When I was four years old, my family moved abroad for the first time. Our destination was Turkey, where I went to an international school. I still remember my first day when I was a terrified, young Korean girl who didn’t know a single word in English. Since then, my life has been filled with a whirlwind of change. After Turkey I moved to Germany, and then back to Korea. It was only four months ago when my life took another unexpected turn and I moved to Sweden, which became my current home.
As a student, moving abroad did not only mean a change of homes, but also a change of schools. One recurring question I always receive is whether I enjoyed studying abroad. It was difficult for me to give a yes-or-no answer because I knew that my experiences were so much more ambivalent than simply good or bad. Over the past 11 years of moving around the world, I learned that studying abroad had numerous impacts. Here are two positive and two negative ways studying abroad could affect the lives of teens.
By studying abroad in a foreign country, teens experience new cultures, languages, and educational styles. They often also go through experiences of diversity and realize what it is like to be with people of different backgrounds. I gained several new experiences when I moved to Sweden a couple of months ago. Life in Stockholm was nothing like life in Korea. While the vast majority of my friends back in Seoul were Korean, my new school had less than five Korean students in my grade. These new experiences with new people have become unforgettable memories.
Growth in Character
Moving so many times gave me resilience and mental courage to try to succeed in new circumstances. Over time, teens also learn adaptability, social skills, and ways to make healthy transitions from one place to another. These skills could be highly beneficial in the future as well. I also experienced such growth, when I found my transition from Seoul to Stockholm easier than the previous ones to Turkey and Germany. I had become more used to change, receiving less stress from switching surroundings and meeting new people.
Not all effects of studying abroad are positive. Although the extent may vary, studying abroad causes emotional stress for teens. Some common struggles include saying goodbyes and being considered as a stranger. These issues lead to great stress when teens must face them on top of school work. I had gone through these emotional struggles as well during my recent transition, especially since it was my first time moving in the middle of the school year.
Conflicts with Identity
As much as teens gain diverse experiences from living abroad, they could also gain confusion about what they should consider “home.” Constant changes of surroundings may lead to feelings of not being fully associated anywhere, which could lead to conflict with one’s identity. This struggle had always been part of my life after years of living abroad. While I felt too-Korean in foreign countries, I did not feel fully Korean when I tried to blend in with friends from Korean public schools.
Overall, I believe that teens face a balanced number of advantages and disadvantages when living abroad. It is a stressful transition, but one could also gain so many valuable experiences and grow in character, making the struggles worth it. Even though I still cannot give a yes-or-no answer to sum-up my experiences of studying abroad, I am confident in saying that I would be open to such transitions again.