Study Abroad as an Adult: Practical Idea or Frivolous Dream? 

 May 24, 2016

By  Laura Kosloff

Someone asked me the other day if I thought it was a silly idea for an adult to consider a long-term language or study abroad program. I responded with, “why not?” What does age have to do with learning another language, being interested in learning about other cultures, and wanting to have new experiences? It seemed obvious to me, but I realized that for many people it might not be so clear.

So here’s a bit more information for those who want to explore the idea.

Many exchange organizations that work with high school or college students also have programs designed for adults. These programs generally are not traditional “study abroad” programs in the sense that we usually think of such programs. They’re not necessarily a semester or academic year and they may not involve academic studies. However, that makes sense, as adults have different needs and motivations than a teenager in high school or a young adult in college. There are language programs with intensive immersion, study programs with traditionally structured classes, and volunteer work programs. There are short-term programs of a few weeks, and longer-term options of working abroad. Teaching English abroad is a popular option that some adults might find suits their motivations and goals.

Some programs offer you housing choices such as in a dorm, in a home/apartment sharing with others from the program, or in a local host family. Yes, adults can live with a host family. We see that in short-term programs in which teachers and other professionals live with a U.S. family while they are here. It can work elsewhere, too.

Some programs may require qualifications and an application. One of the most well-known and prestigious programs in the U.S. is the Fulbright Program. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is the “flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” The program provides funding for overseas study and research opportunities for students, scholars, artists, teachers, and other professionals.

Do some research, and find a program that fits with your goals. Several private organizations you can start with that represent different types of adult study and travel abroad programs include Road Scholar (formerly known as Elderhostel); Study Abroad International; AmeriSpan; JET Program USA (teaching English in Japan); and EF International Language Schools. This short list is just a sampling of what is available.

In summary, if you want to take more than a few days vacation abroad and live somewhere for a while—whether it be three weeks, three months, or longer—there may be ways to make that happen. Take the time to look into it and see if it can work for you.

Photo credit: Dariusz Sankowski

  • Your blog caught my attention for the very reason that I am interested in language immersion but question if I am being silly at age 51. Children, ages 15 and 12, present some logistic challenges, but I so want to do this. It’s just difficult to find a program and think of this idea as more than wishful thinking.

    • You’re not being silly! Logistical issues, sure — you’ll need to think about that. Maybe a long-term program is not an option, for example. But adults can take vacations with and without their children, so why not a language immersion opportunity with or without the children? A friend of mine went to a language program in Costa Rica with her family last year (several teens) for several weeks; it served not only as a way to immerse themselves in Spanish, but also as their Costa Rican vacation. !

      I came across this blog post recently which I hope helps you think positively! http://www.ef.edu/blog/language/interview-with-an-81-year-old-study-abroad-student/.

      Hope you can figure out a way to do it!


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