My wife and I recently watched an interesting historical fiction movie called "The Physician," in which a young English lad in the Dark Ages hears of a Persian healer who is training other healers in anatomy and medicine. The young Englishman begins his odyssey to the fabled city of Isfahan in hopes of studying under this guru. He finds that the Islamic culture of the East is far more advanced in science and knowledge than his own Europe. He returns home having gained skills far greater than what he had been learning with the superstitious traveling medicine man he had been apprenticing under. In this age of globalization, the reasons for studying abroad are only continuing to multiply. Most Americans, when they hear the term "study abroad", think of the university years, but you don't necessarily need to wait till then. Thousands of high school students participate in exchange programs every year, and it often helps determine the course of the rest of their lives.
I'll be going into this in more detail in future posts (and talks), but for now a summary of some of the greatest benefits of leaving your shores to learn:
- It expands your world view. (Why not start with the obvious?) Most high school and college students have lived in the same place for all or most of their lives before graduating, therefore being exposed to one way of life, one sub-culture, one way of buying groceries, one this and one that. As soon as your feet hit the ground of your host country, your life will change. You will be introduced to other perspectives that will fascinate you and challenge your comfort zone at the same time.
- It grows you up. Graduating from high school and beginning university is in itself a maturing experience. But if you remain in the same culture afterwards, your maturing process will be much slower than if you take the significant step of planting yourself for a time in a foreign culture -- preferably one where your mother tongue is not the official language. You will find yourself having to make decisions and choices more independently, and the challenge of living and communicating in a foreign culture will develop muscles you had no idea you had.
- It expands your capacity for learning. Not only will you be learning from the courses you take, likely taught in a different style than you're used to and forcing you to adapt, but every day will be a learning experience as you take in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and customs of your host culture. You will quickly learn, if you haven't already, that life itself is a classroom, and you will be more likely to remain a life-long learner as a result.
- It looks really good on a resumé. Let's be honest. In today's competitive job market, international experience on a CV can often be the difference between you and other qualified candidates for the position. What does that experience signify to an employer? It says you have taken the time to invest in yourself, to stretch yourself, to make yourself more adaptable to new environments, and that you're adventuresome.
And once you've experienced one such adventure, you will find yourself hungry for more....