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Choosing A University Major For A Life Of International Travel

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One of the best effects globalization has had for long term travelers is that more and more jobs are being internationalized. Although teaching English seems to be the most common job for travelers, as well as hostel work or seasonal gigs, there are thousands of other options available. I have met people living abroad who do everything from volcanology to court reporting.

When you’re thinking about what to study in university, remember that your travels do not need to end when you graduate. So instead of asking which major will get you abroad the most, a much more important question is: “What kind of traveler do I want to be?”

Thinking about the long run is highly advantageous, especially if you are planning to have a lifetime of travel. Try to picture beyond those three to five years spent on your bachelors — do you want a career that allows you to live in foreign countries for several years at a time? Would you prefer to have a profession that lets you piece together shorter contracts across many different countries? Or do you want to get traveling as soon as possible and piece together different kinds of work on the way? Selecting the right major can set you up for a lifetime of travel, and if your major allows you to spend a lot of time studying abroad, that’s even better.

Here’s a short list of majors that are good for studying abroad and that can set you up for travel after graduation. Obviously this list isn’t comprehensive, but it is a taste of what’s out there. Your mileage will vary depending on your school, but with many of these majors it’s possible to study abroad more than once.

International Studies / Global Studies

If ever a major was designed for studying abroad, it’s this one. Usually this major requires you pick an area of focus, such as development, environment, business, etc . . . The advantage of majoring in IS/GS instead of majoring in the emphases directly is that with the “international” aspect, many of your classes can be oriented towards culture, language, and other disciples related to to international sphere. This lets you choose from a greater range of schools to study abroad, and possibly to study abroad more often.

Sociology / Anthropology

Both of these majors focus on studying people as a subject area, will give you deeper insight into the cultures you experience as you traverse the world. Also, many of these courses (particularly sociology) are taught commonly at foreign universities, giving you good study abroad options. The only problem with this major is that it’s often necessary to get even more training before you can easily find employment in the field. Of course, it is not necessary to follow a “typical career path”, as Wade himself can attest to.

International Business / Finance / Economics

There is typically enough flexibility within these majors to support multiple semesters abroad, if the university does not explicitly forbid it. Moreover, entering the world of international business can let you work for thousands of companies. Though keep in mind that these careers often involve long hours and lots of ladder climbing. Only pursue this path (or any path, really) after much contemplation.

Environmental / Natural Sciences

This one may seem a bit surprising, but it comes down to one thing: fieldwork. Funding for projects involving soil sciences, oceanography, agriculture and other “outdoorsy-type” efforts are often open to foreigners. During university, your choice of study abroad locations may be limited (how many schools actually teach oceanography?), but if you go abroad during your first or second year you’ll be fine: most schools have classes towards your low-level science and general elective requirements. Although jobs in science are not my field of expertise, it’s included because I’ve seen it used as a means to travel time and time again. I have friends who hop between countries doing soil projects, studying volcanoes, researching agriculture, and doing viticulture.

Engineering

Over the past five years there has been a huge upsurge in study abroad options for engineering students. In the past, students of engineering were essentially stuck in one place until graduation. Now, thanks to better coordination between partner universities, it possible for most engineering students to study abroad for at least a semester and take courses which transfer directly towards graduation.

Foreign Languages

This one’s pretty straightforward.

Conclusion

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Ultimately, there are many good majors that can help you get abroad. Remember to look beyond the duration of your bachelors when choosing your area of study and start thinking about how do you want to travel for the long run. The most important thing to keep you traveling year after year is to have a mission, a reason to go. Many travelers have gone home due to “temple fatigue” — a phenomenon that happens when you see so many temples, churches, museums, etc. that they begin to blur together. Without a purpose behind your travels, it is easy to lose steam. If you can find a major or job that is both meaningful to you and is enhanced by traveling, you have found the best of both worlds, the perfect formula of motivation and adventure.

Filed under: Study Abroad, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Tristan Hicks is a compulsive traveler who believes that travel and “real life” can be one and the same. He has combined working and studying with his long-term travels, living in the US, Turkey, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea, Estonia and Poland. Tristan recently finished a season teaching at-risk youth in his native Appalachian mountains. He is currently on the road. has written 15 posts on Vagabond Journey.

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Tristan Hicks is currently in: Surat Thani, ThailandMap