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The Benefits and Drawbacks of Short-term Study Abroad Trips

Grace Lower | Dec 21, 2020

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My first semester of college can be summed up in two words: endless enthusiasm.

I was determined not to let any opportunity pass me by, so I signed up for anything that sounded even remotely interesting. Run club? Check. Ukulele Club? Check. A jam-packed academic schedule? Check. But one opportunity shone brighter than the rest: the coveted “London Honors Program”.

“London Honors,” as it was affectionately called, brought together nerdy, ambitious first-year students for an immersive international studies course. The program began with a semester-long class on English history and culture, and it culminated with a Winter Term study abroad trip to London. As it turned out, my short stint in England was a great way to make new friends and visit a part of the world I had only dreamed of seeing.
Those two weeks in London may have been the highlight of my freshman year, but short-term study abroad isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re interested in traveling abroad as a student, take some time to contrast the experience you might have with a week- or month-long program against what you might encounter in a semester- or year-long stay. To get started, check out some of the benefits and drawbacks of short-term study abroad trips below:

Benefit: Immersive learning

Studying abroad may be academic in nature, but traditional programs typically come with a lot of down-time. With a short-term study abroad trip, there’s no time to waste. Chances are, you’ll have an itinerary jam-packed with historical, cultural, and artistic treasures. As a short-term traveler, your focus will be on learning as much as you can with the little time you have.

Drawback: Information overload

Unfortunately, a tight timeline means that there aren’t as many opportunities to give your brain a break. Bouncing between museums, galleries, and landmarks will take a toll on your ability to retain information (not to mention, your feet will be aching by the end of each day). Taking notes and pictures can help ease the burden, but you’ll need to make your peace with the fact that you simply won’t retain everything.

Benefit: Curated experiences

Short-term study abroad trips are often coordinated by university faculty and staff who have put substantial resources into developing a rigorous itinerary. Rather than planning the trip details yourself, you can trust that your program will offer a blend of academic, recreational, and intercultural activities. The built-in structure also means that you can travel to more remote or unusual destinations with expert guidance and peer support. All you need to do on your end is sign up, study hard, and enjoy the ride!

Drawback: Limited autonomy

The downside of a pre-defined itinerary is limited independence. Because of your tight time-frame, sticking with the group is strongly encouraged, if not required! If you crave flexibility and prefer to take charge of the planning process, a short-term study abroad trip may not be for you.

Benefit: Budget-friendly options

The biggest advantages of short-term study are financial. Rather than paying for months’ worth of housing, food, and transportation, you can cut costs considerably with a shorter trip, while still enjoying the thrill of the journey.  

Drawback: Fewer ways to save

While short-term trips are often more cost-effective than a longer stay abroad, they aren’t necessarily low-cost.  When you consider air fare, travel insurance, program fees, and other essential purchases, short-term programs can still come with a pretty hefty price tag. What’s more, travel scholarships and grants are often allocated for semester- or year-long trips, so funding options can be very competitive. While study abroad administrators work to keep prices reasonable, you may also find that planning the trip yourself, or traveling with friends and family, can give you much more flexibility to cut costs.

Benefit: Clearer-cut credits 

It can be tempting to overlook the “study” part of study abroad, but it pays to be strategic. Some short-term study abroad trips allow you to earn academic credits toward your degree program. Rather than kicking back and relaxing over break, you’ll be moving one step closer to your diploma! Since short-term programs are often affiliated with universities, receiving academic credit for your trip tends to be quite simple. Of course it’s always wise to run any degree-planning decisions past your academic advisor before moving forward.

Drawback: Gone so soon?

For all the benefits of a short-term program, the clearest drawback is obvious: these trips are awfully short! With just a few days to learn about your destination, you may find yourself longing for more time to explore.

Benefit: Round two awaits!

Time flies when you’re having fun, and study abroad trips are no exception. If you're worried that a short-term program won’t give you enough time in your destination, try thinking of the trip as a crash-course. All the sights you take in, foods you try, and people you meet will create a foundation for what could be a life-long love for your destination. And if you discover a place that sparks your imagination and captures your heart, who says you can’t go back?



About the Author

Grace Lower

Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.

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