Guest Commentary

Why you or your children should consider a study-abroad program

Participating in a study-abroad program should be the goal of every college student in social sciences, and should be on the top of the list for college students in other disciplines. Not only is America increasingly situated in an ever-shrinking world, but college is one of the only times when success at one's career objectives can be overlapped with what is basically a semester or year-long vacation in a foreign country.

Once one enters the professional world, there will be little chance to pad a resume while at the same time fulfilling academic and professional requirements. Vacations to foreign lands, while they are wonderful cultural experiences and packed full of fun, never give a person the chance to delve deep into the culture and habits of another region, unless the vacationer chooses to take up come sort of volunteer opportunity.

While the bourgeoisie may have the financial ability jet off when they please, the average college-educated American will never be given a similar opportunity to take such an amount of time off to travel. College and the many financial-aid encouragements available offer students this unique opportunity. However, despite the fact that the number of students studying abroad has risen steadily since 2001, it is also true that at our state universities, the numbers remain startlingly low. The two UA programs I participated in, taking me to Russia and Italy, garnered only 20 and 11 students respectively. While we speak about "creating the leaders of tomorrow" at our universities, such paltry numbers don't seem to point to a very cultured or international leadership for our future.

Parents balk at the financial costs, and students obviously can't come up with what usually amounts to about $10,000 for the experience, but most of my colleagues in the abroad programs were heavily subsidized by scholarships to the tune of more money than the programs cost. When one realizes the cost saved in rents at home, the opportunity is actually a financial incentive, and the investment is a good one considering the potential returns in good photos, fun experiences, endless stories and pithy comments one can make upon the return.

Probably the most beneficial aspect of being in foreign countries is that when you meet foreigners and they complain about how "bad" or "evil" or "imperial" America is, you can debunk such myths by pointing out the plethora of problems found in their home countries. Take Germany, for example; the next time Germans tell you about the increasing gap between rich and poor in the United States, you can simply inquire as to how well they've integrated all those East Germans in the last decade. In my experience traveling and studying in such varied locations as India, Russia and elsewhere, I've never come across a country that offers all that America does, despite the fact that each country is probably better in at least one way. In the end, the leaders of tomorrow and America's new intellectual elite need to be exposed to such myths as the European "middle class" and the oft-repeated lack of racism in other places. Only one country, which shall remain nameless, comes even close to the diversity, equal opportunities and lack of sexual bondage, and combines such enlightened realities with the ability to allow a vibrant conservative culture to blossom as does America.

Harvard's President Laurence Summers has inaugurated a new encouragement to send the nation's top students abroad, but it is absolutely essential that the average student at the average university (aka the UA) take on similar experiences. Every parent and every student should seriously consider the opportunities offered, and take up those opportunities before graduation and the grind of life sets in. Bringing the world closer to home, so that disasters, terrorism and foreign elections no longer seem so distant, will be a cherished memory that will live with every person for the rest of their lives.

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