As a pre-health student, I would watch all my non-pre-health friends study art history in Paris, learn Spanish in Barcelona, and experience authentic Italian food in Rome. I envied them as I spent any free time I had taking science classes, shadowing health professionals, or volunteering at local organizations. At first, I thought I wouldn’t have time to study abroad, but by being proactive and planning in advance, I was able to study abroad for a month in Seoul. I opted out of doing a program that focused on pre-health and instead took a class on the Urban Sociology of the Subcultural Neighborhoods in the City of Seoul, which was completely unrelated to my biology degree and my career goal of becoming a physical therapist. However, I gained numerous benefits that I would not have been able to gain from spending my summers taking science classes or shadowing health professionals.
So what are some of the benefits of studying abroad as a pre-health student? Here are some of the most helpful skills I gained while abroad:
1. Communication Skills
While studying abroad in a country where English isn’t the native language it is inevitable that you’ll hit a language barrier. I had learned how to read and say the most common phrases in Korean but many times that wasn’t enough and would lead to a game of charades as I tried to communicate with the locals. The absence of a common language made me more cognizant of nonverbal communication and how powerful it can be when communicating with others. No matter what healthcare professional you aspire to be, there will be times where verbal communication will not be enough and being able to use nonverbal communication is what will make you a more effective clinician. By studying abroad, you really get the opportunity to practice and build on this skill, especially in a country where English isn’t the main language.
2. Cultural Competency
I was surrounded by a culture that was completely different from the culture back home both inside and outside of the classroom. My peers were from various countries like Singapore, France, and Mexico, which fostered diverse perspectives in class. Due to the multicultural nature of my surroundings, I ended up gaining a better understanding of various cultures and came back with a more global perspective. As a pre-health student and future healthcare professional, it is important to have this skill since the patient population is extremely diverse. That being said, being culturally competent is an extremely useful skill and it’s directly cultivated by studying abroad.
3. Ability to Persevere
During the short time I was abroad, there wasn’t a day where I wasn’t faced with a challenge. I faced both major and minor challenges such as culture shock, difficulty navigating the subway system, and a language barrier. At first, these obstacles made me want to stay in my dorm rather than explore the city. However, I knew I had to overcome them to experience everything Seoul had to offer. As a result of overcoming the numerous challenges, I got to experience Seoul to its fullest and gained more self-confidence and the ability to persevere. This is probably the most important skill I brought back home. Instead of being intimidated by obstacles, I see them as an opportunity for personal growth now and embrace them. Having this mindset and the ability to persevere is a skill that will help any pre-health student make it through graduate school to enter their desired healthcare field.
The experiences, skills, and knowledge that I gained in South Korea have helped shape me into a better pre-health student. These are just a few of the skills that I thought were directly important for a pre-health student to have. However, studying abroad fosters a plethora of skills, which is why I encourage every pre-health student who thinks they don’t have the time or doesn’t see the importance of studying abroad, to actually do it.
– Shraddha Bista, exchange at Sungkyunkwan University, Summer 2018