College is a time for learning and subjecting one’s self to new experiences. One of the greatest ways to broaden one’s horizons and learn about the world around them is to take some time to study in other countries, even if it is for a semester. There are issues about terrorism and other parties who may wish to do harm or take advantage of a foreigner, cost, and the fact that there are typically no family members to fall back on which become points of contention about the topic of travel for any purpose, much less for studying. Many believe that to succeed in the global economy, cross cultural travel should be integrated into school curriculum. For example, a foreign language class can benefit from taking a small trip to the language’s country of origin, like a German class taking a two-week trip to Germany. Even if it is not for a full semester, the exposure can be of great personal and scholastic importance.
Spending a semester out of one’s comfort zone can help with critical thinking and social skills, especially. Yes, studying abroad is something students should do as the many and varied benefits of studying abroad often outweigh the costs, even if it is short term. Seeing the world, honing language skills, making friends, creating contacts and networking along with career opportunities, traveling abroad offers a plethora of benefits crucial to a student’s personal development. The benefit of only spending one semester abroad is that a student can choose to continue their foreign education whether it suits them or not.
Many colleges such as Northwestern University provide some sort of program to support students who wish to study out of country and even have a Study Abroad Fair in order to help encourage students to partake and even provide financial aid to do so. Should all colleges financially help students to travel? Should there be more grants or scholarships given to people if they want to study abroad? I believe that it is in the best interests of all students whether they are in college or not to study and live for some time in at least one other country.
Studying abroad is a topic of interest to me for personal reasons. As a veteran of the United States Navy, I was blessed with the opportunity to immerse myself in a wide array of cultures from Iraq, Thailand, Japan, Australia, and more. Unfortunately, I did not take the opportunity to pursue my chances to mingle with the cultures and sample their varied wonders, and in retrospect I now greatly wish that I had. I spent too much time on shore internalizing my problems, locking myself onto the ship just wishing to come back to America again as fast as possible. I realize now that I wish to know more about the world around me and have plans to finance myself to learn in different schools around the world with one of the reasons being that I personally wish to convey to others how studying abroad has helped me personally become a better, more well-rounded and cultured individual.
I know that when it comes to travel, cost is an issue that derails people from doing so. Unfortunately, my financial circumstances have not allowed me to do much traveling for any reason until I joined the Military. Again, my experience shows me that subjecting one’s self to other cultures is a chance to greatly enhance individual knowledge of the self, and shows what one is made of when they are out of their comfort zone. I also understand that human trafficking as well as terrorism can be topics that persuade people to stay in the safety of their home countries, but fear is the roadblock to knowledge and new experiences. I believe that whether or not a college financially backs up the wish of a student to travel out of country and study of other culture, it is well worth it to make the personal sacrifice to do so regardless. Experience almost always trumps the accumulation of objects and wealth.
To begin with, traveling abroad is a growth experience that should not be underestimated. It helps not only students, but anyone exploring new cultures to live amongst those who do not share the same living conditions as they, and can broaden one’s mind and knowledge to the fact there are others in the world who may be less well off than they are. Students are bound to run into problems that are completely out of their realm of experience and will learn to both respond to and adapt in an efficacious manner. For instance, students will undoubtedly encounter communication issues when they speak with the denizens of the country they are visiting, which can help with confidence issues and capability to handle the pressure of being completely lost in an unfamiliar situation.
The average student is not exposed to globalization, or rather how an organization interacts with the governments and companies the world over. In addition, traveling students are more experienced dealing with such things as being in a foreign and unusual situation; this can help take the edge off and contribute to being more comfortable during job interviews. Their prospects for employment are also enhanced due to the learning they developed in schools that are recognized by international institutions. Companies will recognize possible future employees that have integrated themselves even temporarily amongst those in foreign countries and cultures, and may wish to bring that education and experience to their work force. It shows an open mind and ability to operate in different environments, displaying flexibility and the capacity to overcome unexpected challenges. This can be a huge boon that cannot be underestimated by any job seeker even without being able to completely and fluently speak in multiple languages. Dr. Mary M. Dwyer, President & CEO of Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Abroad says that:
More and more employers are realizing the extraordinary benefits of study abroad, and are seeking out graduates who have had study abroad experiences. Key jobs skills such as adaptability, global understanding and tolerance, leadership, and independence are directly fostered by learning and living abroad.
Studying abroad will contribute to the pushing of personal limits and reinvention. (Benefits of Study Abroad)
Reinvention is a positive, optimistic undertaking, where a person believes they can discard or overcome the past and better themselves. I believe it can be easier to reinvent while even temporarily living in another country, whether studying there or not. Travel invents an aspect of reinvention automatically by putting life on hold in order to broaden the range of experiences that would never have been tapped into otherwise. ‘Travel holds the magical possibility of reinvention: that you might find a place you love, to begin a new life and never go home” (Theroux 3).
According to some research, it is believed that travel can help to improve people’s health, and good health is important in order to do well and get the most out of their studies. Anxiety and depression can have some obvious negative effects and contribute to a decline in information retention. It is also important that before visiting another country a student should obtain the right vaccinations, influenza, measles, cholera and mumps being some of the most common according to the Center for Disease Control (Travelers’ Health).
Another benefit of traveling is that it gives the opportunity to make friends from all walks of life. Attending school and living amongst the native people grants one access to those they can rely on later in life as they create a lasting relationship. Thankfully, we live in an age that due to social media, once the student moves back home, they can remain in constant contact with those friends and acquaintances they encountered during their international travels. Having a reference one can count on from another culture can even have benefits which reach across to when a student is looking for work down the road, now having a networking tool of great value.
This is not to say that there are not some valid points on the opposing end of the spectrum, advocating for not traveling abroad at all. It can make people homesick, I know because it has happened to me during my stint in the armed forces. Being in the Navy, there were years where I spent most of my time out on the water, and not due to extremely long deployments either. And while it can be a trying time, one must try to see through the anguish and understand the clarity and positive transformation it can bestow. Having money issues is also certainly a great wall to climb that many people are just unable to scale. And should one have glaring racist tendencies they wish not to address and overcome, I highly suggest staying home. Mark Twain put it well in his book The Innocents Abroad when he stated:
The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother. I shall always delight to meet an ass after my own heart when I have finished my travels. (Twain 233)
Further downsides to studying abroad are almost as plenty and varied as the positive reasons why one should. Another reason not to study abroad is academic in nature. If the school being attended is not credited towards the students primary domestically attended school there can be a huge disconnect as the experience, at least from said academic standpoint, does not contribute to a student’s degree. For instance, let us say that a student as part of a degree program heads to a different country at a foreign school, and during class, the school’s country of origin has issues with America and the college is no longer recognized by the U.S. The time, academically, would have been wasted as the classes don’t contribute credits to the American’s degree.
In my final analysis, studying abroad poses many benefits which far outweigh the negatives. First of all, studying abroad offers students a chance to evolve their perceptions and perhaps even alter their way of thinking for the better. Students may learn new experiences both in their personal and social life they would not have been able to otherwise, especially considering the vast distances involved with online friends and acquaintances. Visiting an unfamiliar country and its people can be terribly frightening, but with the right mindset it can not only be vastly educational, but it can be some of the most enjoyable times in an individual’s life. In end, even though I believe students should study abroad, it is invariably up to the students themselves to weigh the good and bad aspects of traveling abroad and determine whether it is for them or not.
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