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20 reasons to love study abroad

The options are endless. Here are some of our favorites.

#1: Because... there are too many to name

Maybe it’s beauty, like turquoise waterfalls in Patagonia. Or maybe it’s adventure—a hike through Dominica’s aptly named Valley of Desolation. It could be the character building that comes from volunteering in a Brazilian favela. The human connection. The expanded worldview. The food. No, the number one reason to love study abroad is, perhaps, “that there are limitless reasons,” says Ralph Begleiter, professor emeritus who’s facilitated trips through Cuba, Turkey, Antarctica and the Middle East. For some of our favorites, venture on...


#2: Because... you may thwart global terrorism

“We felt combustive, free of inhibition and perfectly alive.” —Captain Sara Sajer, AS17, on dancing in a treehouse-like cabin around a 20-foot bonfire during India’s sacred Bihu festival to celebrate harvest season, rhinos harumphing beneath her. The Fulbright scholar credits the experience with leading her into geopolitics—an intelligence officer for the U.S. Army, she has deployed to Syria and Iraq, helping remove ISIS from its final land holding.


#3: Because... adventure awaits

“I climbed into a giant hamster ball.” —Mike Fox, AS05, on zorbing (aka, rolling down a hill in a giant orb) in New Zealand. He also bungee jumped, jet boated, skydived, hiked a rainforest and braved a small sightseeing plane over the Southern Alps.

#4: Because... monkeys make great teachers

Steve Goodwin’s students held out their arms, and spider monkeys swooped out of trees to swing across them. During this trip to the Amazon, one primate took a 20-minute nap in the lap of Goodwin’s wife (cute, until the monkey peed on her leg). Another cheeky simian stole a student’s notebook. (“Instead of ‘The dog ate my homework’,” Goodwin says, “She could say: ‘The monkey destroyed my journal.”) But these are only a handful of wildlife encounters the professor has facilitated. In the Rio Negro tributary, Blue Hens swam alongside piranhas (the fish only bite if you’re bleeding). In Ecuador, they watched blue-footed boobies divebomb at 100 kilometers/hour. In South Africa, they safaried within arm’s reach of an elephant. And, in Australia, they snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, seeing up close its “life-changing beauty”—and the devastation wrought by climate change. “These experiences increase commitment to the environment and, ultimately, one another,” Goodwin says. “Without that, nothing will ever be successful.”

Lion’s Head mountain in South Africa is a popular launch point for paragliders, but Trevor Noon, HS21, felt no rush to fly off the peak—not with a panoramic view of Cape Town this good.

#5: Because... it reminds us who we are

Kevin Chang, EG14, recalls a two-story building filled with skeletons. The monument exists in one of Cambodia’s Killing Fields, mass graves where a radical dictatorship disposed of one million murdered bodies in the 1970s. The Blue Hen’s visit felt personal—this same regime once forced his dad into agricultural labor, until he fled. Now, Chang says, “I’m filled with gratitude for the life I’ve experienced.”

#6: Because... comfort is overrated

Ryan McLoughlin, AS22, did not expect to bare it all in Morocco. But when the opportunity arose to leave Rome—his study abroad destination in the fall of 2018—for a UD-sanctioned weekend in Rabat, he jumped at the chance. A local guide took him and fellow male Blue Hens to a 10th-century bathhouse, where they were encouraged to take off as much clothing as they desired before dousing themselves with buckets of water in this medieval sauna. “You look around and realize everyone is pretty much naked,” McLoughlin says. “And that’s the kind of culturally immersive moment where it’s like: I can either stand out by wearing underwear, or I can just be naked with everyone else.” Learning how to step out of his comfort zone has served McLoughlin well—it’s how the aspiring lawyer says he landed his job at a New Jersey law firm: “In my family, we have a motto: ‘Don’t let books get in the way of learning.’ Sometimes, the best lessons don’t come from a text.”

Visit this ancient Greek temple to honor Poseidon, ancient god of the sea—or merely to admire fifth-century architecture against a dramatic sky, like this sunset captured by Delaney Price, BE20.

#7: Because... quality education depends on it

Scottish teachers don’t coddle. Instead, they speak to children like adults: (“Yer bums oot the windae”—aka, “You’re talking nonsense”—is a common refrain in the urban lowlands.). During her time observing an Edinburgh school, this is one of many things that took Jenna Lisa, EHD93, aback. “The experience helped me see beyond my bubble,” she says. “Education doesn’t have to be cookie cutter.” Today, UD offers a variety of international student-teaching opportunities—from Greece to Grand Cayman.


#8: Because... you'll hear stories that inspire

"They weren't meek, and they weren't oppressed. They were out here defying their government." —Ashley Steele, AS22, on meeting with Afghan refugees in Greece who changed her perception of women in the Middle East. Hearing their experiences fleeing the Taliban, she says, crystallized her commitment to social justice.

"You look around and realize everyone is pretty much naked." 

- Michael V. Dougherty, AS22

#9: Because... history needs a witness

The students could see military tanks outside their window. Their faculty director, Audrey Helfman, felt fear. But—in the midst of Arab Spring—she also recognized an important learning opportunity. Isolated within an Egyptian hotel, she contextualized the anti-government protests and helped students process this impactful moment—one of many times Blue Hens have watched history unfold in real time. Prior to World War II, they saw Nazis march in Berlin. And they’ve borne witness to natural disasters (Australian wildfires in 2019); anti-war marches (like the kind that erupted in Madrid at the launch of Operation Desert Storm in 1991); even major sporting events (Olympic games, World Cup finals). Why does any of this matter? Study abroad veterans maintain that bearing witness connects us with the full range of the human condition: the desperation that spurs a political uprising, the sense of community that develops after an earthquake, the national pride that radiates from a soccer pitch after a goal. “It’s a reminder that we’re not alone in the world,” Helfman says. “No matter where we are from, we are all striving for the same things. We are all human.”

#10: Because... there's value in getting lost

Steve Bondy, AS84, BE86M, is U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, where he’s responsible for national security and the full range of foreign policy interests. How’d he acquire the self-assurance necessary to thrive in such a high-pressure role? Partially, a study abroad experience that had him lost and confused locating hostels and navigating public transportation throughout Europe. “It’s about resilience,” he says. “This kind of experience gives you confidence to make your way in the world.”

These Patagonia falls “looked like silk,” says Alyssa Santiago, AS20. “This view forever changed my life.”

#11 Because... the rapids are revelatory

In Argentina, when she wasn’t studying physics or hiking the Andes for an ethereal view of the Milky Way, Leigh Zakutansky, AS06, white water rafted the acclaimed rapids of the Manso River. The experience winding through glacial lakes kicked off a love affair with the sport that’s taken her around the globe, including a 16-day trip through Grand Canyon rapids. Along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, Zakutansky met her husband, and even a terrible rafting accident on their Costa Rica honeymoon (read: three leg surgeries) hasn’t dampened her passion. Today, she works as a rafting guide near her Poconos home. And, in the classroom where she teaches physics, her hobby inspires a new generation—stories from the river help illustrate tricky concepts like relative velocity. Of her high-octane pastime, Zakutansky says: “That one Argentinian experience changed everything.”

"I'm filled with gratitude for the life I've experienced."

- Kevin Chang, EG14

#12: Because... it creates unlikely alliances

At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ben Olarsch, AS20, completed a group project alongside Palestinian and Israeli classmates—at a time when cross-border rocket launches regularly forced both these Palestinian and Israeli classmates into shelter. Still, they collaborated. The experience made Olarsch, now a case worker for a U.S. Congressman from New Jersey, a better public servant: “I’ve seen the power of sympathy for another’s experience.”

#13: Because... you'll want to give back

Allen Gula, AS09, studied abroad 15 times. (His professor mom allowed him to start tagging along at age eight.) From recognizing his privilege in Ecuador to scuba diving in Galapagos, “I wanted to pay it forward.” In 2015, Gula was hiking through Nepal when an earthquake struck. He stayed behind to rebuild, and he founded the Conscious Impact nonprofit, which still recruits globally for the cause.

#14: Because... you may get star struck

“You never know what—or who—is around the corner.” —Prof. Diane Rudolphi on meeting Sir Richard Branson with her nursing students in the British Virgin Islands in 2023.

#15: Because... travel expands your worldview

“This is the only place as a straight, white male that I have endured discrimination. It was just a taste, yet even this minor inconvenience made me angry. It forced me to consider: What about people who are constantly being told: ‘You cannot be who you are’.” –James Weaver, AS08, EHD12M, on being denied a cell phone in Japan because of his foreign status

#16: Because... you'll get the best sleep of your life

“It was poetic, and indelible in my mind.” —Bryan Townsend, BE03, a Delaware state Senator, on the sound of ice cascading into the sea around him, as he drifted to sleep under the stars on a glacier in Antarctica

#17: Because... plumbing is overrated

There are no toilets, just pits you dig yourself. Sometimes, it’s 120 degrees. You might wake up to an elephant relieving himself beside your head. These are the conditions in Tanzania, where students of Jake Bowman, professor of wildlife ecology, regularly live in tents amongst Aboriginal groups, observing their hunting practices and helping collect tubers and honey. Through a translator, the group learns that topics ranging from female circumcision to animal conservation aren’t as black-and-white as they’d imagined. (It’s easy to plaster a save-the-elephants sticker on a Yeti bottle… until a pachyderm levels your home.) A major takeaway happens when the students see just how little these communities possess—and how little it matters. “They’re very happy,” Bowman says. “They don’t need saving.”


#18: Because... The food is unbelievable

 “We each ate a leg of the tarantula. Learning to try new things opens your mind to new possibilities, which enriches your life long after graduation. Plus, it wasn’t that bad—kind of like french fries.” —Deniz Hatiboglu, BE19, on the wild menu options of Vietnam

#19: Because... you'll discover shared humanity

When Lauryn Isaacs Marcus entered the room, a four-year-old orphan backflipped. While the Blue Hen hadn’t known what to expect from this South African clinic for kids of the AIDS crisis, gymnastics—the kind she’d enjoyed herself as a young girl—took her aback. It served as an important reminder: “Humans are more alike than we are different.” As a study abroad devotee, Isaacs Marcus relearned the lesson many times: building houses in Fiji, exploring art in China, studying French in Martinique. But it was volunteering at this Atteridgeville clinic that clarified her path. Today, the mom of two works in international development for RTI International, a nonprofit tackling everything from environmental protection to global health disparities. On her hardest days, she’s grounded by a photo of little Nhlanhla, her unlikeliest teacher: “Studying abroad helped shape me.”

#20: Because... scenes like this

The beauty is worth the jetlag.

This photo of Austria was taken by a study abroad student.
Photo taken in Austria and submitted by McKenzie Girvan, AS21

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