On Studying Abroad Outside the West

March 3, 2012

The stereotype most Americans hold of studying abroad revolves around Parisian cafes, the Louvre, really authentic Irish pub crawls, and the Amanda Knox case notwithstanding, the learning of “romantic” French or Italian, the better to woo or be wooed on the Riviera.

Riding a camel around the pyramids of Giza, walking on the Great Wall of China, learning Zapotec in an indigenous village in central Mexico, or climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro tend not to even register on most Americans’ radars as “studying abroad”.

But those are the areas where the world is changing most dynamically and consequentially, where the most relevant global learning for the 21st century is going to take place.  We need a cultural shift in the U.S. toward seeing the year plus that one of my college classmates did in China as the norm, not a year in France or Italy.

Those EU countries are great — one day I’d like to go to Italy myself.  But studying abroad isn’t the same as a dream vacation.  It’s about gaining knowledge and experiences which will prepare students for their future and the future of the world.  And in most cases, that knowledge and experience is best gained outside the West.

Study abroad needs an extreme makeover, cultural perception edition.