The Value Gained through Student Participation in Study Abroad Programs
Instructor of Urban Planning
It is truly amazing what can be learned about the rest of the world because of television and the internet. More than ever, the people of our planet can be connected in more ways than we could have imagined even ten years ago. However, when we watch a video on YouTube, while we can learn a great deal about another country or culture, we are only learning someone else’s interpretation. We are not drawing our own conclusions about the world.
I encourage everyone to get out in the world and discover for themselves. Gain first-hand knowledge of other people and places, and do not solely rely on others to teach you. This is especially important while you are young and mobile; which is why study abroad is such an important and amazing opportunity. Study abroad opportunities are cost-efficient, organized, and take much of the guess-work out of trip planning because you’re going with an experienced faculty member.
Travel makes you, as an individual, a better person. It can be inspiring, enlightening, and humbling to embed yourself in another society for a while. It is also empowering to see how you can navigate through a place where perhaps no one speaks your language but still get around just fine. When you “don’t speak the language,” it is quite thrilling to experience how much you can still connect with other people and be understood. It demonstrates the commonality of all humanity.
It is more important than ever that we learn from other cultures and become more educated and tolerant citizens of the planet. Travelling abroad is a wonderful opportunity to see how other countries operate and why. We can then bring that knowledge back to our home country and use it to make ourselves better. In a nation as generally affluent as the US, those who can travel have an obligation to do so, because we can apply what we learn from the rest of the world to help those who are less-fortunate back home. As travel writer and PBS show host Rick Steves write in his book, Travel as a Political Act, “Travel connects people with people. It helps us fit more comfortably and compatibly into a shrinking world, and it inspires creative new solutions to persistent problems facing our nation. We can't understand our world without experiencing it.”
Why I Lead Study Abroad Programs
I lead study abroad programs to provide opportunities for students to learn from other cultures and become better citizens of the planet. I grew up in a family that did not value other countries or cultures and was led to believe I could not participate in study abroad opportunities because we couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know any better until I got older and realized how easily we could have afforded it and that I should have been more persistent. I wanted to see the world so much and allowed others to stop me. It is my biggest regret from my college years. I want others to experience what I did not get to, at a time in their life when their burdens are fewer and they can apply what they learn to their life from a much earlier age. The students will benefit from the knowledge they gain and carry it with them the rest of their life, but also, our entire country will benefit from having more informed and tolerant residents, as well.
Dean of Honors College
An engaging, bold study abroad experience can change a life. I know; it happened to me. As a graduate student I was gifted a singular opportunity—two weeks of independent exploration in Germany. In those weeks I learned to fly—literally and figuratively. I learned to navigate new customs and assumptions, diverse mass transit, and even the unexpected cancellation. But most importantly, I learned the value of exploring, seeking access, and taking advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. In the several study abroad experiences that I have led as a faculty member I strive to offer those same opportunities for my Honors College students. I want them to discover the impact and value of taking a risk---bicycling through the Aran Isles along thatched roof artisans’ homes; meeting veterans from both sides of the Belfast wall; navigating an emphatically non-English café owner. By experiencing intercultural issues around the world, they will be more aware and better informed agents of change in their home communities. I know; it’s still happening for me with every trip.