Choosing to study drama abroad was one of the best decision I’ve ever made. Though the financial burden was real and the logistical complexities substantial, it was a thoroughly joyful experience, a time in my life that I look back on frequently and fondly. There are many international drama conservatories, graduate programs, and academies that offer programs for out-of-country artists. But there is a lot to consider when trying to determine whether or not to study acting abroad. Today we are going to take a dive deep into that decision-making process and explore the pros and cons of studying drama overseas.
First, a little personal info: I was lucky enough to spend a semester abroad during my senior year of undergraduate training. I studied Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. My concerns going into the program were whether it would be financially worth it and whether the interruption to my regular, state-side studies would be problematic. I debated whether or not to audition but the prospect of traveling to a new place and gaining fresh insights was too appealing to pass up. After I got in, I started sorting out the money and logistics. In the end it was an exhilarating, fulfilling, life-changing time. Being in London was a constant, beautiful barrage of art, culture, and opportunity. We got to see shows constantly. The teachers at RADA were extraordinary. My new classmates were exceptional artists. The curriculum was intense and engaging. Everything felt new and alive. To be able to explore craft and language with that kind of immersion and focus was a tremendous gift, one for which I am extremely grateful.
However, I recognize that every actor is different, and the proper path of every acting student is unique. Drama training is not “one size fits all”. Every person is coming from a different place with different goals and interests. So if you’re considering traveling to distant lands to continue your acting training, let’s weigh up some pros and cons.
First some positives: going to a secondary place to study will give you a fresh angle into your artistry. Add the extra distance of studying in a new country, and you have all the ingredients for a radically different approach to the dramatic arts. Ideally, studying abroad will broaden your horizons and help prod you out of your comfort zone. Old habits will be broken and new ideas nurtured. Being in a new place can unlock new parts of your artistry and your sense of self. Personal growth will go hand in hand with artist learning.
Another positive side of going abroad is exploring and immersing yourself in the specifics of that given country’s culture and artistic legacy. America has a beautifully diverse theatrical canon, language, and style. But traveling across the globe can allow you to encounter the glorious specificity and uniqueness of an alternate tradition. Spending time breathing different air, eating different food, hearing difference sounds: this is tremendous fuel for a young artist. The richness and texture of the world’s theatrical capitals can stimulate and enlighten. Most foreign acting academies will also give the benefit of small class sizes, giving you the sort of focused, specialized training that most fosters an artist’s growth. Having a rigorous, in-depth period of dramatic study might be just what the doctor ordered.
However, going across the world to continue your studies is no small thing. There are also some downsides and difficulties that come with the journey.
The biggest challenge is obviously money. Theater schools are expensive (unreasonably and cruelly so, but that’s a rant for another day …). Add to that the cost of transportation, housing, and whatever the cost of living is going to be in your potential new city, and things will very quickly start to add up. It is crucial to make a budget, make a plan, and determine if the program is truly feasible for you right now. What is the value of this specific training to you? Does experience justify the cost? These are difficult and personal things to contemplate. I think writing things out is helpful (I love a good list). Be sure to factor in excursions or side trips into your budgeting.
Another potential negative is being away from your primary home for an extended period of time. Will uprooting yourself and embarking on a grand international adventure interrupt momentum, relationships, or other ongoing aspects of your “normal” life? Will it hurt your career? Will it fray friendships? Will it mess up your living situation? It’s important to be realistic about the many facets of your life that will have to go on pause. Does the value of what’s new outweigh the familiarity of what’s known? It’s a risk and one that deserves some careful thought. It might also be helpful to talk out your options and feelings with some people you trust (artists and non-artists alike). Their feedback might be clarifying.
A Final Thought…
In the end, it’s a personal decision, but in my humble opinion studying drama abroad is most definitely worth it. If you are given the opportunity and you can square the money and the logistics, I sincerely believe that you will become a fuller and more complete artist; you will deepen and expand as a person. The world is large. We as humans should try to gobble up as much of it as possible. Its expanse will expand us. Our creativity and our humanity will be the better for it. Travel far, my children. Travel far. And send me a postcard!