There has always been a sizable segment of the U.S. population that has viewed those who travel with a bit of contempt, believing travel is nothing more than an escape from reality, avoiding responsibility, taking a vacation. Given the stigma attached to travel, its not surprising that there is a similar stigma attached to studying abroad, but recent studies are finally starting to reveal the value, in quantitative terms, of international educational experiences.
The taboo associated with traveling is tough to dispel because it is difficult to explain the value of travel to someone who has never traveled. However, other countries and cultures have long recognized this value; from the British, the Kiwis and the Australians who champion the concept of a Gap Year, fully expecting their students to spend a year traveling abroad between high school and college, to the time honored rite of passage in aboriginal culture, the walkabout, where young adults are expected to leave the comfort and security of their village, spend time in the bush and use the knowledge they gain from the experience to make the village a better place upon their return and the changing dynamics of the world we live in demand increased recognition of these experiences and interactions.
The world is a lot more connected today than it was a 10, 15 or 20 years ago. Technologies such as the internet, mobile phones and Skype allow people all over the world to connect real time and we truly are part of a global community now more than ever, so maybe this connectedness and a desire to compete and thrive in a global economy has led to an 8% increase per year in the number of students opting to study abroad as part of their college experience. This doesn’t mean though that the misconceptions of studying abroad have abated. Older generations, the ones who often foot the bill for a university education, remain skeptical and are quick to argue that studying abroad is just a guise for a semester filled with bar hopping, partying, being a tourist and occasionally opening a textbook or stepping foot inside a classroom, but a long term study by the University of Georgia seems to indicate otherwise. According to Don Rubin, professor emeritus of speech communication and language education at the University of Georgia and research director for the Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative:
“I think if there’s one take-home message from this research as a whole it is that study abroad does not undermine educational outcomes, it doesn’t undermine graduation rate, it doesn’t undermine final semester GPA. It’s not a distraction. At worst, it can have relatively little impact on some students’ educational careers. And at best it enhances the progress toward degree. It enhances the quality of learning as reflected in things like GPA.”
The study highlights the numerous benefits students obtain from their international experiences and is worth a look if you are trying to convince someone that studying abroad is worth while. To a lesser degree, you might also be able to use it as proof that your upcoming travel sabbatical will make you a more valuable employee when you return to the office. If the study is not enough to convince you of the benefits of international education, here is a nice info graphic I found created by the people at Course Hero for you to digest.
I never studied abroad and I’ve regretted it ever since and today there are so many more options available to young students. Armed with some facts to justify studying abroad, hopefully, a majority of them will make the most of those opportunities.