By Joey Versen
According to the University’s Office of International Studies, part of the reason to study abroad is to gain a better understanding of the diversity of cultures in addition to furthering our education and developing skills. The OIS seeks programs where students are immersed in the local culture of the host country and avoids programs where students are treated like “academic tourists.”
An overwhelming percentage of students that study abroad choose to do so in places such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Australia. While these cultures are certainly unique and different from the United States, they are still Western, white, Anglo-Saxon countries with governmental and economic structures similar to ours. While there is certainly plenty to be gained from studying in countries like these, in terms of diversity and global perspective, other options may prove to be more useful.
In fact, according to the International Institute of Education, the number of students traveling to Africa, Asia and the Middle East in the 2010-’11 year all increased by more than eight percent from 2009-’10. And while Europe is still the most popular destination for students, the number increased only two percent during the same time period.
In a political and economic sense, the areas of the globe that are quickly becoming the most important are not located in the Euro-zone or Oceania.
China’s growth continues to astonish, and it is clear that it will soon become one of the most dominant players on the world stage, if it isn’t already.
India has also been enduring an impressive period of growth which, combined with its massive population and nuclear capabilities, makes it an increasingly capable global force.
Russia and Brazil are also showing promise as global markets,and the events of the Arab Spring have created opportunities for more democratic styles of governance and open market systems in the Middle East. While countries in Europe struggle to stay afloat, these other nations are producing and will continue to create opportunities for people all over the world. To spend time making connections and experiencing the culture of any of these places would be an invaluable investment.
But beyond the prospect of professional success lie some potentially more important benefits of visiting a radically different area of the planet. In a world that is growing smaller and smaller with constant technological improvement, our generation of young Americans is faced with the task of easing into the globalization process and learning to deal with other cultures and civilizations.
Study abroad is an opportunity for us to learn a different way of life and break down barriers not only for ourselves, but also for our family, friends and country. The best way to do this is by stepping outside of our comfort zones and traveling to places that we may not have previously considered.
The Office of International Studies reminds its students that they become somewhat of a “student ambassador” when traveling abroad. It may seem like another responsibility, but it also becomes a golden opportunity.
By going to another country that may not have the most favorable view of the United States and displaying both an eagerness to learn their culture and an open-mindedness regarding all aspects of their society, we can create a more favorable view of all Americans within a foreign population.
While the acts of a single person may seem insignificant, the combined effort of students across the United States could have a profound effect on how Americans are viewed, as well as on our ability to productively interact with foreign nations.
If possible, all students should make an effort to study abroad anywhere they can. There is plenty to be gained from spending a semester in London or in Melbourne, as the cultures are in fact much different from that of the United States. But, with the way the world is progressing, it is important that we try to journey beyond Western civilization and into regions of the world that may seem strange or unorthodox.
If we, as students, want to begin doing our part seeking peace and understanding the different peoples of our world, it is better that we start now by gaining a better appreciation for diversity and a more global perspective for ourselves, thus setting a powerful example for others.