After reading the article titled “Culture Clash or Expensive Field Trip” by Sean Plemmons, I must say that I was disappointed. Not only by the point of view, but how undeveloped and blanketed the opinion was. Certainly there are people who have similar feelings, but the premise that students who study in English-speaking countries learn less than students who study elsewhere based on evidence on Facebook and less seat time in classes is juvenile and without merit. As the Assistant Director of Semester Study Away, I am admittedly biased. However, after spending nearly my entire adult life either living abroad or preparing others to do so, I feel my bias comes from experience.
While I acknowledge that this is an opinion piece, some of the comments are simply absurd.
-Our students should feel safe when they’re abroad. Are we to believe that we’re only learning things if we feel unsafe? I know a theorist named Maslow who would disagree.
-It’s “unfair” that some students who go abroad have less seat time and assignments? This doesn’t acknowledge the fact that most of that diminished seat time is used by students for independent study that is necessary for the final exam, which in some cases may be their only grade that semester. This requires a lot of self-discipline and time management. It’s also not “unfair” if you voluntarily choose your college.
-Academic systems abroad do not need “fixing”. To think that is elitist and diminishes the valuable differences that the author proposes don’t exist.
-I’m glad the author felt American while he was abroad. He probably should; it’s not something you can leave at home. If anything our students probably feel their “American-ness” more acutely because they’re experiencing things that are in contrast with their lives in the United States. Whether there is any reflection and wisdom gained from that experience is something different.
-I also want to note that the United States is not homogenous. If you would move and go to school in New York City, Los Angeles, or Oklahoma City, would you learn something? You bet. Yet, we are to believe that going to another country that speaks English isn’t a worthwhile learning opportunity?
And it is an opportunity. Learning from these experiences is largely reliant on the intentional reflection and introspection that is gained as a person goes through life. I particularly like Ralph W. Sockman’s quote, “Our growth depends not on how many experiences we devour, but on how many we digest”. Simply seeing poverty in India will not make you a more informed person. Choosing to learn and reflect on the systems in place, the history, politics, societal pressures, social movements, the multitude of other issues that led to what you see and what that means for you, will.
The Student Association for Living and Studying Abroad (SALSA) and Global Learning held an event on February 2nd inviting returned study away students to discuss how study away can impact their career development. Guest speaker Ann Hubbard stressed the importance of being able to use that experience effectively in a job interview situation. The reason being that it is no longer impressive to have a study away experience on your resume; you have to tell the prospective employer why it’s important.
In the same session, we discussed the percentage of what our students learn in the classroom verses in their daily lives. The percentages that were volunteered by students in reference to the classroom portion of their experience ranged from 6-40%. So what was learned outside the classroom? Our students (many from programs in English-speaking countries), noted increased independence, time management, communication skills, and resilience, among others. To dismiss these learned or acquired skills based solely on the language spoken at their study abroad location is ridiculous. When it comes to getting a job, skills are skills.
One person’s experience should not be used as a blanket statement for all others. Studying away is an opportunity to expand your knowledge of other locations, people, and your place in an increasingly global world. Will this happen for everyone? As the article I’m referring to indicates, unfortunately not. Global Learning isn’t in the business of procuring vacations or “adventures” for students. Those who think of these experiences in these terms are devaluing the opportunity they’ve been given, no matter the location. After all, it’s the journey, not the destination.
For students who are interested in learning more about study away opportunities, please contact Global Learning at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-299-3927 to find out more.
Kristin N. Lettner
Assistant Director, Semester Study Away