The college experience offers so many new opportunities. Of course, parents and faculty hope new academic learning will be the highlight. However, new friends from diverse backgrounds, new social opportunities, and new activities can be just as important. College is time to explore new things.
As a faculty member, I have taken students to Europe and Asia on short-term study abroad trips. Exposing them to new languages, foods, sites, and culture is so exciting. They become more aware of verbal and nonverbal communication. They become more empathetic for others. However, when students are stretched outside their comfort zones, they learn more about themselves. Students might become aware of their own prejudices and habits.
I like to present Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s Seven Dimensions of Culture as a lens to compare cultures.
- Universalism versus particularism.
- Individualism versus communitarianism.
- Specific versus diffuse.
- Neutral versus emotional.
- Achievement versus ascription.
- Sequential time versus synchronous time.
- Internal direction versus outer direction.
As a mother, I have enjoyed watching my own children experience new cultures internationally. My oldest son will be entering college soon. I must admit, I do not like to think about him moving three hours away, so I suppose it seems ironic that I would encourage him to travel countries away. However, I believe these experiences will shape his mindset for the future.
Many degree plans allow for an academic study abroad opportunity. Some colleges offer semester-long study abroad experiences. Missions or service learning might be other ways for students to experience another culture. Students have more freedom to participate in traveling abroad during college than at any other time. Later, jobs (hopefully) and relationships will become a priority. Although study abroad can be expensive, it is worth the investment. It is an unforgettable experience that can change the life of a student.
Some of my students have said that study abroad…
- was a thought-provoking experience, enlightenment into seeing the world through different views
- will be continual gift
- allowed me to better understand people and societies when I stepped outside my comfort zone
- taught me to appreciate the European lifestyle more than the American lifestyle, but it would be difficult to adapt long term
- Helped me recognize and embrace differences and learn from others to promote productivity and innovation
- provided insight into the cultural competency required of an educational leader in a global society
- was a very humbling experience that allowed me to grow as a person and as a professional
Finally, the skills obtained through study abroad experiences help to prepare students for a global society. There is a whole world to explore, and many careers will require intercultural relationships. Study abroad can open their eyes for a lifetime of change, not to mention a lifetime of memories.The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor offers opportunities to explore destinations including Ireland, Costa Rica, Israel, Peru, Italy, England, Thailand, Germany and Morocco. Each adventure abroad provides students the platform to grow academically and spiritually. For more information about UMHB’s study abroad program, we encourage you to visit our website.