Support from family and friends is important for students participating in education abroad, yet—for a variety of reasons—some parents or guardians may be skeptical of or resistant to education abroad and encouraging their student to incorporate it into their UA degree program. Contrary to common perception, education abroad is not a vacation and is indeed an educational experience. As such, it can provide a number of personal, academic and professional benefits to students.
“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.”
– Samuel Johnson
Education abroad provides an excellent and important opportunity for personal growth. By exposing students to unfamiliar places, situations and ideas, it helps develop qualities such as independence, flexibility, and tolerance of ambiguity and skills such as personal financial management. Moreover, viewing oneself and one’s culture through the mirror of a different culture provides the opportunity to critically examine one’s culture, values and beliefs. Through the experience, one may reinforce some of those values and beliefs and alter or discard all together others.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
– Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey
Education abroad offers students the opportunity to enrich their academic study by viewing a subject from a perspective otherwise unavailable at home. For instance, a student of World War II would find a different perspective on the events in Germany and Japan, or even in Poland or the United Kingdom. A student of biology might have the opportunity to observe and study flora and fauna in or close to their native habitats.
Moreover, studies have shown correlation (not necessarily causation) between participation in education abroad and higher grades, as well as higher rates of on-time graduation. Some studies have shown that education abroad may even affect the way our brains are wired.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
– Henry Miller
When presented well, education abroad participation can be a valuable asset in one’s job search and career after graduation. International internships perhaps may be the most obvious way to connect one’s international experience to his/her career goals. However, even other education abroad experiences can develop skills transferable to the world of work, including independence, autonomy, the ability to think differently and a tolerance for ambiguity.
In the modern world and globalized economy, international and/or intercultural experience is an essential part of one’s education. When one considers the growing diversity of the US population, this is true even for students who do not envision themselves entering international business or politics. Doctors, nurses, educators, social workers, scientists, local business people and many more will have patients, students, clients and/or colleagues from a variety of backgrounds.
In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, one company president identified “strong collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills” as essential for new employees, stating, “I have to be sure the people we hire today are fit for tomorrow.”
In a separate ABC News article, one hiring director who matches candidates with internships abroad stated, "In today's day and age, having a global worldview is necessary."
This statement is borne out in a recent study by the British Council, Culture at Work: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace, which surveyed managers at 367 large employers in nine (9) countries, including the United States. When asked about the important of intercultural skills to their organization, 58% of those US respondents indicated such skills were “very important” and a further 30% identified them as “fairly important”. Moreover, US respondents identified “finding qualified candidates” as the top business concern outside of economic and market-related challenges.
In 2012, third-party education abroad program provider IES Abroad surveyed over 1,000 students who had participated in an IES program and graduated from college from 2006-2011. Of those respondents, 90% secured a job within six (6) months of graduating, 84% felt their education abroad experience helped them build job skills and 50% felt their education abroad experience helped them land their first jobs.