand a decision if you can outline your why. What makes this particular opportunity so unique and what are you hoping to gain? What opportunities will going abroad provide you that staying in the United States won’t? Give people a chance to understand why this is the right choice for you.

4. Invite People to Visit

This goes back to my point about people only knowing as much as they’ve been exposed to. Inviting friends and family to come visit you over breaks will give them a chance to form opinions for themselves. And you will get to show them exactly why you opted for this unique experience over all others. Even if they can’t visit, find ways to showcase your experiences for them—perhaps through social media. One of our NYU Abu Dhabi students started a blog just for her grandparents, so they could follow her adventures in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere. This did a lot to comfort them about her choice to study away.

5. Be Confident in Your Decision

At the end of the day, there will still be people who don’t understand your decision to study abroad—either for part or most of your degree. There may be others who don’t even respect it. But the great thing about entering adulthood is that you get to make the best decision for you. And that means recognizing that what’s best for you may not be the best for everyone else. And that is perfectly A-OK.