Making A Case For Study Abroad

By Emily Plummer on November 9, 2015

In my room, there is a map hung on the wall above my desk. And when my eyes drift away from my school work (a little more often than is probably productive), they stare at that map.

I find the little dot northeast of San Francisco that represents Berkeley -– my current home -– and then trace routes to places I have been and others I cannot wait to visit.

Sitting there in my apartment, a mountain of reading in front of me and the map holding my attention, I cannot wait to study abroad. Then, I will be able to call a whole new dot on the map my home and explore a new culture and people and environment. I daydream about the places I could go: Chile, Italy, Thailand, Australia. What must each of them have to offer?

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Study abroad means something different to each of us– the opportunity to travel (maybe for the first time), to work with renowned professors in a certain field, to escape the American bubble you’ve been living in, to learn a new language, or maybe all of these.

For me, study abroad is about sharing cultures with people I may never otherwise even meet. That map, to me, is a representation of how vast the variety of people in our world is, how different each of our lives are, and how much we have to learn from each other.

Of course it’s scary. To study abroad is to leave your current life behind and live a foreign place for three, six, even 12 months. And there are always reasons not to go– you have too many classes to take, friends and family you don’t want to be away from. These are valid justifications for wanting to stay here and live the domestic college experience, and there are plenty more. But I don’t think you should cross study abroad off your list just yet.

College is our time. It is this wonderful moment when we have moved on from life under the rule of others, asserting our independence as new adults, yet many of us are not tied to any careers or other responsibilities. This is a time to focus on you; your education, but even more, your life experience. And study abroad will be a big contributor to that.

I think it is okay for college students to be a little bit selfish in terms of putting ourselves and our education (both academically and existentially) ahead of other priorities. As long as we do this mindfully, with the knowledge that this investment into our learning will come back around to benefit others in the long run when this education is manifested into meaningful careers.

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Work out your class schedule, promise to keep in touch with your loved ones over Skype, and apply for every grant and scholarship out there to fund your study abroad adventure. There are so many ways to make this opportunity fit into your life. You can even go abroad over summer to spare an intrusion on your academic year.

The considerations and sacrifices you make will all be worth it when you get to know a new, far-off home, learn from people who experience life in a different way than you do, expand your language skills and cultural considerations, and create lasting personal bonds across borders.

With ever-increasing globalization making our lives more and more interconnected with others around the world, we have to expand our global awareness and knowledge. It is no longer sufficient or possible to focus only on local or domestic life because these are irrevocably tied to the international system.

Living in a foreign place to learn from others and participate in their ways of life is the one way to truly get to know other people. This gives so much more of an in-depth look at life in these places than simply visiting as a tourist for a few weeks. And when we all achieve better understandings of the variety of lives that make up our world map, we will be able to create a more cohesive and inclusive world.

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Maybe it is just my International Relations focus coming out, that I find study abroad to be one of the most important elements of a college education. But at the same time, none of us can escape the globalized society we live in. Somehow, some way, we are connected to everyone in our world through trade, technology, conflict, peace, law, or compassion.

Learning about the world and its people in a direct, personal way (through something like study abroad) is as essential to a well-rounded education as learning to write and speak well. We are the generation that must take on global challenges like ozone depletion, human rights issues, and HIV/AIDS, that will affect us all– regardless of national borders– and require a unified effort to solve.

And we must be prepared to do so, with an invaluable education abroad.

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