Students working towards degrees in the sciences, engineering, mathematics, or technology (STEM) fields often work on their degrees solely at their home universities. It can be stressful to determine if a class at one school will transfer and count for credit at your home institution, especially if these classes are abroad. STEM students often do not participate in study abroad programs. As a student at a large STEM-focused university, I have quite a few classmates who have expressed three common reasons why students in these fields lack interest in going abroad.
1. Studying Abroad means falling behind on major oriented course work
Planning is essential in making sure that your study abroad program works to your advantage. Work with your academic advisors and study abroad offices to create a plan of which classes you can save to take abroad and which programs will be best for you to fulfill those credits. The sooner that you begin to research the opportunities for study abroad, the sooner you will be able to determine which courses need to be taken at your home institution versus which courses are more flexible and that you would be able to take abroad.
Many who study abroad through their institutions are not STEM majors, and because of this the classes are geared towards the strengths and interests of these students. If this is the case at your university, looking into a study abroad exchange program may be a great option. Exchanges allow students to be fully immersed into the local culture, and even better students can chose from a large variety of classes which can align directly with their major curriculum. You may even find joy in taking a humanities course abroad for the summer as it may better expose you to the culture of the location you are in. It is important, though, that you plan ahead and talk with your academic advisor to make sure that the credits will transfer. All it takes is a little bit of planning!
2. Study Abroad will interfere with research and internships in the U.S.
International experiences do not have to interfere with research or internship opportunities in the US. Having an international experience will set you apart as you enter your career field as a STEM major. Like I mentioned before, most companies are global and look for employees to join their teams who understand how the world works. You can easily gain a better understanding of other cultures and the way that individuals work in other countries, just by stepping out of the United States through a study, work, or volunteer abroad program. The teams and projects that you are going to be working on in the future will likely be in partnership with other nations or be comprised of individuals from all over the globe.
You may even consider the possibility of working abroad in place of studying abroad. Many companies exist globally and offer opportunities for students to work all over the world. There are opportunities for students to work abroad or do research abroad anywhere from from a few weeks to an entire year. There are also opportunities to gain experience through volunteering abroad. Whatever it is that you end up pursuing, having an international experience will tell employers that you are willing to work across cultures and in different settings.
3. It will not be worth the extra money
Believe it or not, going abroad may not be more expensive than being in school in the United States. For example, exchange programs allow for students to switch places with someone at a school in another country and pay the same amount that they would usually pay at their home institution to take similar courses. In many countries, you may even save money because of lower costs in accommodations, food, and transportation abroad. I personally saved money on my trip to New Zealand as the currency was in favor of the US dollar, making every New Zealand Dollar the equivalent of 66 cents, and on top of that, most of the food and daily items I needed cost less than they do in the States. If you plan far enough in advance, you too may be able to find a great program in a location that will be cost efficient for you.
As a student who has international experience, you will be able to leverage the differences on these teams in order to arrive to effective outcomes, simply because you have gained knowledge of places outside of the states. The question should not be “Why should I, as a STEM major, go abroad?” Instead as, “When are you, as a STEM major, going abroad?” and “How will you use what you have learned and your expertise to better the world?”