Culture clash or expensive field trip?

Concordia likes to tout its various study abroad programs. In fact, it seems like if you don’t study abroad here, you may find yourself in the minority. You may see many of your friends posting pictures of their experiences abroad. And if you’re like me, you may even get envious sometimes because, after all, why should they get to have so much fun while you have to grind through classes?

Well, sometimes it seems like some of those students don’t seem to be studying at all, and the only thing they are actually doing is simply being abroad. To me, it seems like students who choose to go to an English speaking country aren’t actually studying abroad at all.

That’s right, I’m looking at the Ireland, England and Australia study abroad programs.

So, why is it I think that these programs aren’t actually studying abroad? Even though these programs are some of the largest at Concordia, they seem more like an extended vacation than a real, culturally diverse learning experience.

Before all of the students that have or are currently studying in Galway or Liverpool are up in arms at me, listen to my reasoning.

Yes, I understand that Ireland, England and Australia have different cultures than that of the U.S. and that these cultures may teach students a lot about themselves and their place in the world, but I don’t think those cultures are different enough from ours to warrant a title of “study abroad.”

Even the cultures of other countries, such as China, India and Argentina, just to name a few, have some similarities to American culture, but experience students have here are much different than that of English speaking countries.

If studying abroad is about cultural immersion and fully experiencing something different than what you’re used to, then studying in an English speaking country is not the answer.

I went to England for a week during my sophomore year and never once did I feel out of my comfort zone interacting with people. I knew that I never had to worry about language barriers. I knew I wasn’t going to see the type of squalor that exists in some countries like India. I knew I didn’t have to worry about interacting with those back home because of technological barriers like those in China.

I felt comfortable. I felt safe. I felt American.

While I am sure others’ experiences may have been different, I was not able to get as much out of the experience as I would have had I been in a non-english speaking country. Even when I spent a few days in Paris, I was able to feel a sense of knowing that I was not so important and that I could learn more from a different culture than my own.

I also think that the curriculum set up in English-speaking abroad programs allows for students to take more trips to see the countryside than to go to actual class.

I don’t want to belittle those who have not mastered a foreign language so they would not want to go to a country because of the huge language barrier. I just want to say there may be better lessons learned if the culture is drastically different than it is in the United States.

If you are studying abroad, shouldn’t you be expected to complete the same amount of work expected out of students at Concordia? Now, this might be me complaining, but it seems almost unfair to students here that we have rigorous course work, such as daily assignments for class, multiple papers and tests per semester. Then again, if that is the way other abroad programs work, giving fewer assignments than here, that may be something this editorial cannot fix.

I think it’s time students start truly examining why they want to go on a study abroad adventure. I think that studying abroad in a different country can truly be life changing. But I also think students should feel the need to get something out of the journey rather than just a vacation with lots of cool pictures and experiences.

When I went to a different country with people who spoke the same language as I did, but with slightly different accents, I didn’t feel like my life was changed. I saw some cool stuff. I met some great people. But, do I feel changed as a person and feel like I can impact the world greater because of it? No.

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