I’ve done both types of trips and I’ve got to say, I always prefer to be gone for an entire semester and here’s why.
I got bitten by the travel bug pretty early on and it’s only gotten worse (or better, in my opinion) as I’ve gotten older. I got my first passport when I was ten but did my first semester abroad during college and haven’t looked back. Since that first semester abroad, I’ve lived abroad in three different countries and I feel like I’m just getting started.
I mean, I’ve known for a long time I wanted to do a gap year of traveling which has turned into two years…and is looking more like three if I have a say.
I love actually living abroad
Don’t get me wrong, visiting somewhere for a week or two is great; I’ve seen a few countries that way and have loved my time there. But that’s just it — it’s just a visit. 2 weeks in Europe lets you see the highlights and usually it's the most famous tourist sites like the Eiffle Tower or Big Ben. But a semester living there gives you so much more, it’s not even comparable. You see so much more than the highlights. I started to reconsider those 2 week trips once I went abroad for much, much longer. I love being a regular at the same little cafe or being able to think “I love this street; I’ll come back next week.” Finding those hidden gems and meeting friends is just harder to do when you are only there for 3 days before leaving to see another city.
I love having a home in a foreign country
You’ll get a taste of what I’m talking about as an International Language Programs (ILP) volunteer. You get the chance to live abroad like a local for an entire semester, but also get vacation time to visit other cities and other countries so it’s really the best of both worlds. It’s fun playing tourist, seeing the classic sites like the Roman Coliseum; but then you get to come home to your host family or apartment in Russia, Lithuania, Thailand or China (or ILP’s other six countries)…it’s the best!
I love buying fruit [it makes sense, I promise]
When I was living in China with ILP I loved getting fruit from the little fruit stands because 1: the fruit is delicious, and 2: because it meant I was going to be there long enough to eat a whole bag of picked cherries. I’d see tourists grab a small handful, because they didn’t have a fridge in their hotel room or would soon be leaving to go home — home home, not back to their cute Chinese apartment. It was so sad for me to walk past my cute cherry lady my last week; I knew I didn’t have enough time to get a bag and eat it before I had to say goodbye and leave China.
Oh, and I love saving money
I also love knowing my airfare is pretty much the same whether I'm there for a week or there for 5 months; either way, you gotta buy a plane ticket there and a plane ticket home. The program fee that you pay as an ILP volunteer to live somewhere for about 4 months is easily about the same that you would spend to travel around Europe for 2 weeks. Volunteering for a longer amount of time is the best bang for your buck if you want to travel. So save your money and just stay longer! Just travel- there are so many little ways it will change your life.
If you’ve even thought a tiny bit about going abroad, DO IT. Absolutely, just do it! I heard about the chance to live abroad for an entire semester with a program fee that included your flight, visa, 3 meals a day, housing, and culture classes and I haven’t looked back — ILP’s opened so many doors for me and not to be all dramatic, but I can’t stop talking about how much it’s changed my life. Learn what country would be the best fit for you and fill out an application!