Study Abroad Programs: Appreciating the Value and Benefits
Benefit to the Individual
The benefit a student can expect to gain from joining a study abroad program goes far beyond the curriculum material s/he will study. The classroom teaching style will be different, so the student is forced to develop their ability to learn. The lifestyle and social rhythms within the walls of the university or educational center will be different, forcing the student to expand their social skills in order to get assistance from tutors, teachers' assistants, school staff, classmates, as well as to make friends among their peers. This interaction will also be the basis from which the study abroad program's chief benefit to humanity will emerge, as we will explore later. While the student's personal development will pay dividends immediately after their return in the form of higher social standing, and increased scholastic productivity from their improved cognition, the student will also derive much benefit from the expansion of their communication abilities later in life as they join the American working world and find that acclimation to different corporate cultures and managers' personalities is much easier than it otherwise would have been. Full participation in a study abroad program produces new and better opportunities for success as a result.
Students can also expect to bolster their self-reliance during their study abroad program, with the amount of improvement related to the degree of language mastery they hold over the local tongue. This improvement in self-reliance will be similar to the change a young adult undergoes when going off to college for the first time, but magnified. Many of the social comforts and statutory support mechanisms to which American students are accustomed, are absent outside of the USA. However adequate substitutes can be found in almost all western nations and most developed Asian and South American countries. As a student searches, locates and partakes of the foreign counterpart to an American business, product, or government service - engages in cultural exploration - they will develop their character and achieve a new degree of self-reliance. It is important to note that while cultural exploration goes far beyond locating foreign counterparts, and extends deeper into matters of language usage, the arts, social relationships, alien religious observance and geopolitics; resolving pressing business or scholastic problems, securing emergency services and/or finding a kind stranger in a foreign land will produce an indelible impression on one's character and a lasting sense of self-confidence that a guided trip to the Louvre or the Malaysian Philharmonic will never duplicate.
Every student in the study abroad program must prepare themselves for ambassadorship, as most of their peers will not have visited the States, and will be curious about our culture, both high and low, and the origin of our national decisions. Whether or not the student has any interest, knowledge or experience in these areas of interest, they will get a lot of questions, some of which may be outlandish. In any case the student will soon develop new diplomatic skills and a global perspective as a result of answering all the questions posed to him or her.
By the time a student finishes their time studying abroad they will have gained a number of very important soft skills which will help them throughout life, and add a depth of character one cannot get by staying home.
Benefits to Humanity
It is in the national interest for American students to engage in study abroad programs. By patiently answering questions and asking plenty of their own, American students studying abroad put a positive face on our nation, and engender empathy across the oceans that divide us - both real and political. Foreign impressions of America can be very mixed, but can be quickly dispelled or mediated with a kind word, a bit of beneficial trade, and genuine interest from a "real, live" American. It is important for the student to recognize that they are in fact an ambassador representing their home country and should act accordingly, because even if the person, with whom the American is having contact, has deeply held beliefs, sustained attentive contact can either soften, or sharpen, those beliefs and prejudices, according to the student's conduct and manner. Even if the student does not have any understanding of American foreign policy or pop culture and can not answer questions well, it is only natural that their very presence abroad will have a humanizing effect and lead to a more favorable impression of our country - provided they are respectful of, and interested in the host country, its people and customs. Americans traveling in poorer areas of Asia and India will often be greeted with tremendous respect. The American student has the opportunity to create - lasting good will - by showing similar respect in return, because such accord is rarely exchanged between members of differing castes or status within those societies. The cumulative effect of such good will, leads to further exchanges of ideas, trade and peace.
Students studying abroad tend to carry with them youthful idealism and will tend to speak out against injustices and violations of our mores. The export of our American ideals and values brings reform or at least kindles the desire for social reform in people suffering under communist, totalitarian, or corrupt regimes. For example Singapore is a police state filled with intelligent, prosperous, well-educated citizens who have a lot to learn and to teach American students. By visiting states like Singapore and China, American students can leave with their hosts our greater appreciation for human life and a hunger for full human rights. Infusing the people living under these regimes with our American and Western values while sharing our success fuels a hunger for our way of life and has in part lead to reform in countries such as in Malaysia, China and the former Soviet Union.
Students have been studying abroad for hundreds if not thousands of years, but only after the formal study abroad programs were standardized and made financially accessible to the general public did so many of our children realize its great benefit, and for humanity to feel its impact. Study abroad programs are a great idea for almost every student, and deserves rigorous encouragement.