Your long term goals and study abroad

AFS Gap Year participant, Reanna, hones the skills needed to work with special needs individuals.

Reanna is a typical US teen who just graduated from high school. But unlike most of her peers, she’s not diving straight into college life. Instead, Reanna chose to take a gap year, during which she will travel to Paraguay on a ten-month community service program with AFS.

What’s more, she has some inspiring reasons for choosing this path. Check out her video to see the source of her motivation:

Open Your Door to an AFS Exchange Student

What can we learn from Reanna’s tear-jerking home video? Primarily that goals are great.

Because of her goal of achieving a career caring for special needs individuals, Reanna knows she needs to challenge herself. She needs to understand what it’s like to feel different and to be open to alternative ways of living and solving problems.

Studying abroad can help her do that. Furthermore, her clearly defined goals will help motivate her to make the most of her time abroad, ensuring that she comes back stronger, smarter, savvier and even more focused.

Make no mistake, though – Reanna is unique. She’s got a lot figured out at a young age, and we all get there at different times. Generally speaking, people fall into three categories when it comes to study abroad-related goals: The Go-Getter, the Adventure-Seeker, and the Hybrid.

Read on to find out which category you fall under and see how you can make sure study abroad gets you where you want to go:


Type 1: The Go-Getter

Description: You’ve got your life’s goals all figured out. You know exactly what you want to achieve, but you haven’t considered how straying from the traditional academic track could help you do that.

Do yourself a favor and become familiar with the term, “Soft Skills.” Essentially, “Soft Skills” are abilities that employers desire but that don’t always correspond to specific tasks, like writing or accounting. These include things like the ability to adapt to changing circumstances or the willingness to learn through experience, and they can’t always be learned in a classroom.

You’ll also want to do a little research into the growing relevance of study abroad in the eyes of many prominent figures, including employers. From Michelle Obama, to corporate executives, to New York Times columnists, some of today’s major influencers are encouraging students to go abroad.

And if you’re worried that it will interrupt your academic trajectory too much, don’t. Numerous universities are now encouraging incoming Freshmen to take a gap year before starting college. In fact, schools like Tufts and Princeton are even helping students fund the experience!


Type 2: The Adventure-Seeker

Description: You’re dying to go abroad. You can’t wait to see the world and spice up your academic experience, but beyond that, life is a big fat question mark.

Make it your goal to figure out your goals while abroad.

To do this, in the weeks before leaving home, create a list of all the things you’re really, truly passionate about. Then think about how you might incorporate these things into your study abroad experience.

For example, let’s say one of your passions is music. You might plan to learn about the traditional music of your host culture, seek out performances of local musicians, or find ways to share your own musical talent with your host community. As you start to actually do this, you’ll likely feel either reinvigorated about your passion and excited by the new sources of inspiration, or like you’re dragging your feet.

If you feel the later, chances are you’re better off keeping music as a hobby, rather than a career option. There might be other factors present at home that make music super interesting to you, such as a particularly entertaining teacher or the awesome road trips you take with your A Capella group. But once these things leave the picture, so too might your motivation.

As a bonus, making a point to pursue your interests while abroad will give you a guaranteed reason to immerse yourself in your surroundings, even on those tougher days when you feel like hibernating with your laptop.


Type 3: The Reanna (a.k.a. The Hybrid)

Description: You’ve got your life’s goals figured out AND you’ve already managed to slot study abroad into that agenda.

Congrats! You know what you want, and you’re on an exciting path to getting it. Just remember to pick your head up every once in a while and soak in the unexpected.

You’re focused, and that’s great, but there’s still a lot that you haven’t seen. Studying abroad is a surefire way to make new discoveries, so be prepared for the possibility that your true calling may find you yet.