Why American Students Travel Abroad and Attend Foreign Universities?
- By Indu Shanmugam
- Published 08/11/2008
Indu Shanmugam is a 20-something, college student from Oregon, USA. She is majoring in English literature and language. She also studied Theology for a short period. She wants to be a teacher. As a literature enthusiast, she enjoys literature of all types and from writers of various backgrounds from the classics, French realists, Christian writings like C.S Lewis and South Asian literature. As for her own writings, "I am still trying to find and develop my own voice." She sees the art of the written word as a way to speak about Christ and explore truth. Before she met Jesus Christ, she has been searching for the meaning of life through experimentation of other religions, philosophies and ideas. At the age of 17, she accepted Christ after a powerful encounter with God through a miracle. God's presence and deep truths in the Bible fuel her creativity. She is involved in church activities and has a love for the church and would like to see every believer grow, become closer to God and live fruitfully. She loves traveling, sipping bubble teas, theatre, music, films and hanging out with friends and has a weakness for cheesecake.
I think there are many reasons for that. It is not because there aren't good universities here. Universities have a lot more choices and various programs. I recently went on a study abroad program to Argentina to have a cultural immersion and learn Spanish. I only took a summer term in Argentina. Depending on the study abroad program and the career path of the student, a student may study a full term, half a year or spend an entire year overseas. Once a person finishes a study-abroad program, they go back to their home university in the USA and complete their studies.
Traditionally, American students head to Europe for these study abroad programs. It's still a popular destination. Recently, there is a trend among American students to go to places like Africa, Asia and Latin America and even India. Indian universities are also participating in these study abroad programs. While I browsed through university programs, I saw a program to learn Hindi and business in Bangalore. I decided to study Spanish in Argentina mostly because I have never been to South America. Unfamiliarity with that part of the world makes the trip more exciting because you don't exactly know what to expect.
Why this trend among American College Students?
Fascination with the world - I'm finding more and more Americans fascinated with the world as opposed to a close-minded mentality towards the world. This mindset seems more common with my peers. There seems to have always been a stereotype or association with Americans being reserved, closed-minded and apathetic to the events, politics, cultures of the world. I think the rest of the world continues to view Americans in that light. This kind of closed xenophobic mentality still exists generally among small rural areas and is often associated with the older generations. Certain regions tend to be more closed or narrow minded.
While that exists, I think there is a trend in some of the bigger cities to be an American that is aware of the world happenings, bilingual, being travelled and well-read. American culture is becoming more open to the outside world. During my Argentina trip, one of the students gave his reason for choosing this trip, "I was always fascinated with South America. I want to learn Spanish. I don't want to be the type of American that only lived in America or only speaks English."
Immigration definitely accounts for the increasing diversity in the United States. Even a medium-sized city like Portland reflects that. The state of Oregon or the City of Portland is not quite the same as New York or Los Angeles. I'm still meeting people from all the corners of the world. It's nice to make friends with people of different backgrounds and cultures. A fascination is fueled from exposure to other cultures. Some of my peers think it's "cool" to speak a foreign language other than English and to travel.
Personal Enrichment- Some college students participate in temporary programs to study or work overseas mostly for having a memorable and life changing experience. My Argentine experience opened my eyes to another part of the world. I met new people and tried new things. I'll never forget this experience during the rest of my life. One of my Dad's colleagues mentioned, "It's never a study-abroad. It's always a party abroad." I definitely had a great time.
Educational Enrichment - Depending on the studies, taking a few classes in a overseas university gives a different perspective on a subject. That is true especially for most humanities disciplines. Having different perspectives enriches the learning experience. If anybody wants to learn the French language and literature, it is a different experience learning that subject in France as opposed to back home in the USA.
While I was in Argentina, I learned Spanish faster due to immersion to a Castellano dialect. That challenged language acquisition because I had to quickly adjust to a unfamiliar Spanish accent and dialect.
Or if a student is a History major and wants to study Indian history, studying Indian history and culture in India will be different from taking a similar class in an American university. Instead of only hearing the concepts and theories, a person can see and experience it while exploring India. This would be ideal for someone who has never been to India. For business students, they can come to see how things work in other countries, other business models as well as how government systems and culture influence business. It's more interesting to study overseas.
Students from other countries participate in study abroad programs in America for the same reasons. In my university, we had groups of students from Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany and other countries. They live with an American family, attend university and explore America. Most of them come to learn English and explore America.
Professional Enrichment - At the end of May 2009, I will finish college and will be entering "real life" or the work world. As a new college graduate, I'll have to go through the process of job-hunting. Attending an excellent university and getting good grades looks impressive but is not enough to distinguish me from others. The fastest way to get hired is to distinguish yourself. How does one do that especially in interviews when a person is a new graduate and lacks professional experience?
For college students, we've been told to make the most out of our college experience. Building a "college career" is more than earning the highest grades. That is definitely important. However, there are other experiences and opportunities for college students to become well-rounded students. There are tons of other activities, clubs and campus organizations. Having a hobby or talent related to the career can be helpful. While participating in student government, I learned about organization, improving leadership, team work and problem solving, which are beneficial for life regardless of trade. Employers will get a good impression about a person's work ethics, leadership, organization and experience. Student government really challenged me in those areas and I think I improved in some areas. I feel that I grew in certain areas and found my strengths. At the same time, I made friends while being involved in campus activities.
Studying abroad is something that can be put in a resume because it can show a person's willingness to take risks, trying new things, and abilities to work with people of different types and flexibility. Experiencing a new culture will definitely test a person's flexibility.
Being bilingual makes a person more hireable than a person that only speaks English. I wish I was more fluent in Spanish. I will be hired faster and maybe have a better pay. It will be useful. Spanish is also widely spoken in the US. However, other languages are also becoming beneficial in careers - Russian, Japanese, Vietnamese and Arabic.
I could attend the most prestigious university and get the highest grades but if my college career doesn't demonstrate other traits such as willingness to take risks, bilingualism, people skills, leadership and problem solving, I would not impress the potential employer.
My final thoughts are why live a boring, ordinary life when there are options and opportunities to explore? Especially when a person is single, young and without a family, there is more freedom to travel, explore the world and try new things.
American students are traveling abroad temporarily for the same reasons foreign students are traveling to America. Immigration will still continue and our universities will still have international students. At the same time, there are Americans traveling, studying and working overseas. The reasons I mentioned mostly sums it up. Depending on the individual there could be other reasons.
Other students in my college have traveled to Spain, throughout Europe, Africa, Latin America and even India. I met a guy from Oregon State University who traveled to New Delhi for a term. He came up to me and started speaking Hindi. At first he caught me by surprise because I don't see too many blond haired, green-eyed people speaking Hindi. He is actually an Engineering major but loves philosophy. He went to India to study Eastern or Indian philosophy and religion. He told me that he personally doesn't agree and cannot see himself as a follower of the Hindu faith but he was curious, wanted a different perspective and better understanding of Indian culture, which he found intriguing. He had a great time and enjoyed all the Indian food.
Overall, all over the world people are fascinated with differences and exploring them. I had several people in Argentina ask me about Indian culture. The popularity of study abroad programs reflect that.