Studying Abroad: Has It Become too Easy, Comfy, American?

Hi Readers! Have you noticed that study abroad programs are becoming very common at college? (Is this as obvious as saying, “Have you noticed kids spend a lot of time on Facebook?” If so, sorry. It’s just a jumping off point.) Anyway, while traveling strikes me as great — we can all use some perspective! — I’m  nonetheless a little skeptical about the programs.  They seem both more expensive and less immersive than simply taking a semester or two off and heading over to the country of one’s interest.

With that thought nagging at my mind, I stumbled upon this entry at the NAFSA: the Association of International Educators‘ LinkedIn page, where those educators were discussing how students can get the most out of their time abroad. Commented one:

• When I was overseas my basic premise was that “everyone is pretty much the same” so I encountered differences my reaction was to set them aside as some anomaly. This was a mistake in so many ways because it is within these differences, some small some large, that culture is seen. Before this can happen students need to step out of the comfort of their dorm rooms (likely with other students of the same nationality) and engage people from the host country. Furthermore, giving them some sort of framework for exploring and reflecting on the differences could help provide focus. The development of intercultural skills just won’t happen unless students engage with people of different cultures, and make an effort to really understand them.

That seems so true, especially the dorm part. And to that notion I must add another disheartening story I just read, about a county in Wales (Ceredigion) that will no longer allow its exchange students going abroad to live with families, as those host families cannot be vetted to the degree the school wants:

The policy, first adopted last year, also stops foreign students staying with families when visiting Ceredigion….

A report went before the cabinet on Tuesday by , recommending approval.

“This decision was based on safeguarding children and ensuring their safety,” said Mr. Evans [Ceredigion's head of educational wellbeing] about the school trip policy.

“It was felt that despite undertaking CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks or similar and utilising family agreements there was still a largely unknown element to such arrangements.

Oh my — the unknown! Can’t have anything unknown! So a true chance to see and be part of another culture bites the dust, thanks to the fact that — as has been the case since the beginning of time — we cannot absolutely guarantee every child will be safe every single second of the time they are not directly supervised by us. On the alter of complete, if impossible, safety, we will sacrifice this  time-honored, mind-expanding, community-creating experience. Why is “safeguarding the children” the only lens we look through when evaluating almost anything regarding young folk? Oh, for a little perspective! – L.

Bienvenue! Or, as we like to say in our study abroad program, “Welcome!”


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