Studying Abroad vs. Getting a Degree Abroad

Photo:  Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock


During college, I studied abroad in Salvador, Brazil. I absolutely loved it. The locals, the culture, the soccer, the language. Even though it was only a couple of months, I couldn’t have been more in love with a city. The people were amazing. Always willing and excited about meeting the local students. My host family was gracious and accommodating. My classmates were mostly courteous, and my professors planned trip after trip in order to expose us to as much Brazilian culture in that short span of time.


When I learned about the opportunity of earning a post-graduate degree while abroad, I likened it to my experience in Brazil. My first experience abroad was mostly smooth and a change of pace I needed going into my sophomore year of college. I assumed my experience in China would be no different, serving as a means to jumpstart my entry into life after graduate school.


A Year Abroad:

Studying abroad for a semester vs. an entire year are two completely different beasts. During a year long program, you are expected to pick up much more of the language and integrate fairly quickly. During a semester abroad, your host university is usually very accommodating, and class rigor usually isn’t a huge concern. While completing a degree abroad, fulfilling thesis or dissertation requirements, as well as taking advantage of traveling and meeting new people is an enormous balancing act. The expectation of being more independent is an unwritten rule, and meeting people outside of your academic program can become quite the task.


My summer in Brazil was a much more culturally rich experience, whereas my graduate studies in Beijing have been more of an academic/ professional journey. Though it has been quite the experience, I’ve learned that studying abroad and earning a degree abroad, shouldn’t be seen as being two in the same. Being an adult affords a lot of freedom. You aren’t constantly checking in with your university’s liaisons, and you can usually travel as you please (my group wasn’t allowed to travel outside of Brazil during our study abroad program). However, with more freedom comes more responsibility.



Be proactive about your learning. In China, picking up the language is particularly useful, especially since English fluency isn’t as common as in Europe or some parts of Africa. This may also be the case in other countries. Be okay with unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. Develop a game plan in order to navigate dangerous or suspicious circumstances. When in doubt, communicate with your academic advisors. If academic freedom blurs the line of what is and isn’t acceptable to distribute, such as in China, pass it along before getting it published in a newspaper, online publication or even on social media. But most importantly, be open.


In other parts of the world, studying abroad for bachelor, masters and doctorate degrees is quite common. Japanese students study in Europe. South African students study in England, etc. But in the US, I can count the amount of people I’ve known that have earned a degree abroad on one hand. It can be an amazing experience, especially if spontaneity is in your DNA, but don’t be quick to liken the experience from a semester long study abroad program, to a full-time degree bearing experience abroad. Do your research, and be prepared for some differences.


About the Author

Halsa Hassen is a graduate student in Beijing. In her free time, she enjoys watching Madmen, playing pool and drinking root beer.