Study Abroad is an excellent means of educating beyond the standard curricula on the degree plan. Interaction with peoples and cultures different from one’s own is something which every student should encounter before graduation. Even a weeklong learning experience will provide insight one could rarely gain in the traditional classroom or a global online mode of delivery because these do not capture the feel of being in the moment. Whether taking in the palatial sights of the Roman Forum, giving vaccinations to Peruvian villagers, composing a feasibility plan with small-business owners in China, or studying literature of the Cold War in the Balkans, the global perspectives that students gain go far beyond the course curriculum. Moreover, although taking a virtual tour of the Forum or giving vaccinations at the local clinic are enriching activities, they do not quite capture the ambience of being abroad nor do they allow for the interaction with native citizens.
The latter is one of the most lasting benefits of Study Abroad experiences. Having to interrelate with languages, cultures, and mores different from their own, students gain an appreciation for foreign lifestyles and traditions which does more than enrich their days in the host country; it provides a lasting knowledge base for empathizing with the plights and triumphs of those citizens as well as understanding the necessity of thinking beyond the domestic.
Obviously, the longer the time abroad, the more opportunities students have to build those experiences and learning occasions. The best Study Abroad courses incorporate learning opportunities beyond merely academic interactions. Excursions to neighboring cities or areas are highly beneficial as they provide a deeper cultural insight beyond the learning environment. Zip lining over a rainforest canopy or eating lunch at a Florentine cafe are not only memorable but also vitally important to educating the whole student (mentally and spiritually as well as intellectually).
For the same reasons, guided or walking tours of sites and museums allow students to immerse themselves into the history and value of the cultures which surround them. Touring the Dachau concentration camp in Poland or the British Museum are experiences which students do not easily forget. In addition, theatrical or concert performances are just as impactful due to their opportunities to engage in an experience rather than a knowledge base. Often times, these events are more lasting than curricula because students can call upon the pathos of relatable occasions.
Service-learning opportunities are also highly important to Study Abroad courses. Students should be able to experience the “warts and all” aspects of the host country/cities because developing empathy is vital to truly being a globally engaged citizen. By working with a local orphanage, food bank, or community church, students can gain insight into how others not only live but also serve. Such experiences often have a uniting effect which help students view themselves as members of a global community.
Finally, daily interaction produces vital learning opportunities. Nothing beats eating fish and chips and conversing with a native Londoner or living with a host family for a month. Asking for lip balm in an Italian pharmacy, when one does not know how to say it in Italian, is also memorable because challenges like these reinforce why knowing more than one’s native language is important. It also displays just how globally engaged citizens of other countries are; many of whom are, at the very least, bilingual.
Study Abroad experiences are hard to forget and continually keep producing benefits. I still can recall the sights, sounds, smells, and overall “vibe” of my seventeen days in Italy and Greece. I have incorporated many of these experiences (and photographs) into my teaching, yet even at that, these are still “you just had to be there” moments in order for one to get full point. Students should make every effort to join at least one Study Abroad opportunity, for even just a single immersive experience will do wonders for their full education.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.