International Education

Study vs. Work: What To Do Abroad

Photo by Jenna Roscoe; edited by Casira Copes

When I first told my friends I was going to Italy, a lot of them assumed I would be studying abroad. I noticed that whenever I tried to clarify that I was, in fact, working abroad, there seemed to be a lot of confusion. What's the difference?

Study abroad - taking a course; learning

Work abroad - doing a job

I won't attempt to differentiate study and work abroad in terms of how college credit and education is concerned, because I'm sure it's different for every school. So here is my own interpretation of the difference between the study and work abroad mentality.

Study Abroad

One of my key differentiating factors I've noticed is that with study abroad, you theoretically could do what you're doing in another place, like taking a gen ed course or even taking language courses in your own country. The reason you choose to do it abroad is because you are interested in the culture and experience of a particular country. Immersing yourself in a foreign land is the primary objective, and if you can learn or get credit towards your education that's a really nice benefit.

Work Abroad

Work abroad strikes me as being almost the opposite. The work is typically paramount, with the foreign travel being the bonus. Most people who work in a foreign country do so because that is where the job they want to do is most readily available. In other words, if they could do the same job in another country, they probably would. Contrary to study abroaders, who would be more likely to change classes than they would to change countries.

It should also be noted that work abroad, from my experience and what I've been told, is a bit more demanding. Because there is a job to be done, and because employers expect that the job is your priority as well as theirs, there is less time spent sight-seeing and lounging on beaches.

So what am I doing?

Well, having just finished an intensive 4-week Italian language course, and now working a full 9-to-5....probably too much. But I consider this experience to be both a study and work abroad endeavor, so I'm taking the benefits as being such. I care a lot about the culture, but I care equally as much about the work I'm doing and the thesis project I'm working on.

[Officially, however, my program is classified as "work abroad."]

What should you do?

That depends. Is the location or the activity more important?

Is there a particular place you really want to go to? If so, you probably want to study abroad. I suggest you look up the country first, and then start searching for programs in that country and narrowing down the different options.

(Resources: )

Is there a particular job that you really want to do? Then work abroad is probably for you, and my recommendation is to look up programs for that position first, and narrow down your location options.

(Resources: )

Happy traveling,