Non-Traditional Students Abroad


As a non-traditional student, you may have heard about international education opportunities from your fellow classmates and immediately dismissed the idea.  After all, you probably have a ton of additional responsibilities outside the classroom – a job, family or childcare responsibilities, limited time, financial obligations, etc. – making the thought of additional activities outside class requirements seem daunting or practically impossible.  Despite what you’re thinking or what your family and coworkers might say, studying abroad isn’t just for ‘traditional’ 18 – 22-year-old students and there’s a lot of support and resources available to make your goal of having an international experience come to fruition.

The Value of Study Abroad for Non-Traditional Students

Students of all ages and enrollment status can benefit from international experiences, yet for working adults these experiences may hold particularly meaningful value.  Unlike ‘traditional’ students who may be gaining independence for the very first time when they leave for college, non-traditional students have the advantage of analyzing intercultural experiences based on their lived experiences.  Here are just two of the many benefits that can be gained from such an experience:

More Fruitful Learning Experience

While international experiences (and college in general) might be an introduction to life for traditional students, the lens through which an adult student experiences these global engagements, however, is entirely different. In contrast to traditional college students in their late teens and early twenties, adult learners are more seasoned, with access to perspectives, baseline understanding, and an expanded worldview that only life experience allows. Not only do they have a greater appreciation for the significance of this experience not customarily available to them as working adults, they are also better equipped to assimilate the experience into their lives.


Direct Application to Professional Roles

Working adults also have the distinct opportunity to immediately apply what they learn from global academic engagements to their profession. Focused programs can be experienced more fully by a non-traditional student through the lens of awareness. By contextualizing the subject matter into professional terms, working adults can translate key insights to professional skills refinement and enhancement.

Questions to Consider

All participants will undoubtedly face a certain level of challenges during the planning process and experience itself.  Students of all ages and backgrounds will need to navigate intercultural interactions with the local community, adjust to student life in the host culture, and settle into new housing arrangements, but these can create unique challenges for non-traditional students.  Regardless of duration, there are key questions to consider as you begin the planning process.


  • Do I have work, home, and/or family obligations that limit how long I can travel?
  • Are there any programs that would allow my family to travel with me?
  • If I’m only away for a couple of weeks, what are my employer’s expectations while I am abroad? If required, will I be able to respond to email or fulfill other duties while also maintaining course and program requirements?
  • What skills do I want to gain or improve while I’m abroad?
  • What normal duties and responsibilities do I have during the time I will be traveling, and how will I manage those while I’m gone?
  • Is it possible to take a minor child or a partner along with me when I study abroad?
  • Can I request not to have a roommate, or to be placed with a host family that shares my interests and age?
  • If I am not able to be away for very long due to family obligations, how do I get the most out of a short-term experience abroad?
  • Will there be other adult students on my program?
  • What’s the host culture like?  Be sure to research what people in your host country like to do and where they live. For example, do they work? Do they live with extended family or on their own? In many countries, students start college later in life, have jobs, or have families. In these environments, adult learners should be easily accommodated. In countries where most students enter a university environment immediately after finishing secondary school, adult learners may find that they struggle to fit in and that the host institution’s programs and services have been designed with a younger audience in mind. 
  • What financial obligations (mobile phone plans, rent, house payment, utilities) can I anticipate incurring? 
  • Are there any age restrictions on discounts, tickets, etc., that I should be aware of?
  • Where will you be staying and with whom?  What adjustments can you make, if needed, to be comfortable in your housing?
  • How are housing choices and lifestyles impacted by age?
  • If I have a job while in the U.S., how will I make up that lost income? Are international students allowed to work in the host country?
  • I may not have access to the same support and social networks I have at home.  How can I meet other peers and integrate with locals?  How will I stay in touch with people back home?
  • How do visa restrictions, health insurance requirements, or other legal concerns vary based on age or family responsibilities?


While non-traditional students certainly have some additional considerations to keep in mind during the process, with the right amount of planning and an understanding of the support network available to help along the way (plus a little bit of grit!), studying abroad is definitely a possibility!  We encourage you to consider participation in a study abroad experience and welcome the opportunity to discuss your interests.