I beg young people to travel. If you don't have a passport, get one...there are lessons that you can't get out of a book waiting for you at the end of that flight. - Henry Rollins
Study abroad is one of the most beneficial experiences a college student can have. It offers the opportunity to experience another culture and alter their perspective about the world in a way that is simply impossible in a traditional lecture hall. However, in the wake of an economic downturn and a growing student loan bubble that is beginning to mirror the 2008 housing market, many are seeing study abroad as an unnecessary expense. Study abroad, to them, is wonderful in theory but ultimately impractical.
In an era of increased global competitiveness, this notion could not be more untrue.
Many young people are raised to think of a college education as a preparation for their future career, if, of course, college is financially attainable for them. With increased competition, higher tuition and the ever-present threat of budget cuts, students are under increased pressure to optimize their education, choosing a path that helps them obtain a degree and enter the world of work in the most expeditious manner possible.
For many, study abroad is nothing more than a flight of fancy. The added expense of passport fees, visa costs and plane tickets is unfathomable. In addition, the idea of taking time away from their rigorous curriculum to spend four months in another country? Outrageous. This is especially true if your time spent abroad does not directly connect to your area of study. Why spend that money on a glorified elective course?
The fact that study abroad is cost-prohibitive to many students is an unfortunate reality. However, it is the duty of universities, colleges, advisors and organizations such as Diversity Abroad to help these students understand the tremendous value of leaving your home country and experiencing the culture of another.
Peer-reviewed studies have shown that studying abroad has a significant impact on the continued use of their language of study, their levels of academic attainment, intercultural and personal development and personal career choices. While researchers see the most profound effects in students that study abroad for a year or more, significant benefits are apparent even in students who opted for summers abroad.
In a time when the world continues to shrink, students cannot ignore the benefits of studying abroad. In the words of President Obama, speaking to the United Nations,
"We have sought -- in word and deed -- a new era of engagement with the world.”
It is abundantly clear that studying abroad is an important experience, for any student. The most important issue, however, is convincing administrators, students and parents of the value of an international education. After that, we need to make sure these students can get there.
The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Tara Matthews for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today. If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members(at)diversitynetwork.org.