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Study Abroad For Adults: Programs & How-To Guide

A group of adults on a lifelong learning journey.

You might associate studying abroad with adventurous college students or recent high school grads exploring their options. The truth is, studying abroad has no age limit — many programs welcome older adults who aren’t necessarily looking to earn credits or complete a degree.

It’s never too late to consider studying abroad! Continue reading for helpful guidance and resources if you’re thinking of studying abroad in your post-college years.

Why Study Abroad As an Adult?

Four adults pose smiling together in front of a blue tiled wall. One is dressed as a merman, complete with green skin, a green wig, and a trident. The others are dressed in white robes; one makes a heart shape with her hands.

Studying abroad isn’t just about taking a vacation or being a tourist. It’s intended to be a fully immersive endeavor in which participants experience daily life in a destination of their choosing, whether that’s in a country they’ve always wanted to visit while researching a topic relevant to their interests or education, or fulfilling a desire to step out of their comfort zone and build critical life skills. As such, studying abroad can be a valuable experience for anyone at any stage of life, even if they aren’t in college.

Whether you missed the chance during your college years, have more financial freedom to travel, or simply want to recreate a positive educational experience, studying abroad as an adult holds immense value. The following are some of the top reasons to consider studying abroad in your post-college years.

  • Revisit a missed opportunity: If you regret having declined to study abroad in college — or if career pursuits, financial constraints, or personal responsibilities hindered the possibility — adulthood is full of second chances.
  • Recreate a positive college experience: College can be transformative for many; it’s a unique time and place in which young people can figure out not only what they want their future to look like, but who they want to be as adults. Studying abroad offers a unique chance to revisit this moment in time, but with the added wisdom and appreciation that come with maturity. Living on a campus, engaging in academic pursuits, and forming new connections can reignite a college-era passion for learning and personal growth.
  • Explore and learn about a new culture: Studying abroad post-college presents an opportunity to explore and learn about a new culture, without the pressure of earning credits or maintaining a high GPA. Immersing oneself in a different culture can be a profoundly enriching experience that goes beyond textbooks, providing a firsthand understanding of diverse perspectives and fostering a global mindset.
  • Practice language skills: Language acquisition is often more challenging in adulthood, but studying abroad provides a unique chance for authentic linguistic immersion. For language enthusiasts or those looking to enhance your communication skills, being surrounded by native speakers and navigating daily life in a foreign language can significantly improve your proficiency and even support cognitive health.
  • Navigate major life transitions: Life is full of transitions, and studying abroad can be a meaningful way to mark significant life changes. Whether you’re facing retirement, going through a divorce, dealing with loss, or experiencing an empty nest, immersing yourself in a new academic and cultural environment can provide a fresh perspective and help in the process of personal renewal and acceptance.
  • Take advantage of the financial ability to travel: As an adult, you may find yourself in a more stable financial position compared to your younger years. While budget considerations are essential at any stage of life, being financially able to travel can turn a lifelong dream of studying abroad into a tangible reality.
  • Experience life in another country: Studying abroad isn’t just about academics; it’s a holistic experience that introduces visitors to the daily life and local customs of a new place. Living in another country enables adults to step out of their comfort zone, broaden their horizons, challenge preconceptions, and develop a deeper appreciation for the world’s diversity.

When you take a look at [our] pictures, what we were seeing doesn’t look like home at all, and yet we felt we could have a genuine experience with people, learn from them, learn from their norms…truly interact in a joyful, respectful, inclusive way. We learned a lot about ourselves and our abilities to be world citizens.

Bonnie Duyff, Lifelong Learner
Semester at Sea Spring 1971 & Fall 2023 Voyages

Types of Adult Study Abroad Programs

An older woman and a young man sit at a table de-seeding roasted peppers. Both wear blue aprons.

Post-college-age adults have almost as many options as college students when it comes to types of study abroad programs. Though some programs may have conditions — minimum age restrictions, for instance, or a specific field of study — many third-party study abroad programs (those not offered by a college or university) actively welcome adult participants. The majority of adult study abroad participants fall within the 25–40 age range, but many programs recognize the diverse backgrounds and motivations of adult learners and design their programs to appeal to anyone, regardless of age.

  • Recent college graduates: For many recent college grads, a study abroad experience can integrate well into the transition from academic life to the professional world. Short-term programs, summer abroad options, and internships provide opportunities to further develop skills, gain international exposure, and broaden perspectives.
  • Older adults: Age is no barrier to the pursuit of knowledge and adventure. Older adults seeking enrichment and personal growth can find dozens, if not hundreds, of programs tailored to their interests, from language immersion trips to research expeditions.
  • Travelers with families: Many people simply can’t take time away from home, or they wish they could share their study abroad experience with their families. Fortunately, there are options available! Family-friendly study abroad programs are designed to accommodate the dynamics of adult learners with children, spouses, or other family responsibilities, and they provide a supportive environment that allows for both personal growth and family bonding.

Demographics aside, there is a wide variety of programs available that cater to different interests, time commitments, priorities, and goals.

Short-Term Programs

Ideal for those on a budget or with limited time off, short-term programs can be as brief as one to several weeks long. They provide a concentrated yet impactful experience, perfect for adults balancing work, family, and other commitments.

Summer Abroad

Longer in duration and often delivered at a slower pace, summer abroad programs allow participants to immerse themselves more deeply in the local culture and academic environment than a one- or two-week program.

Language Immersion

Language immersion programs cater to those seeking to enhance their language skills. These can be bilingual guided experiences in your home country or full immersion programs in the country of your choice.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)

Typically geared toward native or fluent English speakers, TEFL programs offer the chance to travel while contributing to global education. Participants must meet specific qualifications, such as completing a course and passing an exam in order to earn their language teaching certification.

Direct Enrollment

This option involves enrolling in a foreign university of your choice as an international student. Depending on the destination country, this could be an economical option, since public education is free or low-cost in some countries. The majority of preparations involve securing proper student, work, or travel visas, finding your own accommodations, and applying for local jobs, if desired.

Travel Abroad Programs

Not necessarily focused on academics, these programs are perfect for lifelong adventurers and cultural explorers. Organizations such as Atlas Obscura and National Geographic offer travel experiences that go beyond traditional study.

Graduate Program Travel

Advanced degree programs may incorporate travel into studies to provide unique opportunities for specialization, such as teaching English in Japan or translating ancient literature in its country of origin.

Research Programs

Similar to graduate programs, research-based study abroad opportunities allow participants to contribute to broader research efforts while experiencing the culture of their chosen destination.

Scholarship Programs

Prestigious programs such as the Fulbright or Rhodes Scholarships provide grants or funding for individuals engaged in global knowledge exchange through study abroad experiences.

Internships

Internships abroad can serve as a stepping stone to a new career or higher-level job while working alongside professionals in your chosen field.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study enables you to offset the cost of your chosen study abroad program by working while abroad. Opportunities such as working at a hostel, in a tourist hotspot, or as an au pair can net you a regular income while experiencing life on the ground in a new country.

The wide array of adult study abroad programs ensures that there’s a fitting opportunity for everyone, regardless of age, background, or life stage.

Benefits of Study Abroad for Adults

A woman with glasses and a pink dress dances among women wearing colorful saris. The side of a tall, white ship with rectangular windows provides the backdrop.

No matter where you fall on the age spectrum, everyone has a different reason for embarking on a study abroad experience. Likewise, every traveler will take away something unique from their time overseas. The following are five of the most compelling benefits of embarking on a study abroad adventure as an adult.

1. Take the chance to push yourself

Studying abroad is a powerful catalyst for personal growth. It provides both college students and older travelers with the unique opportunity to challenge themselves on multiple fronts — intellectually, experientially, and socially. Navigating a new academic environment, adapting to a different culture, and forging connections with people from diverse backgrounds are all ways in which participants can push their boundaries and practice resilience and adaptability.

2. Practice essential skills

Studying abroad becomes a real-world laboratory for honing crucial skills beyond a traditional classroom setting. Negotiating cultural nuances, navigating unfamiliar territories, and building relationships with people from around the world can help adults of any age practice communication, language proficiency, active listening, leadership, and teamwork.

3. Broaden your worldview and improve your intercultural understanding

One of the most profound benefits of studying abroad is the expansion of one’s worldview. Experiencing life in a different country exposes adults to new perspectives, customs, and ways of thinking. This exposure fosters a deeper understanding of cultural diversity and helps break down stereotypes. It promotes empathy and tolerance, creating global citizens who are better equipped to navigate an interconnected world with grace and understanding.

The most valuable part of our experience was…being with the people and having the chance to begin to understand a little bit about the implicit parts of their culture. We saw that there were universal truths to people caring about their families, money, food, and the basics — but how they are expressed is so different. If we’re going to be successful with people other than [those like] ourselves, we need to know it’s not just about those explicit things in [our] culture.

Bonnie Duyff, Lifelong Learner
Semester at Sea Spring 1971 & Fall 2023 Voyages

4. Build a global network

Studying abroad presents a unique opportunity to connect with people from various corners of the world and build a global network. These connections go beyond casual friendships; they form a professional and social network that can prove invaluable in the future. Building relationships with international classmates, professors, and professionals can open doors to opportunities and collaborations, both during and after the study abroad experience.

5. Identify future career opportunities

For adults contemplating a career change or seeking to enhance their professional prospects, studying abroad can be a meaningful and strategic move. Exposure to different academic approaches and industries, coupled with the global network built during the program, can illuminate new career pathways. Employers often value the adaptability and intercultural skills gained through international experiences, making a study abroad experience a valuable asset in a competitive job market.

Related Reading

Everyone Has a Story: Meet married Lifelong Learners Bonnie and Phil Duyff, who met on a Semester at Sea Voyage in 1971. Read More >>

Challenges of Studying Abroad as an Adult

Nine people of various ages sit around a table practicing Arabic calligraphy on paper with brushes and ink. An instructor stands behind them and observes.

While the benefits of studying abroad as an adult are many, it’s necessary to acknowledge the challenges that come with any kind of travel. With proper research and preparation, however, many of these challenges can be easily mitigated or avoided altogether. Here are five common hurdles that adult study abroad participants may encounter:

1. Language barriers

Anyone traveling abroad may encounter language barriers, especially if they are in a country where the primary language is different from their native tongue. This can affect various aspects of daily life, from academic pursuits to everyday interactions. Overcoming language barriers requires dedication and patience; travelers may need to enroll in language courses, immerse themselves in the local community (such as staying with a local host family), and actively practice the new language to enhance their proficiency.

2. Culture shock

Surprise, anxiety, embarrassment, and frustration are natural responses to unfamiliar customs, behaviors, and social norms encountered in a new country. For adults accustomed to a specific way of life, adjusting to a different cultural context can be both disorienting and challenging. To best manage culture shock, research your destination thoroughly beforehand, seek support and guidance from your study abroad group or program staff, and embrace the learning process with an open mind.

3. Adjustment issues

Similarly, studying abroad may require adapting to a new academic system, social environment, and lifestyle, all of which can be demanding for adult students. Educational expectations and social customs may differ significantly from those in one’s home country, but adult travelers can navigate these adjustments by actively seeking out support services provided by the host institution, joining social groups, and connecting with fellow students. Doing so can ease the transition and enhance the overall experience.

4. Time away from work or family

Balancing academic commitments with the responsibilities of work and family can be one of the most significant challenges for adults studying abroad. The time spent away from established routines and relationships may lead to feelings of guilt or a sense of missing out on important moments. Effective time management, communication with family and employers, and setting realistic expectations can help mitigate these challenges, ensuring a more balanced and fulfilling experience.

5. Getting a work/travel visa

Navigating the visa application process involves careful planning, understanding the specific requirements of the host country, and adhering to strict deadlines. Ensuring compliance with visa regulations is crucial to avoid legal complications during the study abroad experience.

Don’t look at these challenges as barriers, but instead opportunities for discovery and personal and professional growth. By acknowledging these challenges and actively seeking solutions, adult students can successfully navigate the complexities of studying abroad and enjoy a richer, more well-rounded experience.

The Cost of Adult Study Abroad Programs

The cost of studying abroad is an important consideration at any age, but adults managing their own finances may desire to take a close look at some of the primary expenses to know what they are paying for (and where they can save).

  • Program tuition and fees: The primary expense will likely be the tuition and fees for the academic or travel program. These fees vary widely depending on the country, university, and the specific program of study. Many study abroad programs charge additional fees to cover administrative costs, cultural activities, and support services.
  • Accommodation costs: These costs can vary based on the location and type of housing available such as university dormitories, shared apartments, or private rentals. Consider additional costs like utilities, internet, and other amenities associated with their chosen accommodation.
  • Travel expenses: Regardless of age, study abroad participants are often responsible for securing their own travel to their chosen destination, which may not be included in program fees. Plan your travel well in advance to secure more affordable options, as the prices of international flights fluctuate depending on the time of booking, the season, and the destination.
  • Visa and documentation: Obtaining the necessary visa and documentation may incur fees. It’s essential to budget for these expenses and factor in any processing times to avoid last-minute complications.
  • Travel insurance: It’s generally a wise idea to invest in comprehensive travel insurance to cover unexpected medical emergencies, trip cancellations, or other unforeseen circumstances. The cost of insurance varies based on coverage and duration.
  • Living expenses: Budget for groceries, dining out, and occasional treats. Note that the cost of food varies depending on local prices; do your research ahead of time.
  • Transportation: In general, buses, trains, and other modes of public transportation overseas will likely cost less than personal transportation, such as rental cars. Research fares and safety information to determine the safest and most economical way to get around your destination.
  • Currency exchange and banking fees: Be aware of currency exchange rates and potential banking fees associated with international transactions. You may need to practice doing some quick math to make sure you know how much of your own currency you’re spending when paying via credit card.
  • Miscellaneous expenses: Besides accommodations and food, try to account for other day-to-day living expenses when planning your budget, such as mobile phone plans, toiletries, and leisure activities.
  • Emergency funds: Life in general is unpredictable, but unforeseen events can be especially destabilizing in unfamiliar surroundings. Set aside an emergency fund for unexpected expenses or situations that may arise during your study abroad travels. Be familiar with the dominant form of payment — cash or card — and plan accordingly.

If you start to get overwhelmed by the expenses, there are a few ways to reduce the costs of studying abroad. First, It may be worth looking into scholarships and grants for studying abroad, some of which may be open to non-matriculating adult travelers.

Depending on visa regulations and the program’s intensity, adults may also explore part-time work opportunities to offset some living expenses. However, this should take some careful consideration, as having a work schedule may impact the overall travel experience.

Don’t think of it just as a trip that will be fun. It is an investment. It’s an investment in your future. [I] look back on it almost every day.

Phil Duyff, Lifelong Learner
Semester at Sea Spring 1971 & Fall 2023 Voyages

How to Prepare for Studying Abroad

A man and a woman, sit side by side in a ship’s ballroom and smile at one another. There is a white binder open on the table in front of them.

Studying abroad as an adult requires careful planning and preparation to make the most of your time and investment. Follow these essential tips as you compare programs and prepare for your overseas adventure.

1. Research visa and permit requirements

  • Begin researching visa requirements well in advance. Different countries have varying visa processes, and some may have specific requirements for students, no matter their age.
  • Contact the consulate or embassy of the host country to gather accurate and up-to-date information about visa application procedures, documentation, and processing times.
  • Ensure that you submit your visa application within the stipulated time frame to avoid any delays in your travel plans.
  • If you plan to work overseas, familiarize yourself with the permit process for foreign employees.

2. Purchase health insurance

  • Review your existing health insurance coverage to understand its applicability overseas. In many cases, additional international health insurance may be necessary.
  • Invest in comprehensive health insurance that covers medical emergencies, doctor visits, and potential repatriation. Understand the coverage limits and how to access medical care in your host country.

3. Make adequate travel arrangements

  • Once you have clarity on your program dates, book your flights well in advance to secure better rates. Be mindful of any visa requirements and deadlines related to your travel dates.
  • Ensure you have logistical information about your arrival destination, including transportation from the airport to your accommodation. Familiarize yourself with local transportation options.
  • Depending on the duration of your stay, explore the possibility of purchasing transportation passes or cards to save on commuting costs.

4. Create a packing list (and check it twice)

  • Pack clothing suitable for the local climate and be prepared for changes in weather. Consider cultural norms and dress codes in your host country.
  • Keep all essential documents such as your passport, visa, academic transcripts, and acceptance letters in a secure and easily accessible place.
  • Pack necessary electronics, chargers, and adapters to ensure you can stay connected and powered up in your new environment.
  • Bring an ample supply of any prescription medications you may need, along with a written prescription and a doctor’s note. Be aware that some medications may be restricted in your host country and seek proper approval.
  • Consider bringing small items from your home country to share with new friends or give as gifts. This can be a thoughtful way to bridge cultural gaps.

5. Ensure you can take the time off

  • If you are currently employed, communicate with your employer about your study abroad plans well in advance. Discuss the possibility of taking a leave of absence and make arrangements to manage work responsibilities while you are gone.
  • Consult your company’s policies regarding leaves of absence, remote work, or any support they may offer for employees pursuing educational opportunities.

6. Consider finances and emergencies

  • Inform your bank about your travel dates to avoid any issues with international transactions. Familiarize yourself with currency exchange options and fees.
  • Compile a list of emergency contacts, including local contacts in the host country and your home country.

With meticulous planning, adult study abroad participants can ensure a smooth experience and fully embrace the academic and cultural opportunities therein.

Download the Complete Study Abroad Packing List for your next adventure. >>

Adult Study Abroad Programs to Explore

People stand and stroll on a flagstone promenade overlooking a body of turquoise water.

Ready to start exploring? Take a look at these programs — just some of thousands! — that offer study abroad experiences for adults:

  • Semester at Sea: An immersive, multi-country experience focused on comparative global education aboard a floating college.
  • Sojrn: “Slow and sustainable travel” experiences for lifelong learners, focused on supporting local economies worldwide.
  • Trips by Atlas Obscura: Guided tours in the world’s most unusual and fascinating destinations, with opportunities for hands-on education in every locale.
  • National Geographic Expeditions: A wide range of curated experiences for every type of curious traveler, from river cruises to hiking excursions to family-oriented adventures.
  • Road Scholar: Experiential learning in a group setting, intended for adults who want to transcend tourism and experience cultural immersion.
  • Fulbright Scholarships: Funding for U.S. citizens to teach, conduct research, or otherwise contribute to a global exchange of knowledge.
  • Rhodes Scholarships: A highly selective program intended for U.S. citizens who wish to earn a degree from Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
  • GoAhead Tours: International learning trips that cater to every kind of traveler, from solo adults to families to small groups.

No matter which type of program you choose, studying abroad as an adult is more than an academic pursuit; it’s a transformative journey that can redefine your life, broaden your horizons, and instill a sense of cultural awareness that lasts a lifetime. It’s an investment in personal growth and a testament to the idea that the pursuit of knowledge knows no age restrictions.

Topics
  • Lifelong Learning Program

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