Should you use student loans to study abroad?

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By Daiki Yoshioka
Campus News

Mudazukai, which literally means a waste of money, was my parents’ favorite phrase. Considering the fact that studying abroad entails humongous cost, and I was able to apply for the public university in Japan with a financial aid, it is understandable that studying abroad appeared to be mudazukai in my parents’ eyes. My parents firmly opposed me going to study in the United States since I was in middle school, where I first alleged to study in a foreign country. I eventually came to the United States after a series of quarrels with my parents, and ended up borrowing $46,000 in total from the multiple institutions in Japan. People like me are not rare in the United States, too. According to Student Loan Report (SLR), 35.6% of college students in debt are using student loan to study abroad (see www,cccn.us for a link to this study). Some might point out that students in debt need to save money rather than to increase more debts to study abroad. What are the pros and cons of using student loans for studying abroad?

Pros: It’s an Investment
Even though I have only spent 8 months in the United States, I have had countless unique experiences that I would not have been able to get in Japan. This also applies to students in the United States. The real experiences of living in a foreign country, including facing culture shocks, language barriers, and homesickness are  something that we cannot learn from books. Although it comes with a cost, studying abroad enriches your personality and also helps you become more independent. Student loans can be perceived as an investment for unique academic and cultural experiences,

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Pro: New Languages and Cultures
If you are planning to study a new language, then studying in a country where the language is widely spoken is really effective. Speaking of myself, albeit my English was pretty proficient even before I moved to the United States, I have successfully polished my English skills, learned numerous slangs and idioms from friends of mine, who also shared local political scandals and tradition that have enriched my cultural knowledge as well. Frequent exposure to foreign languages and cultures is usually really hard to be attained in one’s domestic community. Although you might need to step out of your comfort zone in order to make friends in foreign environments, personal connection is a treasure that cannot be measured by money.

Pro: Job Preparation
According to the University of California Merced, 97% of college graduates in the United States who have studied abroad find jobs in 12 months after graduation while 49% of those without studying abroad experience do. Also, 80% of college graduates with studying abroad experience answered that the experience prepared them to adopt themselves to diverse work environment (report). Personally speaking, I have experienced numerous culture shocks that have drastically widened my perspectives. I wouldn’t have learned about “Bless You” and incredibly intimate greeting culture in the United States (in Japan, greeting is usually formal and hugging usually has a special meaning) if I had stayed in my home country. As these statistics show, studying abroad has long term benefits that would help students learn to pay back the loan quickly and succeed in the working environment.

Con: Debt
One of the biggest downsides of using student loans for studying abroad is that the debt would be the biggest financial hindrance in later life. According to SLR, it is proved that college graduates with debts own a house much later than those without the debt (again, see this report). Although studying abroad experience would more likely help people to get the jobs they want and boost their income, the debt would undoubtedly be the biggest financial obstacle until it will be paid back. Also, it is reported by SLR that student loan debt has tripled in these 10 years, which also means that it would be extremely be hard for students to save money unless they successfully get the jobs with high earnings. Speaking of myself, the payment for the debt was the biggest concern of my parents; it behooves students to acknowledge that using student loans for studying abroad entails huge financial risk and students need significant effort to pay the debt off in future.

Con: Pressure
As mentioned, studying abroad entails high risk since there is no guarantee that students are able to attain their objectives. I know a number of friends who came to the United States to study English with a humongous student loan but poorly performed in schools and eventually learned nearly nothing. In order to get every benefits of studying abroad and to succeed in future (to get a job with high earning and to pay off the debt quickly), incessant commitment to academic pursuit is essential and it sometimes limits your life. For instance, I could not have traveled elsewhere because my personal budget is always limited.

It cannot be judged whether studying abroad is worth borrowing student loans. However, it is doubtless that studying abroad has many benefits, including unique cultural and academic experiences, though it comes with risk and cost. Borrowing with student loans will be a huge financial obstacle in the future and it should be acknowledged that considerable effort is necessary in order to pay the money back. In other words, student loans could be mudazukai if no commitment is made. Studying abroad, especially with student loans, is a risky path that does not necessarily guarantee students success; yet, the reward could be enormous, as much as your effort allows.

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