Why I Didn’t Study Abroad in Europe​

The lustrous draw of the perfectly Instagram-able Eiffel Tower; the nooks of history in the cobblestone streets of London; the canals of Venice or Amsterdam.  Europe has a rich history that begs to be explored, with many different languages and cultures packed tightly into one small landmass.  Cheap flights and trains make for easy travel between countries in the European Union.  A weekend flight to Athens or a night in Prague is just a few clicks away.  European culture is different than the United States, but just enough to create intrigue in the solid foundation of relatively similar cultures.  In writing this article, I am not faulting anyone for their choice to study in Europe or countries with a similar language or culture to the United States.  I understand the reasons why many people make the decision to do so and commend them for their bravery in committing to living abroad for a summer, semester, or entire school year.  Rather, this is an exploration and explanation of why I never chose to study abroad in Europe or study a European language.

Let’s get this out of the way: I didn’t choose to study abroad in Europe because it wasn’t right for me and my course of study, or my goals and aspirations.  My background that influenced where I chose to study abroad is a political science major, a global studies certificate and an Arabic language and linguistics certificate.  I also have other minors, so with my course load, I knew the only option of study abroad for me would be to spend summers abroad.  I went abroad to teach English with Learning Enterprises for the summer between my sophomore and junior year to the Jiangsu Province in China, which is just north of Shanghai.  I studied Arabic with CIEE between my junior year and senior year in Amman, Jordan.  Both experiences were amazing and life-changing like anyone who has studied abroad will tell you.  The header image is Amman’s citadel, and the image above is YuYuan Garden in Shanghai.

I cultivated my interest in non-western and non-European languages young when I chose to study Japanese in high school.  My first year of university, I chose to study Arabic.  I was always interested in these languages and cultures because we never learned about them in any standard history class.  I was extremely fortunate to attend both a high school and university that offers these languages.  I cannot overstate the focus, patience, perseverance, determination and creativity that studying a language—especially one with a different writing system—allowed me to develop.  Learning about other languages and cultures gave me a unique perspective to approach other topics of interest which for me are politics, economics, and creative writing.  Even in studying the literary tradition of the Arabian Peninsula and other Arabic-speaking countries, I was able to learn some strategies and techniques for my own writing craft.

In visiting and learning about these two countries, I was also able to realize just how much focus the American education system puts on Europe.  This is not a value judgement.  However, this does mean that many American perspectives may be limited in scope because our culture tends to be Euro-centric and focus on Europe, despite having influences from other cultures all around the world.

I was able to learn about the culture, language, racial issues, women’s issues, poverty, healthcare, media and much more in Jordan and China that made me more aware of global issues and how they relate to the US.  I also learned that despite what may seem like a large cultural divide, there is a lot more in common between American culture and non-Western cultures than I previously thought.

Although I’ve never been to Europe, that does not mean I don’t desire to go there.  Europe is go​rgeous and there is so much to explore in a relatively small area.  However, I find that this was also true in both Jordan and China, and I would bet that it is also the case with other non-European countries.  I would love to take a trip across Europe after I graduate.  I find that I am prepared to take on a trip to Europe by myself because I have already lived in countries—albeit, for a short amount of time—that I believe are less accessible to native English speakers.  I found that the bridge of this language gap was partially being part of a program that provides resources and in-country support.  I can say about ten words in Chinese that I only learned after my arrival in China.  Still, I was able to be fairly independent and navigate Shanghai and the surrounding areas with my fellow teachers and our teaching partners from Nanjing University.  I am now more confident that I could travel to other non-European countries by myself as well.  I am unsure if I would have the same confidence and trust in myself to be able travel to virtually any other country in the world if I did study in Europe.

I encourage students across every field of study to consider learning a language and to study abroad.  I would also encourage anyone studying abroad to look at programs outside of Europe, even to study European languages.


Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4